A Communication Tool for Generating Effective Action
We can see organizations newly as shaped by generative acts, based on the perspective that language is generative, not just descriptive. Speaking and listening produce action and coordination of action, as well as possibilities, identities, purpose and worlds. – Robert Dunham
Richard was VP of IT in a pharmaceutical company. He was highly respected by the supervisors and managers in his department, and his calm, competent nature sustained a positive influence on the culture of his department within the larger organization. Richard’s greatest challenge, however, was feeling unsupported by the President of the company. A project manager from another department was being unreasonable, irrational, and disrespectful with his employees. This had been going on for an extended period of time, and Richard had no authority over that individual. Richard’s conversations about this situation had generated no support from the President.
We spent several coaching sessions brainstorming ways to resolve this situation. Week after week, nothing he tried worked. That’s when I introduced Richard to the coaching skill called “Powerful Request.”
A “request,” according to Fernando Flores is one of only five linguistic actions:
- Requests – an action that you take when you seek the assistance of another regarding an underlying concern that you have. (Please complete your report by Friday.)
- Promises – what you speak to indicate your commitment to fulfilling what someone has requested. (I will show Mary how to use the copier.)
- Assessments – a judgment that you make about the world in the interest of some action. (I like your idea.)
- Assertions – a statement you make for which you are willing to provide evidence. (We came in under budget on our project this month.)
- Declarations – an utterance in which someone with the authority to do something brings into being that which wasn’t there before. (I will submit the quarterly report on time.)
In the coaching paradigm, a “Powerful Request” is a particular kind of request. Like a “request,” it is a call to action – and it is more. A Powerful Request includes a time frame and reason or benefit to the requestee:
“Will you (specific action) by (time frame) so that (stated reason or benefit)?”
Richard saw the possibility that with this tool he could notch up the power and effectiveness of his communication. We crafted a specific request of the President that would also enroll him in the benefit to the organization for taking the requested action. In his next meeting with the President, instead of talking “about” the problem, Richard spoke his powerful request. The President accepted his request. This resulted in generating action from the President that ultimately supported Richard in resolving his issue.
Here are two additional tips for applying a “Powerful Request:”
- The stated benefit needs to be for the requestee (not you, the requestor). It needs to be something that would be important to the requestee.
- The requestee needs to understand that they get to choose how they respond. Their choices are:
- Yes, I accept
- No, I do not accept*
- Yes, and I will renegotiate (make an adjustment to the action or timing, and state what they will promise)
- I will think about it and get back to you by____.
*In this case, I usually follow with: “Ok, thank you, and what will you do?”
Inquiry: What possibilities for action can you imagine using “powerful requests” as your communication power tool?
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