When historians look back at my son’s outburst after I wiped his nose with a Kleenex (described last week), they will highlight his rage and my awkward response. A classic case of resenting unwanted help.
But what if things had turned out differently? What if I had found a way to put the mucus back in his nose—and keep it there? (You managerial experts know why: first attract, then retain). And what if, during the time I was prototyping this innovation, my son had changed his mind yet not informed me?
“Daddy, I don’t want the mucus in my nose!”
History books would have recorded this incident differently. Chapter 7: An Uncanceled Request Starts a War. In this rendering, my son would be the villain, and I would be the furious one.
Sound familiar? It’s the most frustrating thing. You get something done for another person. You take care to deliver “to spec.” Then, when you give it to them, they say, “Thanks, but I didn’t need that after all.”
People give this different names: “He’s jerking me around.” “She’s doesn’t care.” “I don’t trust him.” “She is oblivious.”
Or simply WTF!
These responses are understandable yet unproductive.
Ascribing motivation to the other person in this situation has two flaws:
- You don’t know their intent, only what they did.
- It’s not actionable. What are you going to do, say to them “Stop jerking me around?” How’s that going to turn out?
I prefer to call their behavior failing to cancel a request. It’s both more accurate and more actionable.
Here’s what I mean by canceling a request: They ask you to do something, then change their mind. The responsible thing for them to do is immediately reach out to you and say, “You know that thing I asked you to do? I just learned that I don’t need it any more. I’m canceling my request.” They can apologize, add a bunch of niceties, and so on, but the key is to say “request cancelled!”
Canceling a request has three benefits:
- You can redirect your energies to other commitments.
- You know they respect your time so you feel better—maybe not happy, but also not resentful.
- They don’t have to avoid you in the hallway.
The same holds true if you are the one canceling the request.
- If people fail to cancel a request to you, don’t call them names. Ask them to cancel their requests in the future.
- If you do this to others, stop. Instead, as soon as you know you don’t need something, let them know.