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Asking a co-worker or family member to complete a task and then not getting results, can be frustrating. We’ve all experienced that feeling of disappointment when we realize our request has been ignored, not carried out properly, or seemingly, forgotten. Depending on the relationship, work or personal, repeated letdowns erode trust and over time, the relationship as well.

Since there will always be relationships, hierarchies, leaders, and followers, there will always be requests. They are a necessary part of communication to get things done. Partnering with and enlisting the help of others is an essential human trait. It allows us to achieve far more than we could alone.

Eliminate the Pain

And to that end, we all make requests all day long. But we do it without much awareness or thought about their mechanics. And their mechanics are important because, how you make a request will greatly impact the likelihood of it being fulfilled. Today, I’d like to share with you how to lower your odds of suffering the disappointment of an unfulfilled request.

But before I dive into that, allow me to share some background about requests.

Words Drive Action

In the 1970s, Fernando Flores, a creative thinker and pioneer in the field of coaching, built on a theory originally developed by philosopher J.L. Austin. Flores called it The Theory of Speech ActsIt explains that language is generative and as such, words are capable of production. Specifically, it identifies six speech acts that create action or impel change.

And for a request to be effective, it must include the following mechanics:

  • A speaker and a listener
  • Clear conditions of satisfaction
  • Time by which the request must be fulfilled
  • A shared understanding of the request being made

Here’s an example of a request gone wrong in a family business scenario wherein siblings work together. Perhaps it seems familiar to you.

Gen-two daughter was preparing for a meeting with a local banker. Because he handled all the family business bookkeeping and financial reporting, her brother/business partner was eager to help when she said, “I’m going to need those financial reports”. He knew his part would be critical to their financing, so he was focused on providing flawless and up-to-date data; he had no idea exactly when she wanted them. And it wasn’t until later the next day when his sister was clearly irritated with him, that he learned she expected them ready first thing in the morning.

If her request had included all the mechanics of an effective request, they both would have experienced a better interaction. With the critical elements as outlined above, her request would have sounded more like this.

“Tomorrow morning at 8:00 I will stop by the office to pick up the current Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss Report. Can you please have them printed and on my desk by that time?”

This clear request includes all the necessary elements that would have allowed her brother to respond with a “Yes, no problem” or a “No, I cannot” or even a counteroffer. “I have a dental appointment in the morning, but I can have them ready for you by noon, would that work for you?”

Wow, see the difference? By putting extra care into making a proper request the fracture of the family harmony can be avoided. It’s not just in family business, rather, in any relationship where unfulfilled requests lead to an erosion of trust and eventually, strained relationships. But trust among members of a family business is especially important because it’s key for long-term overall success and business continuity. I often say that trust should be tracked as a line item on the balance sheet, it’s a valuable asset. The more of it you can develop, the better.

Another Thing About Requests

Requests can vary from mild hints to commands, covering everything in between. The more direct, the clearer the request. But, while directness might provide clarity, a request that is too direct can sound like a command while requests that sound more like hints, aren’t effective either.

Request strategies can be measured by levels of directness and awareness around the impact of directness, or lack thereof, can help effectively convey requests to others.” –Blum-Kulka & Olshtain (1984)

As an example, a family business I worked with struggled to make clear requests. They tended to lean on hints. On a specific occasion, the dad said to his son, “Wow, look at all those orders to ship.” and when the son smiled and nodded, the dad felt pleased, believing his stress over backed-up orders would soon be alleviated. The next day when the dad saw the orders were still there, he was clearly angry. His son felt blindsided and spent all day deflated, he had no idea that his dad’s comment from the day before was meant to be a request.

These kinds of communications happened all the time and they led to a tension-filled relationship. Dad believed that his son continually disrespected him, and the son believed that his dad was an irrational hothead and was secretly considering a job elsewhere.

Once these family business members learned about the mechanics of a request, they began to change the way they made them. At first, it was uncomfortable being so formal and structured when asking one another to do things but then realized it was worth the effort because it consistently led to better outcomes.

Improving Your Approach When Making Requests

We know from experience that polite requests can motivate the receiver and often lead to higher-quality output while at the same time relaying that their contribution is valuable.

When working with family, we might neglect the need to be polite because of our high level of familiarity. However, skipping over that detail tends to lead to a culture of disrespect. It doesn’t take much to add “please” and “thank you” to build a better culture, tending to the relationships of your family business.

Family Business Leaders, It’s Your Job to Assess Your Requests

Aside from the mechanics and degree of directness, you need a good understanding of where your requests are coming from, who they are for, and how they move the family business toward its goals.

Here are some key points to consider to make your requests more effective and in turn, your business more successful:

  • Are your requests reasonable? Really, ask yourself…are they?
  • Do your requests empower others to grow or be greater?
  • Do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the person to whom you are making a request, are they capable of fulfilling it?
  • Do the norms within your organization consistently call for accountability at all levels?

Requests are powerful tools you can use to start an action, as well as provide someone with the possibility of learning new things, supporting their growth and development. The more we lean into strong communication skills, the less room for misunderstanding, disappointment, frustration, and the erosion of trust. We all have the same communication tools at our disposal, with a little effort, we can level up interactions and work better together.

Schedule Your Consultation Now

If this article has brought your awareness to issues in your own family business, let’s talk. I am a Family Business Leadership Coach specializing in family systems and dynamics of multi-generational business-owning families. I work closely with their members to define core values, navigate complex dynamics, and foster alignment. You can reach me at

For further details, feel free to explore my LinkedIn profile.