Transforming Demands into Requests

Knowing what to say is one thing, but practicing it consistently is another. The other day at the residential treatment center for teen girls where I work part-time, I was in the kitchen supervising after-dinner cleanup. The girl in charge of delegating tasks had not assigned anyone to put away food yet, and the one who was supposed to wash the pots and pans was waiting. It was nearly 8 pm and the possibility of an after dinner movie was getting more remote. At that point, I yelled out into the dining room, “We could really use some support here with putting away the food!” Five minutes passed, no response. I walked out to the dining room and said, “We need to get the food put away!” Finally a girl showed up and I helped her get the food into plastic bags.

Shortly afterward, the girl in charge of assigning tasks said she had some feedback for me. “I didn’t like your demanding tone in the kitchen.” I gulped and thanked her for the feedback. This girl avoided me for the remainder of the evening. My jaws started to ache. I realized that it was because my speech was not in line with my values; I was not talking my talk!

Once I was home, I did some slow breathing, got into heart coherence, and asked my heart, “What could I have done differently?” Of course! I could have described what I was noticing, stated my feelings and needs, and made a request. So I wrote her a note.

Dear S,

I regret my demanding tone last night. Here’s what I would say, next time:

When I was in the kitchen and noticed that there was nobody putting away the leftovers, while G was waiting for some pans to wash, I felt concerned because I value efficiency. I also was wanting G to be able to finish her task. Noticing that it was nearly 8pm, I was worried that the other girls might be irritated if we did not have time to watch the movie. I value cooperation so that all of our needs can get met and we can have a good time. Would you be willing to delegate a girl to put away the food within the next 5 minutes or so?

Sincerely,

Cathy

The next afternoon when I saw S, I gave her the note and after she read it she came and thanked me, with a big smile on her face. I felt so much better! It’s comforting to know that even though I blew it the first time, I could repair the damage. Now my goal is to be more consistent in expressing my feelings and needs, and to transform my demands into requests before they leave my mouth.