It seldom works well to order, threaten, cajole, wheedle, or beg. Studies have shown that the best way to request things of people, inspire them, or motivate them to action is to ask honestly, directly, and clearly.
Could you please pass the salt?
But … here’s where the art form of requesting surfaces.
Linguistics note that could is a highly loaded word, similar to can. It’s so loaded that people actually bristle when it’s used. The word sets up defensiveness and entrenches people in their own opinions. It sounds like such a simple word, but it actually backfires. It establishes antagonistic relationships.
It’s because the word could connotes a subtle inquiry into a person’s abilities or talents, which is not what you’re saying at all. It faintly implies that a person is unable or lacks talent. And that’s why it silently sets people off.
Here’s what happens when you use the word could.
BOSS: Hey, could you do these reports by Monday?
EMPLOYEE: (thinks to himself). Could I? Of course I could, you big lout. But I’m going to take the weekend off, like my contract says I can.
HUSBAND: Honey, could you pick up my dry cleaning?
WIFE: Could I? Well, sure I could, you lazy sack of cheese. But I’ve been working all day wiping the kids’ noses and cleaning the house and writing the thank you notes for our Christmas gifts while you’ve been sitting on your keister eating donuts behind your desk. Why don’t you try and help out once in a while?!
Ever been there?
Enter a simple solution … instead of using the word could,
…switch to using the word would.
Linguistics note that the word would establishes an entirely different dynamic in a relationship. Instead of a person feeling put upon by a request, a person feels honored. The use of would subtly implies that the other person has options. By complying with your request he feels like he’s actually doing you a favor, which makes him feel empowered and even altruistic.
Try the technique with the same examples.
BOSS: Would you be able to do these reports by Monday?
EMPLOYEE: Would I? Of course, Boss. I’m you’re top man. You just watch me in action.
HUSBAND: Honey, would you be able pick up my dry cleaning on your way home from work please?
WIFE: Would I? Of course, dear. Thanks for asking so politely, you sensitive hunk, you. Mmm mmm, kiss, kiss.
Try it for awhile. Switch one simple word in your requests, from could to would, and see what kind of results are achieved.
Question: What’s one request someone made of you recently? How did the person ask it of you, and what was your response?