I can hear it now, “I told you to bring me salt and pepper!” Or, “Where’s the salt and pepper?” Or more sarcastically, “Oh, that’s cool! No salt or pepper!”
According to Deb Dutilh at Psychcentral.com, studies show that a lack of communication is the number one reason couples break up or get divorced. I know it played a huge role in my divorce.
I propose that, sometimes, it’s not a lack of communication but very poor, ineffective, or offensive communication that is the real culprit.
One way to dramatically improve your communication skillset and to avoid divisive, corrosive, communication is to practice the respectful request!
A quick search at Oxford Languages defines a request as an act of asking politely or formally for something. It fails to include that a true request must include the willingness to accept no as a response. If a requester is not willing to accept a decline of their request, then what they are really doing is making a demand in the form of a request.
A “respectful” request includes mastery of tone, timing, language, situation — physical and emotional, and intent or motivation.
We’ve all heard people say, “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it that hurt.” It’s amazing what content you can deliver with sweet, sugary, loving tones. And I’m equally certain you’ve experienced retaliation from saying the most innocent comments in a harsh or too excited fashion. The main point is to be mindful of what tone you are using when making a request.
Tone can often be inadvertently influenced by situation or timing. If you are making a request from someone in a loud or crowded situation, or perhaps when in the presence of other people who might be affected by the request, or in a place where an immediate response is needed, i.e., in a hurry, these situations can derail your respectful request. The other situational component is the consideration of the emotional state of the other person. In our home, we have learned that respectful requests are better made after checking in with the other person to see if they are in a good place to receive a request. We might put it like this, “I have something important I want to discuss with you. Are you in a good place to hear me?”
Misuse of language can also destroy your healthy communication. For example, you use a complaint instead of a request. Many times, if I have not taken the time to consider just what it is I am hoping to achieve, I can end up making complaints. Here’s an example. I get home from work tired, dirty, hungry. I take a shower, eat dinner, and relax a bit in front of the evening news. Maybe my wife gets on the phone and is talking with family and friends for quite a while. When she finishes up and comes into the room with me, I say, “You sure spend a lot of time on your phone. You know we need to talk about my upcoming trip out of town!” All I really wanted was to discuss the upcoming trip. There was no need to use the complaint when I simply could have asked, “Hey, when you get a minute, would you mind sitting with me so we can talk about the upcoming trip?”
Hopefully, you can see that in this small example, a simple, respectful request could have been used instead of a griping session or condescending complaint. Again, tone and emotional constraint would be helpful.
Motivation or intent can skew a request as well. If for example, I nicely, politely, while in a considerate situational environment, with no undue pressure to answer immediately, request that my wife please consider going with me on my next out of town work trip, that might be fine. But if I do it knowing that she already has a conflicting, serious commitment, whether because of work, family, or self-care, just to prove a point that our growing disconnectedness is really her fault, that is not respectful to her.
So, the next time you find that you would like to try getting one of your requests met, how about considering making it a respectful request?
Be mindful of your intent, tone, the situational context — physical and emotional, your timing, and think about whether or not a refusal to meet your request is really okay with you. Hopefully, as you practice this tool, you’ll find that you are less and less in conflict or pain in your relationships.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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