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Cultivate Connection Before Asking For Action

There are two types of requests in the practice of Nonviolent Communication: Action Requests and Connection Requests. Both are important when working through conflict or difficult situations. 

As its name suggests, an action request includes a very specific action that someone can perform to meet a need. For example, you might have needs for connection and peace of mind and ask someone, “Would you be willing to call or text me when your plane lands?” Or, you might have a need for support and ask a friend, “Would you be willing to help me move next weekend?”

A connection request is one that puts aside actions in order to first cultivate connection by hearing and acknowledging both parties’ needs. Connection requests are particularly helpful when there are difficult situations to work through.

Let’s say you want to talk to a co-worker about some challenges you have with him. If you simply unload your observations, feelings, needs and action requests on him without cultivating connection, he is much less likely to follow through on your requests because he won’t have a chance to be heard and understood. Or he will do what you request but with resentment or bitterness that will cost both of you. If instead you follow your observations, feelings, and needs with a connecting request, he will get a chance to share what is going on for him and you will have the opportunity to give him empathy and demonstrate that you care about his needs too.

A connection request that I often use is, “What’s going on for you after hearing this from me?” Or some version of that, such as, “How is this landing for you?” or, “How are you feeling about what I’ve shared?”

The full expression to the co-worker could then be, “I notice you’re not replying to all the committee emails and are missing some of the meetings. I’m feeling frustrated because I have needs for reliability and shared responsibility for this project. What is going on for you hearing this from me?”

Next, do your best to empathize, regardless of what the response is. Perhaps the response is, “Well I’ve been given Alberto’s clients as well as the lead on the Madison project, not to mention all the challenges with the new computer systems they’re implementing.” Hearing this from him, your empathy might sound like, “Are you feeling overwhelmed and needing some understanding or some support?”

Once you’ve heard all his needs and have expressed yours, you can both brainstorm solutions that would meet all of them. I like to name all the needs and then invite some brainstorming, “So, you have needs for support and understanding and I have needs for reliability and shared responsibility. Do you have any ideas about what we could do to meet those needs?” Asking him if he has any ideas is a request that forms a bridge from the connection that was cultivated to action requests, and it conveys that you’re interested in collaboration, instead of just pushing your agenda.

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