The Change Agent's Offer

Often when I write about resistance, I struggle to find the right word for the change agent's action, the action people are resisting when they resist. Would-be change agents offer advice, requests, demands, mandates, proposals, and lots of other... what? What is the category that encompasses all of these offers?

I haven't yet found that single category. Last night, after several hours of late-night etymological research, I arrived at two categories: proposals and requests. People can resist change agents' proposals, and they can resist change agents' requests.

The common element of proposals and requests is that each offers a course of action that the listener may take. The main distinction between the two is the intended beneficiary of the course of action. The intent of a proposal is to benefit the listener. Though the proposer may also intend the proposal to benefit the proposer and others, the defining characteristic of a proposal (a sincere proposal, at least) is that it is offered for the benefit of the listener. The intent of a request is to benefit the requester. Though the requester may also intend the request to benefit the listener and others, the defining characteristic of a request is that it is issued for the benefit of the requester.

I'd love to find a useful, single word that encompasses both requests and proposals. If there is such a word, the key is in what's common between requests and proposals: each offers a course of action that the listener may take. Is there a good, evocative word for that?

The word offer is a step in the right direction. Dictionary.com defines offer as "to present for acceptance or rejection; proffer." This definition is more general than I'm looking for — it doesn't evoke the key idea of a course of action. What's the word for "offer a course of action?"

I'm starting to think that the right word is proposal, and that a request is a kind of proposal. If that's right, then the distinction that I drew above isn't quite right. I may need to drop intended to benefit the listener as an essential characteristic of a proposal. A proposal is a proposal as long as it presents a course of action for acceptance or rejection, regardless of whose interests the proposer intends to serve.

Alas, I'm now mired in The Definition Game. Regardless of what words we use, the nature of our offers is important to our success as change agents. Whose interests are we serving by offering the courses of action we offer? What forms can our offers take? In what sort of relationship would each form be appropriate? What does the form of our offers imply about our view of our relationships with our listeners?

But I still want a word. Is proposal the best word, or is there a better one?

Experiment: In what situations are requests appropriate? In what situations are proposals appropriate?

Experiment: What different kinds of proposals can you think of? What distinguishes each kind of proposal from the others? What would have to be true in a relationship in order for the listener deem each kind of proposal to be appropriate?

Experiment: What different kinds of requests can you think of? What distinguishes each kind of request from the others? What would have to be true in a relationship in order for the listener deem each kind of request to be appropriate?

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