Ask and You Shall Receive

Imagine that contestants on the television game show, Family Feud, were asked to name the most common complaints heard in organizations and teams. What would they say?

“…poor communication!”
“…too much to do! “
“…missed deadlines!”
“…they didn’t do what they said!”
“…being micromanaged!”

These, among others, would surely get high ranks on the glittery scoreboard.

When you think about your own work environment, which complaints would you call out?

As an executive coach, I often hear these grievances from leaders. Often times, when we look more closely at the specific details and circumstances at play behind the generalized grumble we see that at the core are missing conversations.

One of those missing conversations is: Making Requests.

This isn’t ground breaking or shocking. You already know this. So? Why bother? Because sometimes we forget to pay attention, or we take for granted, the conversations that can make all the difference.

It’s normal to be challenged and frustrated by personal and professional relationships. We all experience it from time to time, some more than others. My belief is that the majority of us want to feel positive, healthy, cared for and respected in our interactions with others.

When we look to delegate, or accomplish something with others, need clarification or support, we make requests. When we look closely, we see that organizations and teams are essentially a large network of requests that are made and (presumably) fulfilled. Often times, when problems occur with our boss, our teams, our coworkers, and between departments we typically make (and rest in) big assumptions rather than opening new conversations or making (new) effective requests to get things back on track.

When we’re experiencing issues, an important step is to consider what request is missing for the situation. The next step is to open the Request conversation with someone whose help/support/assistance/expertise you need.

What is the Request Conversation?

There are elements in the Request conversation that, when followed, significantly increase the likelihood that we will be satisfied with the end results.

The conversation structure below provides guidelines for evaluating and building our own practice of making healthy, effective requests.

So, let’s consider the specific parts that need to be satisfied in order to make the most effective “asks” possible.

1) ‘Committed Speaker

Someone needs to make the request. Being a ‘committed’ speaker means taking responsibility for making a request directly and setting up an environment where a productive conversation can be generated. Instead of making a request flippantly as you walk past someone in the hallway, a ‘Committed Speaker’ will stop and face the person, make eye contact, eliminate distraction, and give their full attention and energy to the conversation they’re initiating. By taking such actions, the ‘Committed Speaker’ is modeling what it means to be a ‘Committed Listener’.

2) ‘Committed Listener

A ‘Committed Listener’ is one who takes actions to demonstrate that they are also giving their attention to the conversation. Signals such as solid eye or voice contact, eliminating interruptions, not engaging in other activities like texting, emailing, eating, etc. Just like a ‘Committed Speaker’ a ‘Committed Listener’ is present and aware.

3) Context

Setting context is about providing background information and setting the stage for the request. This gives the listener a broad and more adequate perspective on what the request means and how it fits into the larger picture. It basically answers the question ‘why should I?’

4) Future Action and Conditions of Satisfaction

Future action is the ‘what’ that the ‘Committed Speaker’ wants the ‘Committed Listener’ to do and the Conditions of Satisfaction are the standards that will be used to evaluate success once the request is completed. When these components are accepted, agreement can be reached which then creates a promise to perform.

5) Timeframe

This declares the ‘by when’ that the ‘Committed Speaker’ wishes to have their request fulfilled. It’s an element of the Request Conversation that’s often sloppy, unclear and vague. We say things like:
“…as soon as possible.”
“…when you get a chance.”
“…if you have time.”

Specificity about the timeframe gives the ‘Committed Listener’ the chance to assess their capacity and determine their response. It also sets the priority level of the request. If the timeframe that is being proposed doesn’t work for the ‘Committed Listener’, it opens the opportunity to figure out what can work, what is doable and decide from there what is acceptable for each person.

6) Mood

This refers not only to the emotional disposition that the ‘Committed Speaker’ brings to the conversation (which sets the tone for either favorable or unfavorable listening); it also means that the ‘Committed Speaker’ attends to and observes the mood of the ‘Committed Listener’. It’s emotional harmonization. The ‘how’ and ‘when’ we say things is often more important that the words we use…after all, the right conversation in the wrong mood becomes the wrong conversation.

Here’s a simplified example of how this plays out:

Co-worker A: “Hi, how are you? I see you’re in the middle of typing an email and it looks like you’ve got lots of files open on your desk. Is this a suitable time to talk for a few minutes? (Mood)

Co-worker B: “Yep, that’s fine, I can listen and type at the same time.”

Co-worker A: “I need your help and have a request regarding the XYZ Project. It’s important and I’d like to have your full attention so I’m wondering if it’s better to talk later today or if your email can be put aside for a moment?” (Committed Speaker)

Co-worker B: “Sure, let me finish writing this sentence and then I’ll save the email to my ‘Drafts’ folder. Come on in and sit down. What’s on your mind?” (Committed Listener)

Co-worker A: “My spouse and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary next Friday and we have reservations at a restaurant we’ve been saving for a special occasion. In order to make the reservation on time, it will require that I leave the office earlier than normal that day. The project manager has asked that I present an update to the rest of the committee next Friday afternoon at the same time I’m scheduled to leave the office.” (Context) I’m wondering if you would take my place and deliver a 30-minute presentation to the committee next Friday at 4pm (Timeframe) that outlines the actions we have completed as well as those we’ve identified up to the end of the quarter?” (Future Action and Conditions of Satisfaction)

Co-worker B: “I’d be happy to step in and help you by presenting our work. Based on what I see in my calendar, I don’t have any other conflicting commitments. So, the answer is ‘yes’, you can count on me to fill in for you.” (Promise)

These elements of requests are offered as a reference point for learning about what may be missing if we are not producing the outcomes we desire. Requests are one of the fundamental language tools that create meaning and fulfillment in our lives, both at work and outside of work. If we are not making requests, or if we are consistently ineffective in making requests, we are compromising the quality of our life at work and at home.

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