A Coaching Power Tool By Mark Wavle, Career and Agile Coach, UNITED STATES
What Is the Difference Between Required vs. Invited
In my coaching, I have often seen significant shifts in my clients’ perspectives when they recognize the opportunity they have to choose their own actions.
Prior to this realization, they feel stuck, unable to choose a course of action different than the one they are already taking. The client will frequently recite a litany of reasons why there are no other options and why they must continue in this direction, seemingly trying to convince me or themselves of the inevitability. This expression takes little inquiry on my part, initiated and sustained by the client as they recite their powerlessness.
In short, the client feels they have a requirement on them from which they cannot break free. They are trapped, compelled in the direction they do not want to go. They feel powerless.
The power tool of Required to Invited helps clients recognize the requirement, find the space where they have a choice, and explore a new arena of possible next steps.
Required vs. Invited Definition
We have a natural desire to be autonomous, see a way forward, determine our steps, and take action. Often, when we perceive that others are determining our path for us, we find rising offense, resentment, fear, or rebellion. When we are required to follow someone else’s directions, our desire for autonomy is ignored or trampled.
In the strongest cases, the requirements can feel like demands, meaning that we don’t feel we can say “no” to them – there is no option available to us, and we feel trapped and coerced. In this way, a demand can feel like someone devaluing us or our humanity. “A demand expresses the speaker’s want while saying ‘don’t care to the listener’s want or willingness.” (Requests, Offers, Invitations, and Demands, 2022) The desire to tell us what to do has been prioritized over our humanity, our learning, and our desires.
In the midst of requirements, we may feel guilt, shame, or anxiety, resulting in goals that are motivated by fear of what may happen if we do not serve the perceived demands.
Sources of Demands
The requirements could be coming from a specific person (like a manager or spouse), a structure (like an organizational hierarchy or family roles), or a standard (like regulations or values). We may not even recognize where it’s coming from, using generic references like “they” or “it” or even avoiding any references to the source. This is often the case when the requirement comes from something that’s been internalized, such as a value system.
Perception is Reality
It’s essential to consider that our client’s perception of the requirement is their reality; it may not have been the intent of the other party to demand something of them or trap them with no options. To our clients, the perception of requirement or expectation is as strong as a clear demand.
We can see a possible requirement when our clients use words like “must,” “have to,” “need to,” or “should” (which we will explore more in a moment). When we see these words used in a pattern, we may invite exploration with a simple reflection like:
- I noticed you said “have to” several times while describing this situation. What comes to mind as you hear this?
- What does the word “must” mean to you in this situation?
Meeting Our Clients In Their Perception
As coaches, it is critical that we empathetically meet the client in their perception of the situation and, rather than analyze or correct that perception, hold space for them and their reality. When we take this stance, we prioritize connection with our client over any other requirement. Our clients perceive this and implicitly understand that we hold their autonomy in high regard. This understanding enables the invitations we can provide for them to consider flipping from Requirement to Invitation.
They must want to be free and sense that there is a way through, though they cannot see it from where they stand. The coach implicitly models Required to Invited by inviting (not requiring) the client to explore their current situation and discover where they have the agency to act. The client can choose to decline these invitations, and even the act of declining, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, could be a breakthrough because the client is recognizing and acting in their autonomy.
The Depth of Requirements
One of the things often hidden from the client’s view is why the requirement challenges them. They may even express this as they describe the situation to you, “I’m not sure why this is such a big deal to me,” or “I don’t know why I’m still worked up about this.” Just as the source of the requirement can be hard to see, the reason for the depth can be challenging to identify.
The most common cause is simply that the client feels their autonomy has been ignored, as described above. And while this is frequent, there can be other co-mingling sources that raise the tension.
The deepest requirement challenges come when the perceived demand opposes the client’s beliefs, values, or morals. While the conflict is obvious if someone were required to do something illegal, they are far more subtle to our clients when the requirement clashes with an unknown but firmly held belief like, “people should be responsible and prepared so that others aren’t inconvenienced.”
