August 2023

LEADER PRACTICE No. 6: Conversations for Action Part 1

Throughout the day we have conversations (often via e-mail or messaging) with the intention of getting stuff done. If you regularly get everything you need from others, as requested and on time, keep doing what you are doing. If you’re like the rest of us, read on. Unfortunately, most of us tend to have conversations that don’t produce clarity or commitment.

The starting point for getting a commitment from someone to do something is a clear request. However, many of the requests we make and receive are anything but clear. We might say something like, “Can you take a look at that report?” Or we hear someone in a meeting say, “We need to get that report done by Friday.” What do we think will happen here? Who knows but there is a near certainty of a communication breakdown. Yet we make and hear requests like this all the time. Being clear can take a bit more time but is much more more likely to produce the results we want. And remember, being clear is kind.

Clear, effective requests happen when certain conditions are met: we identify a specific performer, specify the time frame for fulfillment, clearly articulate what is being addressed, share relevant context, and clarify what it will take to satisfy the request. Conditions of satisfaction could include the request’s level of priority, format of the deliverable, available resources, decision-making authority, and anything that could be unclear to the performer. Finally, check your mood. If you are in an “I am surrounded by idiots!” mindset, your request is unlikely to be well-received. Next time we’ll explore how to negotiate for a real commitment.


Practice making clear requests and notice if you get different results.

  1. First, think through the elements of your request
  • Who do you want to do this?
  • When exactly does it need to be done? (When the deadline isn’t clear, a request is a hope, perhaps a wish, possibly a prayer that’s unlikely to be fulfilled.)
  • What is the specific concern you want to address?
  • What’s the context? Variables that are obvious to you could be unclear to others.
  • What outcome is going to satisfy you? (e.g., priority, format, resources available, decision making authority, etc.)
  1. Check in with yourself. Center and do what you need to be “above the line” before making the request.

Check out the HBR article “Mastering the Art of the Request,” by my colleague Rae Ringel:

Until next month…

Dana's signature

Founder and Principal Coach