Communication: Demand vs. Request

Updated: May 7, 2021

“There is room for an understanding and an adjustment. And that is just what we seek.” Marcus Garvey


How well do you communicate?

How often do you have one-way conversations?

How often do you get stonewalled in a conversation?


The answers to these questions vary based on context, the purpose of the conversation, and with whom you communicate. It is necessary to recognize that interpretation and clarity play a crucial role in determining a conversation's outcome. I was recently involved in a conversation that nearly spiraled out of control. The almost argument was about, I was telling you vs. I was informing you.


It was an informal conversation about the front door to the office. A colleague asked if the front door was open; I responded, "yes, the door is open." The colleague said, "I did not hear you; what did you say?" I replied, "I was telling you the door is open." The colleague replied, "I think you meant to inform and not tell." The colleague took issue with the word "telling" and proceeded to stonewall (refusing to speak) to me for the remainder of the day. If the colleague had to speak, it was a terse instant message.


Effective communication is crucial to interactions. However, with the best of intentions, communication can sometimes escalate into potential conflict. The word choice, whether intentional or unintentional, may derail the conversation. A demand can sometimes be subtle. Imagine being voluntold (forcefully volunteered) to do a project at work. Your boss volunteers you for a project, smiles, and says, you are the ideal candidate for this project. I am confident in your abilities to do the task. You smile and say thank you while thinking of a way out of doing the project. Your objection is countered with I will provide you with the resources to complete the project. In this case, there is one option, do the task or be insubordinate.

Demanding statements make the receiver of the communication defensive because they feel attacked, or there is only one viable answer. On the other hand, request statements are an ask. The receiver of the communication feels there are possible options in responding to the request. This is not to say a request will get you what you want, but it has a different feel than a demand. In the voluntold scenario above, an appeal could have been met with some active or passive resistance. No one responds favorably to the request, and the boss just selects an "ideal candidate."


Demand statement usually begins with phrases like:

  • You should …

  • You ought to …

  • You need to …

  • You must …

  • Do this …

  • Do not do that/this …

  • I am telling you 🤦‍♂ …

Request statement usually begins with the phrases:

  • Would it be possible …

  • Would you be able to …

  • I was hoping to do …

  • May I suggest …

  • You may consider …

  • Do you have a moment to …

  • Would you mind …

  • When you have a moment …

  • Is this a good time …

  • I would love to hear more about …

  • I am interested in learning more about …

Demanding statements are parallel to the aggressive communication style. The aggressive communicator uses “you” statements, easily frustrated, and do not listen before responding. Their communication is usually reactionary; use abusive and belligerent language, be unaware of their tone, use sarcasm to belittle and humiliate. Demand statements are rigid.


Whereas requesting statements are parallel to assertive communication. Assertive communicators are polite when expressing their views and mindful of their tone. They clearly state their concerns, using “I” statements, and ask for the other person(s) input instead of making demands or draw conclusions. Assertive communicators avoid attempting to intimidate the person(s) with whom they are communicating. They use clear, specific, and non-vague language to state their needs/concerns.

The difference between demand and request is nuanced. Learn not to become resentful because you did not get the desired outcome from your conversation. Instead, frame your conversations as a collaborative exercise. Remember, demand or request can be met with resistance depending on what you are seeking.


How ironic, my computer battery is running low, and I received the message “your battery is low. You might want to plug in your PC.”


I would love to read your views about demand vs. request.


Stay Naturally Curious


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