If our brains were computer programs, we could simply slow things down by running a trace to see which “belief subroutine” was triggered by the requirement. In the wonderful workings of our brains, these processes happen so fast that we aren’t aware of the “subroutine” that was triggered or even which subroutines exist. The space we hold for our clients enables them to explore this territory as they are willing.
Submit or Rebel
One of the indicators of how deep a requirement challenges our clients is in how they respond to it. When our clients perceive a strong requirement, Marshall Rosenburg posits that they have “…two options: submit or rebel.” (Rosenberg, 2015) When they believe they do not have a choice, it is natural to have a distress response such as this. I propose that our clients frequently submit externally but hold a rebellious response within their grasp.
Perhaps they have violated their morals, values, or beliefs and are wrestling with how to reconcile these things. The tension between their submission and rebellion might be what we observe as the client is expressing their challenge. They could be playing out both responses in front of us, defending why they must submit while also railing at themselves or the source of the external requirement for violating something deep inside of them.
Another indicator of a deep requirement challenge is when the client expresses a desire for a different reality. The keyword used here is “should,” as in, “They should have checked with me first,” or, “This should never have happened.” When the word “should” is used, it indicates the desired reality that differs from the current reality, with force applied to it. When applied to past events, the client can easily be stuck in wanting the past to be different (which is impossible) and keeps their focus away from the possible next steps they can take to affect the future reality.
Even deeper, when the word “should” is applied toward themselves, this veers into the territory of identity. For example, “I should have known better,” and, “I should be able to handle this.” The word “should” applied internally like this carries a burden of shame for not already being who they believe they should be. When their present reality doesn’t match their expected reality, the word “should” can indicate they believe something is wrong with them. Like the externalized “should,” this keeps the client’s focus away from the possible next steps they can take to affect the future reality and, even more, may cause them to question if they’re capable of taking steps that will have any effect on the future.
While all of the above information may be interesting and helpful for us as coaches, the simple fact is that almost all of our clients won’t be aware of any of these nuances. Our job as coaches is to empathetically meet our clients in their perceptions and craft invitations for them to explore the situation. As we offer reflections and open questions, they may choose pathways that address many of the things we’ve covered in this section.
At the start, most clients won’t be conscious that their feeling of being trapped is connected to a requirement or demand. When our clients are given the opportunity and space to explore their situation, they may learn about elements of the requirements we’ve addressed:
- Acknowledgment: The client can see that they’re perceiving a requirement was placed on them
- Source: The client identifies the source of the requirement
- Tension: The client identifies the reason the requirement is causing tension and what it is in conflict with.
Remember the wonderful feeling of being invited? Maybe you were asked to be on a sports team, or someone asked you to go to a dance, or perhaps someone just requested your help with a task. Looking at one of my early work experiences, I realize that the personal invitation I received to join an Agile team was so compelling that I set aside my usual concerns about the ambiguity of the tasks and the risks of a new environment. The invitation is compelling.
Merriam-Webster defines invite as “to request the presence or participation of; to urge politely.” Compared to a requirement, an invitation assumes the recipient’s autonomy. As Marshall Rosenberg has pointed out, the difference between demand (requirement) and a request (invitation) is that you can respond “no” to a request. In contrast with a requirement, an invitation says, “I care about your want and willingness.”
To use an analogy, a requirement is similar to a boat being tugged behind a larger ship. The boat is pulled in the larger ship’s direction, and speed and cannot significantly affect either of those factors because of the tether. On the other hand, an invitation is like a wind blowing over a sailboat. The sailor can choose to adjust the sails to use that wind to move or avoid being moved by the wind.
One of the biggest freedoms offered with the invitation is that it allows the recipient to make choices that align with their values, morals, and beliefs, rather than ones that may cut counter to these things to align with the perceived demand. In other words, they can set goals that serve their authentic self.
