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Response RequiredPosted Friday, August 3, 2012
By Dr. Allen Slade, ACC
Leaders use requests to trigger action. If your requests don’t trigger the action you want, you may need to make smart requests. But even the most carefully crafted request requires discipline in listening for the response.
Bottom line: For all your requests, insist on one of these responses:
3. Counter offer
4. Decide later
As Kim Krisco says, “If you let someone give you anything except one of those responses, there is a good chance that the action you want and need will not be forthcoming.“ A non-response, changing the topic or refusing to answer are not valid responses. As a leader, insist on “yes”, “no”, an offer to negotiate or a commitment to decide later. Demand a valid response out of self-respect and out of respect for the other person, because a request requires a valid response.
If you will not accept “no” as a response, what you are saying may be a command or a demand, but it is not a request. Requests may be stated politely while commands and demands often use more forceful language. However, commands may also be phrased quite politely. For a Navy ensign, the statement “The captain requests the pleasure of your presence on the bridge” is clearly a command, because the captain has substantial legitimate power over the ensign. The polite phrasing may be an attempt to soften the command, or it may actually reinforce the power differential. Either way, the ensign will rush to the bridge.
Like a command, a demand does not leave room for “no”. If a command is based on formal authority, a demand is based on coercion. A demand has an edge to it. “Do what I want or else . . . .” The “or else . . .” may be stated boldly in the form of a threat. Or it may be implied with language such as “I have the right to . . . .” Insisting on your rights implies that you can call for backup to enforce your rights, such the police or Human Resources. Either way, a demand lays out the choice of acquiesence or escalation.
This is not to say that a request, once made and rejected, is forever dead. An influential leader may test a negative response. After hearing “No,” the leader can ask “Why not?” or make a counter offer. Yet, a leader will allow the recipient to refuse a request. Being willing to accept “No” as a valid answer is fundamental to your respect and authenticity as a leader.
As leaders, we draw on our interpersonal influence, not formal authority, coercion or rights. We use requests to trigger action, not commands or demands. We may find ourselves in other roles – as a manager with legitimate authority or an employee with rights – and in those roles we may choose to use commands or demands. But if you are acting as a leader, use requests to trigger action. Insist on hearing “yes”, “no”, an offer to negotiate or a commitment to decide later. You may not always get what you want, but you increase the odds when you insist on a valid response to your requests.