Making Clear Requests

Emotional Literacy Sep 16, 2021

“There are the two main reasons we don’t get our needs met. First, we don’t know how to express our needs to begin with and second if we do, we forget to put a clear request after it, or we use vague words like appreciate, listen, recognize, know, be real, and stuff like that.”

—Marshall B. Rosenberg

We’ve often heard terms like, “You’re so needy.” This statement implies how we don’t consider having needs as something normal or even useful. We probably have an idea that only selfish people have needs, which is far from being true. Needs are universal and we all have them. In fact, every action or inaction of ours is an attempt to meet an underlying need.

Why is it that we don’t know how to communicate our needs then? There could be a couple of reasons for this.

  1. We are not aware of our needs.
  2. Even if we are aware of our needs, we don’t know how to express them.

Becoming aware of our needs enables us to understand what we really want and value in any given situation. It anchors our actions in a way in which we can meet those needs. For instance, only if I am aware that I have a need for entertainment, will I consider what could be the different strategies and actions to meet those needs. Some of such strategies could be going to a movie hall, visiting an amusement park, or video calling a friend with whom I like to be playful. However, if I don’t understand that I have a need for entertainment, I can’t think of these various possible ways to meet that need. Moreover, chances are, I will not communicate this well to the other person. I might say, “Let’s go to the movies!” This won’t help the other person understand why I want to go to the movies. They might either agree, in which case, I will have my need for entertainment fulfilled. But, let’s say, they tell me, “Why don’t we go to that nearby restaurant instead? Looks like a happening place!” In this case, the other person might be assuming that I just have a need to go out or explore. So, unless I tell them that I have a need for entertainment and hence, I want to go to the movies, they won’t know.

This brings us to an understanding that once we understand needs, the next step is to make a request (or verify someone else's request if they don't communicate their preferences directly.). Requests are specific actions (strategies) that help us meet our needs. Making a request means being able to:

  • Clearly ask for what we want;
  • Suggest the person what to do rather than what we don’t want them to do;
  • Propose a specific action to the other person.

These are a few examples that can help us understand requests well.

What we say: “Stop making so much noise!”

What a clear request looks like: “Please speak in a low voice in this room!”

What we say: “I want you to give me all your attention.”

What a clear request looks like: “I’d like you to put your phone away when we’re having a conversation.”

What we say: “Please give an honest feedback about what you think regarding my idea.”

What a clear request looks like: “Please tell me 2-3 things that can be improved on the idea that I just shared with you.”

What we say: “Don’t be a tattletale.”

What a clear request looks like: “I request you to keep what I just told you to yourself.”

What we say: “Will you please give me some motivation?”

What a clear request looks like: “I want you to tell me what’s one thing I can start doing to get working on my assignment.”

What we say: “Can’t you ever show some affection?”

What a clear request looks like: “I want you to meet me on Saturday at the cafe at 3 pm so that we can have some conversations and spend time together.”  

Making clear requests help us to transform our expectations into agreements. For instance, if the request is, “Can you please turn on your cameras once I start with the class?” During a virtual class, the speaker has an expectation that students should have their videos turned on. Communicating their need, they are trying to form an agreement with others to turn their cameras on. The speaker can also verify whether their request is being accepted or not by looking at the number of people who turn on their cameras as opposed to those who do not.

Making clear requests also doesn’t guarantee that we will have what we ask of the other person, but it will help the other person clearly know what we want. Making a request means being able to propose a specific action to the other person while also being open enough to hear a ‘no’ as a response [since we understand that their ‘no’ is coming from a need that they’re trying to meet, instead of rejecting us].


Aprajita Jha

Aprajita Jha is Linchpin at My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected].