The main difference between a request and a demand is that the other person is free to say “No” to a request. In contrast, a demand carries some penalty unless they comply.

Requests must also meet the following four requirements:

  1. Specific

    • By being clear about what actions will help meet our needs, we reduce the chance of conflict due to misunderstandings.
    • Example situation:
      • Person 1: (sees a dirty bathroom and piles of laundry)
      • Person 1: “I need you to help around the house.”
      • Person 2: “Sure!”
      • Person 2: (washes the dog, throwing more wet towels on the laundry pile and further dirtying the bathroom)
      • Person 1: “I thought you were going to help around the house?!”
      • Person 2: “I did!”
    • A more specific way to make the request might be, “Could you put all the dirty laundry in the basket and clean the bathroom sink today?”
  2. Present moment

    • Future requests are harder to honor than requests that are more immediately doable.
    • Even if the requested action is in the future, the request itself is for an agreement in the present moment.
    • We can further clarify the request by adding duration and optionality. The agreement is not a permanent commitment.
    • “Would you be willing to meet with me from 5 PM until 6 PM on Mondays for the next month, if you can?”
  3. Positive language

    • A common phrase in NVC is “You can’t do a don’t.” Ask for what you want instead of what you don’t want.
    • Example rephrasing:
      • Don’t: “Stop bothering me!”
      • Do: “I need to finish this task and could use some quiet time. Would you be okay with coming back in a few hours?”
  4. Doable

    • We increase the chances of getting our needs met by only asking for something that the other person can actually do.
    • Words like “always” and “from now on” make requests harder to do.
    • If a person has to do the dishes “from now on,” does this mean all day, every day, forever?

Action requests vs. connecting requests

In many NVC processes, we use a “connecting request” to ensure we have clarity and understanding around something before making an “action request.”

In the dirty laundry and bathroom example above, an exchange including a connecting request might look like this:

  • Person 1: “There’s a pile of dirty laundry on the floor and toothpaste and hair in the bathroom sink. I just got home from work, and I’m exhausted. I could use some help cleaning up.”
  • Person 2: “Sure!” (or maybe “I didn’t make the mess!” or any other conversational responses)
  • Person 1 (connecting request): “Could you tell me what you heard me say?”
  • Person 2: “You said clean up around here! I’ll wash the dog because he’s filthy!” (or maybe, “You said I made a mess!“)
  • Person 1: “Thank you for clarifying! I meant to say I’m too tired to pick up all the laundry and clean the bathroom tonight. I need to get some sleep, and I’m wondering if you could pick up the dirty laundry and clean the bathroom sink.”