Leadership Perspectives

How to make an effective request

making requestsSometimes things – jobs, friendships, marriages, employee behavior or even our boss’s behavior – aren’t what we want them to be.  Often, we resort to complaining about it, usually to the people who have the least amount of power to change the situation.

Last time, I talked about the importance of making requests rather than simply complaining.  Here’s how:

Right here, right now. Making an effective request requires us to be present and focused in the moment.  We often need to dedicate specific time to make our request. Otherwise, the request can easily be misconstrued.

I asked one leader, who had taken to chronic complaining about a particular employee named Steve, whether Steve knew what behavior the leader wanted from him.  The leader assured me that the employee knew.  He told me that he made “side-bar” comments (basically he grumbled) whenever the employee committed offensive behavior.

I assured the leader that Steve did not clearly understand what his boss wanted.  Steve probably just thought that his boss was cranky most of the time!  The leader needed to commit himself to a focused conversation with Steve about his behavior instead of relying on “side-bar comments” to convey his message.

Name our conditions.  To make an effective request, one has to outline one’s specific criteria.  If I want a report on a particular topic, with a minimum of two-pages and citing at least two sources,  from you by noon on Friday, I have to specify the topic, the length, the fact that I require the sources, and my deadline.  I can’t just tell you to “give me a report.”

To be fair, some criteria is understood.  Use common sense – not excuses – when omitting criteria that might be considered unnecessary because it is so clearly understood in your organization.

Get an acceptable answer.  A request is not an effective one if the requester does not insist upon an acceptable answer.  There are four:

  1. Yes.
  2. No.
  3. Yes, with different terms or conditions.
  4. Defer answer to specific time.

The first answer is the ideal answer, of course, but the second answer, no, is also acceptable because it tells you where you stand.

The third answer is sort of like negotiation, as in “Yes, we can brainstorm higher level strategic issues with you while refraining from giving you directive advice, as long as we can have permission to tell you if we think you are about to do something that will seriously harm your organization.”  Then the ball is in your court to accept or decline the new terms.

Sometimes, people just can’t give you an answer right at that moment, and that’s okay as long as they tell you when they WILL give you an answer.  Steve, the employee mentioned in my last post, might legitimately say, “I understand what you are asking me but I won’t be able to give you an answer until I sleep on it.”  That’s fine.  Just obtain a commitment to meet again for his answer the next morning.

When we learn to make effective requests, we are often surprised to learn how much of our circumstances we really can change.  At any rate, it beats sitting around complaining.



Leave a Comment