The difference between a request and a demand is not a trivial one. When a person makes a request it is okay with the person making the request for the response to the request to be “No.” In contrast, when a person makes a demand a “No” response is not okay with the demander. This distinction is useful because it fosters self-awareness (an essential element of Emotional Intelligence) and affords opportunities to improve the effectiveness and spirit of communication. One can use this distinction to intentionally notice when it is being blurred. We can clean up our communication by wholly owning and clearly articulating our requests and demands as such; and we can request clarification when the distinction seems to be blurred by others.
There are a variety of ways blurring this distinction wreaks havoc with our lives. I’ve listed a few below.
- A request can be interpreted as a demand when it is in reality a genuine request
- A demand can masquerade as a request and be interpreted as a request.
- Both requests and demands can go unspoken.
As a recovering people pleaser, I have definitely interpreted requests as demands, sometimes spinning destructive narratives of resentment or righteous indignation based on those misinterpretations. Now armed with an awareness of the request/demand distinction, I can choose to say “No,” or candidly say that the request felt like a demand and ask for confirmation or clarification. However clarified or confirmed, asking would disarm the time and energy consumed and wasted by my rumination.
People rarely clearly make demands. They rarely say something to the tune of “I demand that you …(fill in the blank).” Since often demands do insidiously masquerade as requests, it is easy to overgeneralize and interpret all requests as demands. If you’ve been around people who habitually ‘hide’ demands in requests, you don’t have to be a people pleaser to feel that you can’t say “No.” Again, it is useful to get clarification, especially since the person making the demand in the guise of a request may not be aware they are doing it. So ask and help all involved take responsibility for their communication by modeling it.
Finally, there are the unspoken requests and demands. Do you ever experience someone’s unspoken request or demand? I find that it is pretty common for people to complain about not getting things they never asked for or demanded. Often people have expectations of one another that are based on nothing tangible, no meeting of minds or agreement. When asked about it they tend to say things like “I shouldn’t have to ask. He should know I need that. She should know what I want to hear.” One of the problems of unspoken requests and demands is that nobody really wins. There’s just confusion and opportunity for hedging and passive aggressiveness, neither of which yields win-win interactions.
In closing I encourage you (I’m talking to myself here too.) to use your words. Clearly make your requests and demands by calling them out. Don’t assume that others somehow know without your saying something. If you’re not clear whether a request or demand is being made of you, ask for clarification.
Awareness empowers. Responsibility liberates.