Monday, February 13, 2012

The Difference Between a Request and a Demand

Have you ever considered the question, "What is the difference between a request and a demand?" While in both cases the person making the request or the person making the demand, wants someone else to do something, my personal experiences of both having received requests and demands, has led me to the conclusion that the two are very different propositions, and if we are in agreement, that requests and demands, are in some way qualitatively different, then I would suggest that this insight may be useful to illuminate much of our daily social interactions.

What is the difference between a request and a demand? I submit that a true request is an invitation, while a true demand is a mandate. The request is an invitation, by the person making the request, to in some way invite someone else, to add to their joy; to share with them in fun, joy and/or life (which I suppose I mean to say, a sharing in/of any of the basic/universal human needs). A demand on the other hand, is not an invitation; it is a mandate. A demand suggests that the one who demands, wants the person demanded of, to perform a certain function, and if that person demanded of, chooses not to perform the demanded action, then some repercussion, initiated by the one making the demand, will occur.

The request takes the form of, "Would you like to go with me to see a movie?"

While the demand takes the form of, "You WILL go to the movies with me (or I will be mad at you)."

A true request has no implicit conditional attached to the non-performance of the request. A denial of the true request, would not result in anger, or unusual disappointment, sadness, or threats. If one says, "Would you like to go with me to the movies?" and if the one requested of, replies with a declination, the one who "requested" would not respond, "Well if you won't go with the movies with me, then I won't help you move furniture tomorrow (as we previously agreed)." In this case, the form of request was used, but a demand was given.

So while the distinction may be subtle in practice, we may rest assured, that the key element in determining the difference between the requests of others and the demands of others, is what response they may have, if we decline the request/demand. Do they thank us for considering their request? Do they try to make alternate suggestions/requests to share in life/joy?


Do they become angry? Do they attempt to make us feel guilty? Do they try to manipulate us by suggesting that this decision will affect the future relationship? Do they make threats of violence?

All of these latter responses, are sure signs that we are not dealing in requests, we are dealing with demands.

Ultimately, the only way to truly know if we are dealing with requests or demands, is to decline, and observe the reaction....


  1. Thank you for you distinctions which are clear and acceptable.A question. I notice that sometimes I interpret a request as a demand. This mostly happens , but by no means always, with requests from my wife. She will ask me for something or to do something and my immediate response is negative. Although mostly I will agree and happily comply I notice that feeling of it being a demand on me. Now why should that be?

  2. This also happens to me regularly, in much the same circumstances as you describe. I suspect that many others also experience many instances, in which requests are interpreted as demands.

    My guess, is that your experience of interpreting requests as demands in the moment, might be related to your own internal thoughts and responses. I might initially bristle at a request, when I'm really into and engaged with something that takes my full concentration, thinking that the request will interfere with how my current activity, or my planned future activities, will be meeting my needs. I notice I relax when I find that the request is something simple that won't interfere with my activities or plans but when it is, I will often grudgingly accept to fulfill the request. I think what's happening for me in moments like these is that, ultimately, I want to fulfill the request, because it is how I'd like to be treated, or because it is how I'd like to express my gratitude and thanks to the requester for all the wonderfulness they bring into my life, but that reluctance, that begrudging feeling is probably connected to a part of me, deep inside, that looking at this request as an "ought". Such as, "I don't want to do this but I ought to do it" and looking at it this way, takes a lot of the joy out of the part of me that wants to express my gratitude and thankfulness.

    In moments like these, I try to consider questions like, "What if I were to give myself permission to say 'no'? Would the outcome of that make my life more wonderful, or less so?" Likely, I'm accepting the request for reasons, like trying to maintain relationships that are important to me, and in this case, I want to choose to look at this decision to accept the request/demand differently, to see how accepting, is making my life better. In such a case, I want to look at the situation in a way, where I'm not making a demand upon myself to give in to an "ought", but I want to hold on to that place from which my "yes" comes from and is motivated. (And if saying 'yes' and fulfilling the request/demand isn't contributing to making my life better, then I want to reevaluate my choices and options.)

    Sometimes, I'm at conflict with the strategy suggested by the request and the kinds of strategies that I anticipate making life wonderful for myself. In that case, I want to enter into negotiation with the requester, about what different strategies might meet both our needs.

  3. Our interpretations come from our subjective perceptions, our values, what we see as important, our personal conditions and our choices. In some sense, we can choose how we interpret things by looking at them differently. We might have one initial response to interpret a request as demand, but we can also choose to look at a demand as a kind of request, worded less effectively that we'd like to hear.

    A demand usually takes the form of, "I want you to do 'x', and if you don't, I'll make life less wonderful for you."

    But even a demand of, "Take out the garbage right now or else!", can be heard in another way, interpreted as, "I am feeling stressed and irritated right now, and what I really need right now is some peace and order, and when I see that the garbage still hasn't been taken out, I felt a little anger, that you didn't follow through with what you agreed to do earlier, and then I panicked that I might end up choosing to take the garbage out myself, and then that made me, angry and scared at the same time, that I'm holding myself responsible for others, but others are not supporting me in the way I'd like."

    If we have a fully charged self-empathy battery, it is possible to hear nearly any demand as a request of, "Please do this for me to make my life more wonderful." When we act out of place of gratitude and wanting to make our lives more wonderful, by helping others make their lives more wonderful, we come from a place where we have an energy of enthusiasm and gratitude. When our inner jackal of blame or "ought" informs our 'yes' then we might feel a little resentful about the request and might hear it as a demand.

    Does that address your question or help your clarity?