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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Clark

Requests in Nonviolent Communication

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

The fourth and final component of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) takes us to the step where we make requests. This is where we bring in others to collaborate with us on making life better. This part can be challenging, but it’s also where you get a chance to actually change the world around you.

requests in NVC

The Power of Requests

Making a request is to actually make an impact, taking power over circumstances.

For many people, this step of NVC is the most mind-blowing part of the entire process. That’s because many of us have come to believe that we can’t make requests, even if we wouldn’t exactly be able to put that belief into words. We often experience anxiety when we first start to think about making clear requests to other people, but the more we start to engage this way (as long as our requests stay clean and clear), the more freedom we begin to experience.

Whatever hangups you have about making requests of others, and Lord knows there are plenty, it is worth getting in the habit. It begins to make every conflict you get into a chance for both sides to experience a better world.

As we’ve seen in the first three components, conflicts are really one or more unmet needs exposing themselves. Requests are the way we begin to get those needs met.

In that way, NVC transforms conflict from something that leads to bad feelings into something that leads to a more satisfying, fulfilling way of life.

Making Clean Requests

There are a few steps we can take to make sure that our requests are as clean and clear as possible.

1. Be Conscious Of Your Requests

So often, we find ourselves exclaiming, “I made it perfectly clear what I wanted!” But if we had filmed our interaction and watched the footage, we would find out that we actually hadn’t. That’s because the requests we make of others are often not made consciously. They fuel the things we say, but they are never the explicit words we choose to speak.

For instance, “I can’t believe you just said that!” is not the same as saying, “Those kinds of jokes make me feel uncomfortable, and I want you to let me know if you are going to make jokes like that in the future.” Which one is much more clear?

This becomes critical when the request we are making is less directly obvious. And when we are just starting out, it’s a good idea to tend toward over-clarifying. You’ll be surprised by how much this changes things.

2. Use Positive-Language

Consider the following two requests and see if you think which will work better:

  • Can you stop being so loud?

  • Can you go outside to practice your violin?

More likely than not, the second request is going to be heard, and while you might get a hard no, you can get a much better yes.

The negative version of the request hides a subtle evaluation (you’re being too loud) and doesn’t define clearly what we want (just how much noise is “loud,” anyway?). That’s because it’s negative — i.e. it only talks about what shouldn’t be there.

But by turning it into a positive request, we state what we actually want. In this case, we make no evaluation of the violin player, though they can probably guess that their practicing is making it difficult for us to do whatever it is we are trying to do.

As a bonus, positive requests tend to be easier to offer alternatives if we are a no. In the above example, we might get a response like, “It’s too chilly for me to play outside, but I’d be happy to move to another room.” That is made more likely because the other person doesn’t have to fight through any subtle evaluations to get to an empathic response, and knowing what we do want lets them come up with an alternative that meets their needs and our needs at the same time.

3. Get a Reflection

Make sure that you get some kind of reflection on your request. That way, you can know for sure that the other person has heard you loud and clear. Paying that same courtesy forward, you can make it a habit of reflecting back to people the requests they make of you, and that way, everybody is on the same page.

Is It a Request or a Demand?

There is an easy test you can run any request through to see if it’s really a demand. That’s the No Test.

Basically, how does the person who made the request respond to a no? Are they filled with anger or judgment? Do they start guilt-tripping the other person? If so, it’s a demand.

On the other hand, if someone receives a no and then responds by trying to empathically understand the needs that the no is coming from, you have a request on your hands.

Before you make a request, you can run this test on yourself. Is the thing you are about to ask someone really a free choice they can make? Or are you going to use violent communication (shouting, judgmental language, guilt-tripping, etc.) to reprimand them for it?

Responding to Requests

This is essential in NVC: only say yes to requests if doing so meets one of your needs.

So often, we find ourselves in situations where we end up saying yes to things when we don’t really want to. What happens? We start resenting the person who made the request. If it's a close friend, family member, or partner, there is a good chance that we will continue to say yes when we really want to say no. This happens over and over, and soon we build up with resentment, and we have to explode, saying something like, “You’re always making me do things I don’t want to do!”

You can sidestep all of this by simply responding no when you don’t feel like a need of yours would be met by fulfilling the request.

Let’s get a concrete example. Your partner asks you to make dinner after their long day of work. The problem is, you’ve had a long day of work yourself, and the last thing you want to do is spend an hour in a hot kitchen cooking the family dinner. Instead of responding with a yes, respond with an honest no, adding in why you are a no. Something like, “I understand you are feeling exhausted and don’t want to cook, but I’m feeling very exhausted myself and don’t feel like cooking either. What are other options we have?”

Now, you can talk about other options. Maybe you can split a pizza, or you can split tasks in the kitchen to make the task of cooking easier for everyone.

The above example seems like a low-stakes one, but it really isn’t. Over years of being together, many couples run into enormous problems because they never engage in requests this way. Either they bottle up requests, assume they know the requests someone else is constantly making (but aren’t actually), say no but never work to meet everyone's needs, and still plenty more destructive ways to relate to requests.

Read More About NVC

Check out our entire series on NVC:

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