06/28/2013 02:53 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2013

Requests That Gain Respect

Have you ever been asked to do something nicely, yet the way the request was made kind of turned you off... or made you not want to comply?

The skill of inspiring others to take action is rarely taught or demonstrated well in our personal and professional lives. It requires us to get clear with ourselves and choose our words wisely:

  • What do I ultimately want to happen?
  • Who's on the receiving end of my message?
  • How many words are needed?

While walking my dog, I noticed a sign my neighbor posted on their cherry tree.

It said, "Please respect this tree and its owner. Ask to pick more than a couple of cherries. Do not climb on the tree. Do not break branches/rip off leaves. Thanks! This helps keep the tree and you healthy and around in future years."

Now, I'm sure a variety of reactions occurred, but when I read this, I put myself in the mind of the perpetrator and thought, "This plea for respect seems to entice me to continue, rather than stop me!"

As a neighbor who would never steal from their tree, I felt their message was somewhat condescending. I also questioned, "What's going on with the person who wrote this? Do they have issues with protectiveness and feeling violated?"

Seconds later, I snickered with glee... realizing how this attempt for compliance provided such an exceptional teaching for the professional realm.

As a communication specialist, I work with executives and entrepreneurs who care about the words they choose and the consequences that follow. They want to learn what CLEAR communication looks, sounds and feels like. They know their ability to speak and write in compelling ways is essential to their success and self-worth.

So how would would an elite communicator rephrase this message on the tree?

I contacted Portland's Irreverent Wise Woman, Ingrid Kincaid, to discuss this. We both agreed, they could have simply said, "Don't Touch My Tree."

Notice I didn't say, "Please don't touch my tree." In this case, "please" makes the request weaker. Fewer words is what gives it power. "Don't Touch My Tree" sets a clear boundary without excessive babble.

The target audience is someone who feels entitled and is potentially ignorant. Being firm is what's needed in this situation, not some nicey-nice request that explains what's "right." Those who steal cherries would most likely scoff at that!

Too many words can trigger the reader and sabotage our good intentions. When my neighbor explained what keeps me healthy, there was implied stupidity on my part. It caused me to question the superiority these people might feel. Without even knowing them, I concluded "who they are."

Think of a request in your profession that you commonly have to make of others. Do you need them to turn in their reports on time? Respond to a previous email? Pay by a certain date? Provide more information? Confirm an appointment?

TRY THIS EXERCISE: Practice stripping your message down to as few words as possible, and then add words as needed. Additionally, include the request in the subject line of the email.

There's so much fluff in our written and verbal communication. It's exhausting and time consuming for everyone involved. We try masking our anger (or desperation) with elaborate reasons, inflated stories and attempts to educate others, but the reader can always feel what we're secretly harboring inside.

Passive aggression and indirect communication can be viewed as the norm, acceptable even. In reality, these messages often break trust and cause motivation to fizzle.

Elite communicators start with what's important. They use story to teach, not to justify. They know when emotional content is needed and when it's unhelpful. This kind of discernment is a game changer!

Try saying fewer words and see what happens. Brevity takes practice and experimentation to build our confidence.

When we can call others to action without including our baggage, something magical occurs. We get the response we want and they're thankful we led them there without guilt, shame or superficial niceness.