Global Leadership Perspective

Keys to Making Effective Requests and Obtaining Reliable Commitments

We understand that, for many of us, our daily experience with requests is that they often result in missed commitments, unexpected delivery, or frustration and straining of relationships. This article offers some perspectives and strategies for increasing the ability to obtain reliable commitments or at minimum, to understand upfront, if you have a reliable commitment in response to a request that you have made.

by Peter Claghorn, Senior Associate, Vanry Associates

A key component of effective requests is that as the requester you are jointly accountable for the outcome along with the performer/listener.  While we may be able to point to the poor performance of another as the reason for a commitment not being met, nonetheless, what we were requesting, or needed, was not accomplished.    For example, if I have made a commitment to our executive to deliver a quarterly report by the end of the month and I’m relying on one of our team to produce analysis for completion of the report, then it is my commitment to the executive that is broken if the analysis does not arrive on time. Thus, I’m jointly accountable for the outcome of my requests.

This accountability begins with the way the request is made and is in place throughout the entire delivery.  In carrying out your accountability as Requestor, as a start there are several key elements in ensuring that you are making effective requests.  We suggest there are 8 observable elements to effective requests:

Both Speaker and Listener exist – This may seem obvious, but have you ever made a request by email to a person who was on vacation?  How well did that turn out?

  1. You must make the request (spoken or unspoken)
  2. The request must be listened by the other person, the intended target of the request, and what is listened matches with what you intended – be clear about who should receive the request and confirm that they received it and understood it, in the way you intended it.

The relationship between the Speaker and the Listener is sufficient for the request

  1. The level, depth, and strength of the relationship needs to be in proportion to the request being made 
  2. Making requests that overflow the relationship will not yield the intended results and could damage the level of the relationship that currently exists.  This includes making requests that are not realistic or do not consider that the listener/performer may have other things on their plate besides your request.

There is a future action called for from the Listener

If no action is called for from the Listener, then this is some other type of conversation. 
> You must be clear about what it is you need and what you are asking for, and what you are calling for the Listener to do or produce

Specified time for fulfillment

  1. An effective request must include a specified time in which it is to be fulfilled
  2. Without this, the request is ineffective and will likely produce inefficiency in the execution
    > You need to be clear about when you need it back.  It is often helpful to add ‘why’ you need it back by that time (e.g. the client has asked for us to get the report to them by the end of day Tuesday next week).

The conditions of satisfaction (COS) are provided and are in line with the norms/practices of the community/organization

  1. When making requests we provide the Listener with as much information about the request as needed to:
    1. ensure that they understand the request,
    2. clarify why we are making it and why it is important to us. 
  2. We are clear about what it is taking care of:
    1. concerns about allowable parameters, standards,
    2. timeframes and
    3. other aspects that we see are important to our satisfaction with the result.  This includes expectations of our involvement, need for review cycles and so on
  3. If our COS fall outside the norms of the community/organization then the request is likely to be viewed as unreasonable, unless care is taken to share and understand each other’s standards

What is clear to you may or may not be obvious to your listener, so the “background of obviousness” is made clear, at least enough to support the request,  

  1. What is obvious in one community or setting may not be so in others
    1. Standard accounting practices and methods may not be obvious to engineers
    2. A boot is something worn on feet in the US, and is a storage compartment at the rear of the car in the UK
    3. Fish don’t know that they are in water until the first time they are taken out of it
    4. Grid means one thing in the EU/UK and another thing in North America
  2. An effective request requires that you think deliberately about what is obvious for you that may not be so for others and what might be obvious for them that is not so for you.  This deliberate step allows you to address these clearly when making the request

Assessing the capacity for fulfillment

  1. In making requests, and more importantly in hearing a commitment to honor a request, you must reasonably assess the capacity (capability set, ability to fit it in with other priorities, and authority to carry out the request) of the other.
    > In making this assessment, it is also important to assess the mood in which your request is being heard.  Is their mood appropriate and sufficient to support the request?
  2. Making a request when there is insufficient capacity for the request is inefficient, ineffective and potentially destructive
  3. You are jointly accountable for the outcome so assessing capacity is an essential step.

Flexibility in the selection of verbs used in your request

  1. The choice of words used in the request can produce a wide range of what is listened by the performer. Examples include:
    1. Plead, entreat, appeal, beg, urge
    2. Propose, suggest, ask, request, offer
    3. Insist, demand, order, command
  2. The choice of verbs is dependent on the situation, the nature of the relationship between you, as well as the authority structure that exists between you.  Consider clearly:
    1. The level of urgency of the situation behind the request and into which the request is being made
    2. The consequences should the request not be acted upon (could be for you, them, the organization, for society…)
    3. The structure of authority and power between you and the other.

If any of these elements is missing the likelihood of unexpected and unproductive results increases dramatically.  While paying attention to all of this may seem to be extra work, applying deliberate efforts in these steps reduces waste from rework, resentment, and overwhelm, and produces much greater consistency in the timely and effective delivery of what is being requested.  It also strengthens the relationship and trust when the pattern of consistent delivery is repeated.

It is valuable to note that these tools can readily be applied to situations where you are the recipient of the request.  Applying them in such situations can improve the effectiveness of your commitments.

Banner & Thumbnail credit: Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash


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