Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Uncommunicated Expectations: Turning a ‘Should’ into a Clear Request"

I   A recent client of mine, who works as a Human Resources Manager complained to me about how line managers were not doing what she wanted them to do. When we explored what she had actually asked of people it become clear that she was not making effective requests.  You could be thinking ‘what, she is a HR Manager and she doesn’t know how to make a request’, well yes, at one level, it sounds a bit straightforward, however in my experience this is actually a common problem.  We primarily coordinate action to get work done through making agreements with each other.  When these agreements are not honoured they can affect our relationships. Additionally, when people are not making requests they are often complaining or they can be demanding. According to Fernando Flores there are five kinds of linguis-tic actions, the one I will explore here is Requests. 

    So what is a request? A request is asking someone to do something, inviting someone to help/assist us,   gaining cooperation to satisfy an underlying concern that you have to get things done, to coordinate actions and to meet our needs. For example “please send me your monthly report by Friday the 17th January”. This is a simple request, however breakdowns occur when people don’t make effective requests and the following offers some insights into why: 
  • Not making requests : you want something done but you don’t make a request. Why? Fear about asking others, rejection, afraid you will be seen as incompetent, don’t want to impose. A request is an invitation for another person to participant in your work/life and could be an opportunity to build your relationship.
  • Living with un-communicated expectations: a common form of ‘not requesting’ is when you live in a world of expectations that are unexpressed requests. Often your private conversation is about what others ‘should’ be doing. By translating your ‘should’ into a clear request you will reduce your frustration, resentment, anger or disappointment. 
  • Making unclear requests: the wife says to her husband “I want you to support me doing my degree”. Can you see the wife may have a different view than the husband of what support means? What kind of support? When? If there is no clear request, problems occur because the maker of the unclear request is likely to say “you promised to support me doing my degree and you didn’t”. 
In summary when you are going to make a request provide some explanation of the reason for the request so it makes sense, provide some context and consider the following tips:

  • Hinting is not an effective way to make a request e.g. "wouldn’t it be nice if we started the meeting on time for a change?"
  • Define the specific action
  • Specify timing
  • Clear criteria / standard
  • Don’t assume terminology is understood

For a further conversation on making effective requests contact

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