Ramona, a senior engineer in a midsize software company, was talking with João, her coach. She was catching him up with everything that had happened since their last session.
“My talk with my team went pretty well,” Ramona said. “My opening up about everything I am dealing with caused several others to do the same. We decided to do this every few weeks.”
“That’s great!” João congratulated. “How about your other conversations?”
“Telling my parents and my sister felt a little awkward at first,” Ramona continued. “But, like with my teammates, my opening up let them open up as well.”
“That often happens,” João said. “Showing vulnerability helps other people do the same.”
Ramona nodded. “That’s certainly what I’ve been seeing.”
“And your best friend? How did she react?” João asked.
“Really well,” Ramona reported. “She knew something was going on. She hadn’t asked because she could tell I wasn’t ready to talk about it. We both feel a lot better having it all out. Now, we’re helping each other.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” João said with a smile. “Because that’s your second responsibility.”
Make a clear request
“My first responsibility is to tell people what is going on with me,” Ramona remembered. “You’re saying my second responsibility is to ask for help?”
“That’s exactly right,” João affirmed. “How did you and your friend come to be helping each other out?”
“It just naturally came out of our conversation,” Ramona explained. “As I told her everything I was struggling with, I asked her to help with pieces I knew she’d be great at.”
“How did you ask her?” João inquired.
“I just asked,” Ramona replied, confusion clear in her voice.
“What words specifically did you use?” João clarified.
“Oh. Um…’Will you please …’ is one I used a lot,” Ramona said.
“How did that work for you?” João asked.
Ramona paused a moment, remembering.
“’Will you please …’ always brought about an immediate answer. My friend didn’t always say yes. Sometimes she asked if something a little different would be ok.”
“So, you felt you had made a clear request. And, you felt you both knew exactly what your friend was signing up for,” João paraphrased.
“That’s right,” Ramona agreed.
“Making a clear request is key,” João agreed. “Those words seem to work well for you. Would you like a suggestion that might help it work even better?”
“Sure,” Ramona answered.
“Include the timeframe in which you desire their action,” João answered.
“So, ‘right after we hang up,’ or ‘first thing tomorrow,’ and so on?” Ramona asked.
“Exactly,” João confirmed.
“I like it,” Ramona replied. “That makes my request even more clear.”
Invite them into a conversation
“That was your conversations with your best friend,” João recounted. “Did your conversations with your parents or your sister progress to asking for help?”
“Not with my parents,” Ramona replied. “I did ask my sister for a few things, though.”
“How did you ask her?” João inquired.
“Just like I asked my best friend,” Ramona replied. “But, it didn’t work with my sister.”
“How do you mean?” João asked.
“I never felt my sister understood what I was asking. And, when I checked, she had completely misunderstood.”
“So, you believed you were being clear. Your sister’s responses, though, showed that she wasn’t hearing what you were trying to say,” João summarized.
“Yep,” Ramona agreed.
“Would you like a different way to ask?”
“Yes,” Ramona agreed energetically.
“Try framing your requests this way: ‘What I’d appreciate from you is …. How can we make it happen?”
“How is that different from the ‘Will you please …’ that didn’t work at all?” Ramona asked doubtfully.
“’Will you please’ is a yes/no question,” João explained. “’What I’d appreciate from you’ is a description. It tends to invite people to ask questions.”
“Ok,” Ramona said slowly. “And then the ‘How can we make it happen’ invites them into a conversation about my request?”
“Yes, exactly,” João confirmed. “And, it indicates you’re asking, not telling.”
“My sister will respond better to that,” Ramona said confidently.
Remember it’s not a need
“That leaves your teammates,” João said. “Did you ask them for anything after sharing what you’re dealing with?”
“That time, no,” Ramona replied. “We ask each other for things all the time, though,” she continued.
“How does that usually work out?” João asked.
“Usually, we’re pretty clear about what we’re asking,” Ramona said. “And, we usually have good conversations nailing down the details. But, sometimes one of us starts with ‘I need ….’ Then someone inevitably responds with ‘You don’t need that; you just want it.’ And then things devolve from there.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” João said. “How do you feel when someone tells you they need you to do something?”
“I feel overwhelmed,” Ramona responded immediately. “That’s so much pressure! It’s as if they’re saying their life depends on me completing their request.”
“Anything else?” João asked.
“I feel resentful a lot of the time,” Ramona continued. “Who are they to put so much pressure on me?”
João nodded. “And, anything else?”
“I want to yell, ‘You don’t need that; you just want it,’” Ramona said with a bit of a smile.
“And, anything else?” João inquired.
Ramona shook her head.
“What you describe are common reactions to requests stated as needs,” João explained. “Some people have told me they think stating their requests as needs gives their requests greater impact. Others seem to do it as a power play. Whatever the reason, most people tell me it often backfires on them.”
Ramona nodded. “This all makes sense,” she said. “What’s the solution?”
“What would work for you?” João said in reply.
“I like the ‘I’d appreciate’ you suggested earlier,” she said after thinking it over. “If it’s not really a request, I guess ‘Please …’ would work. I don’t know what else.”
“Those are both good options,” João agreed. “I’ve found them both to work well.”
Get the help you desire
“This is great,” Ramona asserted. “Now I have three ways to improve the quality of my requests.”
She started ticking them off on her fingers.
“First, making a clear request, including an explicit timeline.”
“Second, stating what I’d appreciate and asking how we can make that happen. Inviting the other person into a conversation.”
“Third, remembering it’s not a need. Even when it’s non-negotiable.”
“You’ve got it in one,” João congratulated.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. “We have time to do some roleplaying if you’d like.”
“No, thanks,” Ramona replied. “I’m feeling good about this. I’ll use my actual conversations for practice.”
“Sounds good,” João said. “You can always message me if you want to practice with me.”
“Thanks,” Ramona replied. “We’ll get to my last responsibility next time?”
“We’ll get to your third responsibility next time,” João said agreeably.
“I can’t wait,” Ramona said with a grin. “Thank you so much.”
“You are welcome,” João responded with a grin of his own.
This is part two of a series: