Say What You Want

Written by Dr. John Townsend

May 17, 2016

A trait I find in very successful people is that they regularly say what they want. They make it simple, and, more often than not, they get what they ask for.

The “want list” can be anything, including:

  • The results you want your employees to deliver
  • A meeting with someone you don’t know well but would like to
  • A better price on a product or service
  • Where you’d like to vacation next year
  • The purpose of a team meeting
  • What you want to do on date night
  • The desired behavior you’d like to see from your kids, spouse, date or friend

On the other end, I find that people who struggle in being successful, also have difficult in saying what they want. 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 others.

All of these obstacles point to a single issue: the belief that my 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 indirect 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 your directs reaching a goal, then use that feeling to say, “He guys, if you hit your quota, it will be an awesome achievement for you and the entire company.”
  • 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 and it unsettles them.
  • Look them in the eye. People trust someone who look at them directly and say, “In this meeting, I want us to have a solution for the marketing problem hashed out in 60 minutes, and I’ll do everything I can to help.” 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! Say what you want.

Best to your leadership,


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