This page explains how compassionate communication can help us increase the chances that our needs will be met, by expressing our request in a way that can be well understood by others.
A specific and accurate request
Our request should be phrased in specific and accurate terms so that the other person can understand exactly what we would like them to do. And we should say what we want, not only what we don’t want. More in the section “Language” here.
How to express a request
When we would like someone to do something for us, we can use the components of compassionate communication:
- Stating a specific and accurate request that the other person can understand and do.
- Sharing which of our needs we want to satisfy through this request.
- Sharing which emotions we would like to experience if this request is accepted.
For example: “(Request:) Would you be willing to wash the dishes? (Need:) I like it when the kitchen is clean and organized. (Emotion:) It makes me feel comfortable and relaxed.”
Of course, we could simply state the request by itself, but if we also share our needs and emotions, this increases the chances that the other person will agree to our request. They can understand our request more deeply, because they can connect to our emotions and needs, which they also have.
When something is bothering us
When the other person did something which was a trigger to our emotional pain, how can we express ourselves in a compassionate manner?
- Neutral description of the specific action that the other person did.
- Our emotions that arose after this act.
- Which of our needs were not met due to this act.
- A specific and accurate request that the other person can understand and do.
For example: “(Event:) When you did not answer the phone last night, (Emotion:) I felt sadness, (Need:) because I wanted to have a connection. (Request:) I would like to ask, if that’s ok with you, that when I call and you cannot answer, you will send me a text message about it.”
As explained on the page about the components of compassionate communication, we leave the other person outside of our description of our emotions and needs.
As explained in the section “Facilitation” in the components of compassionate communication, it is important to verify that the other person understood our intention, and heard that we are expressing emotions, needs, and requests rather than implied blaming, criticism, or demands.
Even when we have a sincere intention of posing a request, the other person may be suspicious, mistrust us, and hear a demand, because he is used to so much coercion in the world. If the other person misunderstands our request as a demand, we will all pay the price. Especially if he goes ahead and does it, and then develops resentment against us, which will later harm us. We can verify his understanding using a statement such as this:
I want you to understand that I am making a request rather than a demand. You do not have to agree. I want you to accept my request only if you can do it joyfully and willingly, because it suits you and satisfies your needs. Please do not do it for bad reasons such as fear of punishment, or hoping for a reward or for my love, or out of guild, shame, duty, or obligation.
Another option is to ask: “Could you please tell me how I could express what I said in a way that you will hear a request rather than a demand?”
How to receive a response
How to receive an agreement
When we make a request and the other person agrees to our request, and furthermore we are certain that the other person really wants to do what we requested, for a good reason and not a harmful one, we can express gratitude in a way that makes us closer.
When we are not certain that the other person agrees to our request for good reasons – it’s better not to go along with it but stop and find out. We all heard that “no means no”. But also a “maybe” means “no”. “Maybe” can be expressed as “ummm…. ok” that sounds uncertain, or “I don’t mind”. We don’t want anyone to do us any favors. We want people to do what we ask them only if they really want to do it enthusiastically. We can suggest that the other person take some more time to listen to himself to find our if he really wants to do it or not, or maybe there is something small that is bothering him that should be resolved before going ahead with it. We can also ask what needs of the other person would be satisfied by agreeing to our request, to make sure that these needs will indeed be met.
How to receive a disagreement
If the other person does not agree to our request – this is where our own real test appears: Did we pose a sincere request? Or did we in fact pose a hidden demand? If anger or frustration arises in us, that means we do not really accept the possibility of refusal to our request, which means that in fact we posed a demand, even if we did so with a smile.
The way to deal with these emotions is to remind ourselves that the other person is a sovereign entity, and she never owes us anything and is never under any obligation to do anything, even when we really want it.
We can also remember that when the other person does not agree to our request, if we see it as a rejection, this is merely a harmful interpretation generated by The Virus, which creates unnecessary emotional pain within us. We can understand that the reason why the other person does not agree is that he has needs that prevent him from saying “yes”, rather than taking it as something which is personally against us. We can also remember that even if we have a preference that this person would help us meet our needs, we are not dependent on that person, because there are many other people in the world, and some of them would gladly and willingly help us satisfy these needs.
If the refusal to our request is expressed in an alienating way, it can be particularly painful for us, because not only are our needs not going to be immediately met, also the courage that we had to summon in order to expose our vulnerability by making the request is not being seen by the other person, and we are possibly attacked in some way. Still, we can alleviate our pain by remembering to have empathy for the other person, hearing his needs behind his refusal.
We can even express gratitude to the other person by saying “thank you for safeguarding yourself”. In this way, we show that we respect his personal sovereignty and his wishes. Also, when he is attuned to himself and does not agree to accept our request when he does not fully want to do it, he is also protecting us, because if he agreed to our request and did it not wholeheartedly, he would develop resentment against us, and we would eventually pay the price for it.
A “no” is not always the end of the conversation. We can try to find out which needs of the other person prevent her from agreeing, in order to see if we can both come up with another creative strategy that would allow us to satisfy the needs of both of us.
If emotions such as anger or frustration arise within us, it is our own personal responsibility to take care of it. We can process these emotions with ourselves, or with the help of friends or a therapist. We do not necessarily have to do it with the person who disagreed to our request, because he is under no obligation to help us handle our emotions. We can of course share our emotions, but only if we do so not as a manipulation to try to infuse shame and guilt in the other person. If we clarify that we know that it is only us who are responsibly for our emotions, and the other person did not cause them. As the expression says: “own your shit”.
How to respond to a request
When someone requests something of us, it’s better if we do not agree immediately, even if at that moment part of us wants to agree. This is because sometimes we act automatically without being fully aware to all our inner voices, some of which may have some hesitations or concerns about agreeing. It’s better to take a few moments to listen to ourselves, to our emotions and needs, and find out whether this is really right for us to agree. Ideally, we should feel a clear and enthusiastic “yes” from all our parts (the mind, the heart, our emotions, our needs, our body, our Essence, etc.).
We should agree to a request only if doing it satisfies our own needs. When that is the case, we can express gratitude for the request, for the opportunity to do it, thus satisfying not only the other person’s needs but also our own. It makes everyone’s life more wonderful.
If we find out that we don’t have an enthusiastic agreement to the request, we should find out what is bothering us, i.e. which of our needs are not going to be met by agreeing to the request. Then we can explain to the other person about these needs, to that he understands the reason for our refusal. This lowers the chances that he will see our response as a rejection, and increases the chance that together we can think about alternatives that will satisfy the needs of both of us.
Therefore, it’s better not to express our refusal in an alienating way, such as:
- Sharp refusal such as “no” or “I don’t want to”. This reduces the chance of connection, as it may be interpreted as a rejection which leads to feeling hurt. It is not in our interest for that to happen.
- Excuses when not taking personal responsibility, such as: “I can’t”, “I don’t have time”, “It is not possible”. The other person can sense that this is not the truth, and this leads to alienation.