Say What You Want

Dr. John Townsend

December 5, 2017

When you think of the “successful people” you know, what comes to mind? Do they have some sort of je ne sais quoi you might be missing out on?

The answer is really simple – they have the ability to ask regularly for what they want. More often than not, successful people make simple asks and get what they want.

The “want list” can be anything, including:

  • How you want your kids, spouse, date, or friend to behave
  • What you want to do on date night
  • The results you want your co-workers or employees to deliver
  • A better price on a product or service
  • Where you’d like to vacation next year

On the other hand, I find people who struggle with saying what they want also have trouble finding success. There are lots of reasons for this, such as not wanting to seem selfish or uncaring, not wanting to put people to a lot of trouble, or not wanting to alienate anyone.

All of these obstacles point to a single issue: the belief that wanting something is a win-lose transaction. If I get what I want, someone has to lose. I’ll get the better business deal, but the other person will resent me. I’ll tell my kids I insist that they clean up their room, but they’ll escalate. I’ll ask for the results from my employees, but they will think I’m demanding.

While this does happen sometimes, if you try to spend your time with reasonable people, no one really minds. In fact, reasonable people prefer to know what you want. Then it’s clear. They are informed as to whether they can say “yes,” “no,” or “I have an alternative.”

Here are a few tips to lead and live better with directness:

  • Remember how annoyed you get when someone won’t get to the point and is indirect? You don’t want to be that person either.
  • Figure out your “ask” ahead of time. If it’s something important, think it through: is it reasonable on my part? Is the timing right? Does it take the other person’s interests into consideration, because I authentically care about them?
  • Gain access to your internal desires. When you’re hungry, you say, “Pull the car over, let’s go to that restaurant.” In the same way, when you can feel the positive excitement of reaching a goal, then use that feeling as a motivator for those around you.
  • Expect a positive response. When you think, “She and I are both nice people and there’s no reason this can’t go well,” you are not afraid. You are confident and that calms the other person down. But when you are afraid and expect a tantrum or a negative response, you are more likely to get that. People can sense fear.
  • Look them in the eye. People trust someone who looks at them directly. It’s respectful and it’s definite. The shifty looking away out of anxiety conveys that something is wrong, and trust becomes an issue.
  • Stop talking and give them space to answer. Don’t let your unease make you fill in the blanks with lots of nothing talk, like, “But you know you have a choice” (they know), or “And here’s another reason” (they have heard enough reasons). People need room in their heads to deliberate on what you want and what they’d like to do.

The Bible says we have not because we ask not. Mick Jagger says, “we can’t always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we get what we need.”

I put God way above Mick, but both ideas are helpful!



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