You think you’re being direct in your communication. This is a highly valued quality in business culture in the US and other western countries. Being direct is useful because it saves time, keeps the air clear, and moves the action forward. Even with this espoused value, how direct are we? This is not just about sharing our feelings or speaking up when asked.
To be direct often requires you to ask others to take action.
Making a clear request involves five central elements:
- who is asking
- who is being asked
- what is being asked for
- how will we know when it’s done
- by when is it needed.
If we become clear on all five of these, we have a much better chance of getting what we ask for. It’s remarkable how much more effective complete requests are, when we take the time to think them through.
And THEN, the big step across the chasm. A request is made when the listener understands what the requester wants. I may have thought I had all five elements in my request. First of all, I made assumptions that they would know what I meant. I realize that I forgot to state when I needed it, because it seemed obvious to me.
They interpreted my request as just an idea or suggestion and didn’t take it seriously. Darn, there’s more to this than I thought!
The idea isn’t to get technical and overly picky when we make requests. What we can do is observe the details of how we are asking and how our requests are received. Can our listeners tell whether we are opening a conversation for possibility or a conversation for action? Do they take our requests sincerely, because we do follow up and not just let things go? Do we hit the right level of specificity, not overly obvious but helpfully informative?
A small amount of self-audit or self-observation can pay off big time in this arena of making clear requests.
Here’s a checklist to support that observation:
Are all five elements present? (i.e. the listener understands them).
Requester is _______________.
Request is being made of ____________.
The requested action is _____________.
I’ll know it’s done when _____________.
I need this by _______________.
Are there resources or information I need to provide?
Am I holding back on making this request for some reason?
Is it clear whether there are consequences (positive or negative) to this person for doing or not doing what I ask?
Do I need permission from them to be making this request?
All of these, and other practices in making requests, are part of our personal syntax. We tend to be great at some parts of requests and completely overlook others, not just once, but habitually. Conscious request management during the course of a week can improve both results and morale for good.
Making clear requests is the basis for coordinating action, and is integrated with other communication and influence skills, like knowing your goal, building rapport, providing accurate and relevant information, and continuing to learn with and from others.
Give this some attention, and when you notice your increasing ability to influence, enjoy an inner smile about what a fine and direct communicator you are!