It’s common for people to think they are making requests when what they are really doing is lecturing or venting (yep, more forms of complaining).
- A big part of the problem is that we’re not practiced at being clear in our own minds about what we want or need in the first place.
And if we don’t even know in our own minds what we want, then naturally, we will have trouble being clear with others about what needs to happen to address the thing we’re complaining about. It’s bad enough when we do that to ourselves, and especially so when we do it to others. I mean, how can the people in your life satisfy you when you haven’t even crisply identified what it is you need?
If you are thinking, this is not a problem I have, maybe you are right. You might be a long way there if you have already eliminated complaining from your vocabulary. Even so, it’s possible you have an opportunity to tune your approach.
So, let’s say one objective you have been driving at in your team is better collaboration and more teamwork. The department came up with a new mission statement that includes the concepts of teamwork and collaboration; you have been clear in team meetings that you want to see more of both; and you have even added teamwork and collaboration questions to your interview process for new hires. You can’t understand why you aren’t seeing more teamwork.
If you haven’t gotten specific in your own mind about what more teamwork and better collaboration would look like, and if you haven’t also shared those specifics with the team, then you are relying on telepathic power to create results. That’s leaving a lot to chance.
“The clearer we are about what we want, the more likely it is that we’ll get it.”
How can you make a clear request if you aren’t aware of what you need or want? And how can others help you if you aren’t letting them know what you need?
- We have to take responsibility for making powerful and clear requests that enable us to act effectively on our own behalf, and that allow other people to help us. Chances are, they really want to!
What might increase the chances you will get more of what you think of as better collaboration and teamwork in your team? Communicating some concrete examples or guidelines – for example, actions team members would take to demonstrate teamwork –and asking specific people to take on those actions will likely bring you much closer to achieving your vision.
Here are some additional examples to build out your understanding of how this works.
An example of a solution to a complaint that would involve you owning your unmet need and then making a request of someone else follows:
Imagine you are regularly really cranky on the weekends, and your mood tends to get particularly foul at those times you and your partner are driving into the city to meet friends for dinner. Your offhand comments on these drives often lead to arguments. If you think about whether there is a hidden message in the “complaining” you engage in on those drives, you might realize you have an unmet need to spend more quiet time at home on the weekend rather than going out so much. The forward-looking, solution-oriented move you could make to meet that need is to own that you need this and, from there, make a request of your partner that the two of you make social plans on only one weekend night per week.
An example of a request you might make to yourself follows:
You are under a ton of stress and things at work are really heating up with that new project you’ve been working on for the past month. You want to perform, as the stakes are high and you really like the virtual team you’re working with, but you notice each afternoon, you get cranky and don’t give your best; you even lash out at your teammates from time to time. As you consider your unhappiness with the situation (i.e., your “complaint”), you start to look for the unmet need. You realize you’ve been skipping lunch and your behavior might have something to do with being “hangry.”* You see that the unmet need is to feed your body and maintain even blood sugar. Now, you are in a position to problem solve for this unmet need by coming up with different ideas for how you might address the issue. You might determine you need to make time for lunch; if you don’t have time to get to the cafe, that might mean making time on the weekend to shop, prepare, and pack food for the office for the week ahead (the thing you identify to close the gap is, in essence, the “request” you need to make to yourself, and that request results in a commitment or plan you would make that resolves the gap).
Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to make powerful and effective requests in the next Topic.
*Hangry = Hungry + Angry. A common result when you skip lunch.