Requests versus Needs

It becomes quite helpful in all relationships to understand the difference between a Request and a Demand.

And it becomes even more important in our relationships. Harmony comes about making Requests of people rather than Demands.  We learned earlier, when you make a Demand, you are only going to get resentment or rebellion. 

My Dad didn’t Request me to get him coffee.  It was a polite Demand.  When my dad asked me to get him a cup of coffee, I sure as heck got up and got him that coffee because I didn’t want the consequences. I wouldn’t be watching television for the rest of the night. So, the politeness has nothing to do with the distinction. The words had nothing to do with it. It is simply, can you say “no” and not get into trouble? That’s the distinction between Request and a Demand and that is an Aha for most people.

Many people walk through life asking for something with strings attached. “If you don’t do what I asked. I’m going to feel hurt. I’m going to feel like you don’t care.”  These types of questions I don’t consider to be Requests but subtle Demands.  The subtext is “If I don’t get what I want there will be consequences.”

So the person asking is feeling hurt; or disappointed.  Do you see how there are strings attached?  A “No” triggers some pain on their part because they have an agenda.   With this new awareness you begin to look at the distinction. 

How do you make a clean request? If you have the awareness that your desires, your Needs, are your responsibility then you ask, or request, help but know the bottom line of the issue is that it is your problem not someone else.  And, if the person is saying “No” it is because they have Needs of their own that take priority.

I love it when someone says “No” to me because it means they are taking care of themselves and not helping me out of any sense of obligation.   

Pretty simple.  A woman that I work with worked with, a client, told me that her husband was a contractor. It’s an interesting thing about being married to a contractor. Turns out when your husband’s a contractor, you typically have projects going on around the house all the time and they’re always getting put off because they have to go out and earn money.

“No” means they are taking care of themselves

So there’s always that part of the house is under repair. There are projects that are not getting done. So she was complaining about the fact that her bathroom hadn’t been fixed and had been in a state of disrepair for months. We talked about this. She said “When I ask him, it comes across as a demand. As a “have to.”  And then he just kind of gets annoyed and doesn’t do it. So how do you make a Request?” 

“First,” I said, “we have to identify who’s Need is the bathroom.”  “Mine” she said.  He’ doesn’t seem to mind the mess.”  “Okay,” I replied “and who’s job are your Needs?”  Here she realized that her Needs are her responsibility, and not her husband’s.  If she insists she runs the risk of getting resentment from him.

“Here’s how I might suggest it.  Honey, I know you’re really busy and, still, I am “frustrated with the disarray in the bathroom (Feelings)  I would really enjoy getting it fixed and being comfortable in the bathroom (Need). I want to be able enter the bathroom, not have to worry about stepping on a nail and have everything working. So I’d like to have you finish the bathroom in the next two weeks. (Request) And if you can’t finish the bathroom in the next two weeks, that’s OK. I’ll can hire somebody to come in and do it.” 

See, there’s no Demand there. It’s like I understand you’re busy and if you’re unable to do it, it’s  OK. I’ll pay for it. I’ll have someone come in and we’ll get it done.” because my need is my job, not yours. That makes sense? It begins to change relationships, when you begin to think in this way, “it’s not my partner’s job to meet my needs.” It may be their joy, but it’s not their job.

What Marshall Rosenberg, the guy who taught this, would say is that I only want you to do something for me, if you can do it with the joy of a little girl feeding hungry ducks. 

Imagine standing on a lakeshore with a little toddler, a little girl. She’s got a handful of bread and she’s tossing bread to the ducks. And they’re coming in. They’re gobbling. You can imagine her having a great time feeding the ducks. And that’s the joy he talks about. Do something for me only if it gives you joy. So that the local group here in Portland, we made a business card.  I’ve been carrying my wallet since 2003. And after being asked for it a few times, I made a copy. 

This is a business card in my wallet. 

That’s the way I want my relationships. “Don’t buy a present for me because you think you have to buy a present for me.  Only get a present if you have fun shopping and looking for something which you think I’ll like.” It changes the dynamic, and I’ve committed to my kids that that wasn’t I going to raise them in a state of fear and I wasn’t going to scare them into doing things. I was going to talk. Talk about feelings and needs. It’s amazing how the dynamic changes in our relationship when it becomes safe to be who you are and to say “No” if you don’t want to do something. 

Now, why would anybody say “No” to me? I am way too charming, right? Because it doesn’t meet their needs! And I want them to be meet their needs. So I love hearing “No” because it means they’re taking care of themselves. They’re meeting their needs because I don’t want to ever find out later that it was done out of a sense of “Have to,” a sense of resentment, or fear; Make sense?  

Published by Jim Hussey

I am a licensed professional counselor, working in a hospital setting. I have been a meditator and teacher for 47 years, a therapist for 28 years and married for 29 years. My secret vice is golf.

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