The power of making clear requests

How clear are the requests that you make in your life? How do you renegotiate promises that you make that you cannot keep? Read this to find out more!

Steffan Surdek
August 21, 2018
A father talking to his daughter

I was paying closer attention to the chatter in our house recently. Imagine two adults and two young children talking in the kitchen while making supper. We were telling our children things like “the table needs to be set” and “the dishwasher is full”. Like the great kids they are, our kids started doing these various little chores all on their own.

In the moment, it surprised me that they were doing any of it. Thinking about it, it dawned on me that my surprise came from the realization we never asked them to do any of this. So why were they doing it?

The art of making clear requests

Did you ever take the time to notice how you make requests of your spouse, family or even friends and colleagues? Do you think that it is clear to them that you are making a request?

A request comes with a choice. The other person can answer “yes” or “no”. The challenge with making a clear request is that you are making yourself vulnerable. There is a real chance they may say “no” and that can make asking uncomfortable for you.

On the opposite size, receiving a clear request can be uncomfortable for the other person as well. If they agree to fulfill your request, there is now an explicit promise to you they will do it. Are they willing to make that promise? Do they want or dare tell you the real reasons why they are not willing to fulfill your request?

Making requests versus passing a message

Take a moment and imagine a time where you made an unclear request to your spouse or a colleague. What happened for you when they did not meet your request? How did you react to this?

Sometimes I hear people say they are “passing a message” to someone. Do you use this expression? What does it mean to you? Does it mean you are making a clear request of them or is it a form or reprimand for you?

If you feel a need to pass a lot of messages to people around you, take a moment to reflect on the clarity of your requests. There is a possibility you are the one receiving a message from others around you and you are not picking up on it.

Renegotiating a promise

When you make a promise to someone or they make one to you, remember it may not always be easy to keep it. In these moments, there is always to possibility to renegotiate a promise.

With my kids for example, this is a two-way street. I teach them to renegotiate a promise when they cannot meet it and I try to do the same thing with my promises them. When their requests are unclear, I ask them to clarify it so that I know what they want.

To renegotiate a promise, you need to start by taking responsibility for not doing it. There may be extenuating circumstances but you still did not do it. Own you will not or did not meet your promise to this person, do not force them to corner you into owning it.

You can then ask them permission to renegotiate your promise to them. There may be times where it is not possible for whatever reason and then you need to find a way to make it up to them. This can be something like helping them find another way to get their request fulfilled.


The system of request and promises can be an interesting one to learn and go through with people. It can be difficult sometimes to take responsibility for our actions. When you do this, you will find your relationships with people begin to change.

One of the difficult aspects of using this way of communicating is accountability. The clarity allows you to you hold yourself and others accountable for meeting their promises. This is nice tool to use with your entire family.

How clear are the requests that you make in your life? How do you renegotiate promises that you make that you cannot keep? Reach out and let me know!