When clients realize this, the dissonance they have been experiencing and wrestling with begins to resolve into harmony. They will feel energized, peaceful, and excited as they set hope-based goals for themselves.
The client doesn’t need complete, unfettered autonomy to experience this shift. We all live within some boundaries, and healthy freedom can exist within healthy constraints. The key is that the client feels they have a choice and can be true to themselves.
When the client is willing to shift their focus from the constraints to the space available, they are unlocking their ability to explore the opportunities to make choices.
Invitation Opens Possibilities
In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes,
Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives. (Pink, 2011)
Invitation unlocks our clients’ creativity in crafting their next steps. Thus, the easiest way to observe when our clients are deeply experiencing invitations is when they seem to be an energetic fountain of possibilities they offer themselves.
Here are some powerful questions that facilitate invitation:
- What might be the invitation in this situation?
- If you had unlimited power, what could you choose to do in this situation?
- What is it you want to do here?
- What is something you want to invite yourself into?
- If you could make a different choice, what would it be?
- What choice would bring you the greatest energy and joy?
Each of these, in different ways, facilitates the exploration of our client’s choices in the situation. Some questions enter that territory gently, and others come at it directly. Some are simply about the options available, while others allow the client’s authentic self to speak into the situation.
You may notice that most of these questions ask the client to invite themselves into a different perspective and set of actions. Some clients may respond well to general, external invitations like the first question, where the “situation” may be inviting them to something. However, this also opens the possibility that the client doesn’t know this external element well enough to answer or revisit the tight constraints of the demand. Those who feel safe enough to explore internal terrain will tend to find richer insights with the internal invitation, as they are the most qualified to speak from their authentic selves.
The Simplest Freedom
When the biggest requirement challenge is that our client’s autonomy has been trampled, they may respond quickly to the hope of invitation. It’s possible they may not even explore the requirement or its source very deeply before experiencing the flip to the invitation.
However, if you observe they resist the invitation and return to the requirement, it may be that the requirement seems to be demanding them to choose actions that are counter to their values, morals, or beliefs. Exploration of the causes of this tension may be valuable, using questions such as:
- How might you explore the freedom available to you within that requirement?
- What would unlock your truest self in this situation?
- If the kindest, most compassionate person were in this situation, what would they invite you into?
- What does your heart want to invite you to do?
When our clients step into the invitation, the realm of possibilities becomes wide! Below, you’ll find a list of a few common responses. I’m not listing these so you can steer your client in any direction but, rather, so you can envision and acknowledge how clients may choose to walk out of an invitation in various circumstances.
- Setting goals using the language of “I would like…” or “I want to…”
- Clarifying boundaries and autonomy with the source of a perceived requirement
- Removing themselves from a situation where they do not believe they have the autonomy to be true to themselves
- Choosing actions that may be counter to the perceived boundaries of a requirement, either to prioritize their authenticity over the requirement or to test the perceived boundaries
How Do You React to a Required vs. Invited Question?
When our clients recognize a perceived requirement and shift to focus on the invitation available to them, they unlock possibilities that weren’t apparent to them before. By modeling invitation in our interactions with our clients, we are honoring their autonomy and enabling them to find the space of freedom where they can craft their next steps in alignment with their authentic selves.
Positive Psychology Network. 2022. Are You Compelled Or Impelled? - Positive Psychology Network. [Accessed 9 May 2022].
Iseli, M., 2022. Impelled vs. Compelled: Here's How You Tell'em Apart. [online] Linguablog.[Accessed 9 May 2022].
Congruent Joy. 2022. Requests, Offers, Invitations, and Demands. [Accessed 9 May 2022].
Manske, J., 2022. NVC Instruction Guide. [online] Cnvc.org. [Accessed 9 May 2022].
Pink, D., 2011. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Penguin Group US.
Rosenberg, M., 2015. Nonviolent Communication. 3rd ed. PuddleDancer Press.