The connection request

Requests can conveniently be divided into two types: action requests and connection requests. The connection request is the most primary and essential and yet it is often forgotten in our urgency to achieve results. It is intended, of course, to increase the quality of our connection with others, without which they are unlikely to be interested in performing any further actions to contribute to our needs. FIRST we ask if our housemate is willing to have a chat about the state of the kitchen, THEN we ask for help with the washing up! If he’s not willing, there’s no point forcing the conversation – there is other work to be done first. The connection request is the grease which lubricates the process of dialogue. Here is an example of how connection requests (CR) can be used in an exchange between two people.

So, before we start, we need to find out if the person we want to connect with has any interest in connecting with us. This may sound like, “I’m wondering, would you be up for talking about what happened last night?” (CR1) After all, speaking to someone who actually doesn’t want to hear you is pointless. (At the same time, if you get a ‘NO’, remember to hear the ‘YES’ behind it! A ‘NO’ to talking is a ‘YES’ to some other need such as space or ease or peace or safety, and if you reflect that back empathically, you have already opened a way to connection!)

Once we are in agreement to speak, the next step is to decide whether to try to express yourself first or to hear the other person first. Both conditions need to happen to achieve full connection, but the order of play is not fixed. One guideline is to go to the greatest level of need first. If you can wait with your self-expression, you may put the other person at ease by hearing them first. If on the other hand you are bursting to speak, then you may want to get it off your chest so that you can listen better afterwards…

Connection starts with one person expressing their concerns (F, N at least) and the other listening (Connection Condition1). Let’s say you’re the first to speak. You express yourself as usual with OFN. To check that we are still on course for connection, you can then make a new CR, asking them to reflect what they heard, eg. “Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say“?*(CR2) This sounds so simple you might be tempted to leave it out. However whenever I do this I am amazed to rediscover that what we assume someone heard is so rarely what we ourselves remember saying only 5 seconds before – and am grateful for the chance to correct any misunderstandings before they grow! Please try it for yourself! 

After we are satisfied that the other person has actually heard what we said (CC2), it’s their turn and we will want to hear what is alive in them.The connection request might now sound like,“Thank you for hearing me. I’m curious, would you be willing to tell me what is going on for you, now that you have heard what I just said?” (CR3) etc

If your dialogue partner doesn’t speak NVC, you will want to help by translating their answer into OFN – first of all for your own benefit, but also by reflecting back what you heard in this way and asking whether you got it right. Set this up with a fourth connection request, such as: “Thanks – would you be open to my reflecting back to you what I think I heard you say?”(CR4) Assuming the other person is willing – which they almost certainly will be, unless perhaps you have a history of reflecting their words in ways they don’t recognise! – then you proceed: “So I think I’m hearing (OFN). Is that accurate?” If you get a “no” at this point, go back. If you get their agreement that you reflected accurately, you have met the last two conditions for connection in one neat move! (CC3 and CC4)

Now you can start going round the loop again. A CR1 type request at this stage might take the form: “I’m wondering if you have some room to hear what’s going on for me, now that I’ve just heard you?” If you get a NO, it’s back to giving empathy, if its a YES, you express your new OFN. Keep going round the loop till you get as much connection as you want!!

Alternating empathic listening with honest self-expression and interspersing frequent connection requests lays the foundation for action requests. If the groundwork is in place, action requests are a cinch.

And yes, applying this with a non-NVC speaker is very challenging as it calls on us to be fully present for ourselves and the other person, and also to hold the overall process energetically. It may seem like we have to do all the work – and the other person may not even notice our efforts! In between expressing, empathising and ‘translating’ we will probably need to give ourselves lots of self-empathy as well. The key is to really slow down and take the process in small steps. It’s worth it as you will have a very good chance of getting connection this way, and even if you don’t get connection with the other person, you’ll still have it with yourself!

* N.B. If you just say, “Can you tell me what you heard me say?” this can sometimes be construed as a ‘test’.
If the situation is delicate, try something like, “
This is really important to me and I want to be sure I’ve been clear and we’re on the same page. Would you mind telling me what you heard me say?” That may create a different, more connecting experience.

You can also try some of these other requests to build connection:

“Having heard what I just said, can you tell me what’s going on for you?”
“Would you tell me your understanding of my feelings and needs?”
“Would you tell me how you’re feeling about what I just said?”
“Would you tell me what comes up for you about what I just said?”
“May I reflect what I think I’m hearing you say?