People who have difficulty being assertive often also have difficulty making requests. Angry people can be particularly bad at making effective requests. Because they feel they deserve being treated in a particular way they may never make requests in the first place, instead assuming (falsely) that others around them should know what to do and how and when to do it. When angry people do make requests, they may make them in the form of demands, which provoke angry feelings in others and are not likely to be happily carried out.
An effective request should have the following qualities:
Clarity. A well formed request should state clearly what it is that you want. Requests that lack clarity are difficult to meet and can provoke stress, frustration, and anger. This is especially true when requests are interpreted as demands. An effective request needs to be stated explicitly, and must provide clear answers to three questions:
- Who? – To whom is the request being made?
- What? – What must be done to fulfill the request?
- When? – When should it be done?
Respectfulness. A well formed request should be respectful. The reason for this is simple: If people feel respected, they are more likely to want to comply, and you are more likely to get what you want.
Respectful requests begin with phrases such as:
- "Would you be so kind as to…"
- "If it is not too much trouble, could you…"
- "I would very much appreciate it if you would …"
Emotional Transparency. Consider the following angry request:
"You insensitive jerk! You stupid forgetful idiot! What's wrong with you?! Why did you forget the milk I asked for?!"
How does it feel to read that request? Probably, you feel just a little defensive while reading that request, which is less a request and more of an accusation or demand. Such an angry, judgmental request is unlikely to get a sympathetic audience.
The example request (above) fails in part because it lacks in emotional transparency. To be emotionally transparent is to be willing to share real feelings. The speaker in the example request doesn't share feelings at all – he or she simply makes accusations. If we try to put ourselves into the speaker's state of mind, however, we can guess at what his or her real feelings are. The speaker probably feels neglected or forgotten, and hurt.
Requests that are emotionally transparent – that share with the listener the true reasons for the request - are more likely to motivate the listener to act than accusatory requests. Consider this variation on the example request, rephrased so that it is more emotionally transparent.
"I feel like you don't care about me when you forget to buy the milk. Please remember me next time!"
Making the fact that your feelings have been hurt clear in your request does two good things. First, it makes your motivation for making your request clear, and second, it doesn't put your listener on the defensive. Requests that are emotionally transparent, clear, and respectful in tone are most likely to be taken to heart.
An Assertive Request Formula
Crafting clear, respectful and transparent requests doesn't have to be difficult. Try filling in this simple formula to get started:
"I feel ....... when you ........... because ........................"
Be sure that you only discuss how you feel about yourself when you fill in the "I feel" part of the formula. If you say:
"I feel that you are a jerk!"
the formula won't work, because you have created an aggressive and attacking statement that is not at all transparent, and which says nothing explicit about what you are feeling. If you instead talk about how you feel about yourself, you'll get better results because you won't be on the attack. For example,
"I feel like you don’t care about me when you don’t call to let me know that you are going to be late because I end up worried and upset and I feel abandoned."