If you were to ask leaders whether they demand that their team members do things or whether they ask them, my guess would be that the vast majority would say that they ask their team members.
However, if you asked team members whether their boss asks or demands that they do things, I bet you might get a different answer.
The distinction between asking and demanding can be subtle.
Here are five signs that someone is demanding instead of asking, to highlight the sometimes subtle differences between the two:
1. People are resistant when they’re asked to do things.
The first sign that may be demanding instead of asking is that people are being resistant when they’re asked to do things. If you’re finding a lot of resistance, taking a look at how you’re asking people to do things may help.
2. Saying no leads to negative consequences.
There are consequences tied to saying no that make people afraid to not do exactly what is being asked of them. These might be big, explicit consequences, such as a threat that the person may lose their job or not be considered for a promotion. Or they may be subtler consequences, such as being treated with less respect, or being assigned to less interesting projects.
In either case, if people are essentially being pushed into compliance out of fear of what will happen if they don’t, then it’s pretty clear that we’re talking about a demand rather than an ask, no matter how it’s worded.
3. A climate of fear rules the organization.
So often, when expectations are often communicated as demands within an organization, people end up being in a constantly reactive mode. They spend their days putting out fires and jumping to do things the second they are asked, regardless of what other tasks they are juggling. This tendency to act before thinking through priorities often leads to a high stress, higher conflict environment.
4. People just don’t dare to say no.
If people within your organization always say yes to every single request, no matter what, it’s a sign that they don’t feel they are truly allowed to ever say no. It’s time to take a peek behind to scenes to see what’s really going on. Is that person truly, always 100% satisfied with everything that goes on within your organization? Or are they complaining about you behind your back? When requests are shared as asks, instead of demands, it’s inevitable that we will hear “no” from time to time.
5. Boundary pushing has become acceptable.
As I define it, boundary pushing happens when someone says no and the other person doesn’t respect that person’s no. For example, the boundary pusher might keep asking the question in different ways, or telling the person all of the reasons why it’s so crucial that their request be met immediately.
Instead of exploring why the other person isn’t able to take on the requested task and attempting to look for alternate solutions together, boundary pushers just keep on pushing their agenda until the other person has given in. It’s a clear sign that the person is actually demanding, even if their words sound like an ask.
The difference between asking and demanding can be subtle at times. If this is new to you, you can try something like this:
Instead of “Hey, I need this done for five o’clock.”
Try: “Hey, it’s really important that this be done for five o’ clock. Is that feasible for you? What do we need to do to make that work?”.
The second example communicates a clear expectation about when the work needs to be done by, while also showing that the person requesting is open to trying to understand what other tasks the person is dealing with.
It’s counterintuitive, but leaving the person space to say no or to share any concerns they have will actually increase the chance that will say yes and be truly invested in the work you’re giving them.
It may feel awkward at first, but you just might find that by focusing on asking instead of demanding, people will become more collaborative and more engaged in their work.
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