I can think of two reasons right off. First, if I looked at all the financial and human waste that is caused because team members aren’t asking for what they needed the resulting costs would be startling. How often have we taken on tasks without asking for further clarification about what we’re being asked to build? How many projects have been delayed because “Superman” efforts weren’t sufficient to meet the goal? How much additional project costs had to be added through last minute contractor hires to just get the project completed?
The second reason I think “Not Making Requests” is the first is that it is the highest leverage point an individual can work on. If a project member has made the personal judgment that they cannot make requests of others (their boss, their team members, their suppliers) then they are putting themselves in a position where they are only on the fulfilling end of the requests of others. In a manner of speaking, they are subordinating themselves and saying, “I only exist to fulfill your requests.”
For the past week, I’ve been looking at where I don’t make requests. It’s been a surprising exercise. I’ve noticed that when I’m approached with requests for urgent action that I tend to automatically take it on without requesting more information or reviewing my capacity to fulfill. I am now starting to practice making at least one “counter-request” in these situations. Instead of going to the automatic YES, I make requests for clarity: What needs to be taken care of here? Who else is involved in taking care of this? Can I count on your support with other teams if I need it?
My initial results from these “action experiments” are that the sense of urgency starts dropping immediately during the resulting conversation. Also, I sense that the requester sees me as a partner in their solution. This is a good foundation to start a project from.
Rob Thilo says
What you have described is an important practice to change a belief. Inherently we learn to regard “success” to be equated with “happiness”. This creates a tendency toward competition and embracing conflict as a means of “proving oneself”. The tension developed may lead to anxiety because at some level it is known that all conflicts can’t be won. To make the transition to collaboration, alternative actions need to be adopted and repeated to counteract the deep seated tendency to see any difference as conflict. After a lifetime of seeing “difference as conflict” this is not an easy task. Progress will be seen in those “small moments” where urgency is decreased, an opening occurs and relief experienced. Unfortunately it is not an all-or-none phenomenon. The unconscious holds tremendous power and can override situations punctuated by strong emotional memories. The path becomes one of “going toward” the emotion and discovering what this signal reveals about the circumstances as they are. I would call this practicing quality conversation, internally as well as externally.