Has it ever happened to you to ask a waiter for something, who says “Sure, no prob”, and then he or she shows up with something different and then runs off, disappearing?
My father in law, Miguel, has a funny comeback for these situations. He got it from one of his law professors in university when he’d get answers to questions he did not ask.
Miguel says he sometimes feels like saying: “Now that you’ve brought me whatever you felt like, could you please bring me what I asked for!” However, I’ve never heard him use this line. I’m guessing he’s too much of an experienced gentleman to answer this way.
Crucial to effective communication and team performance is mastering the art of requests. We practice this in my seminars. The goal is to know what we want, why we want it and how we’ll get it.
With the diagram above, notice differences between needs, wants and requests:
Need = The Problem, Why: It’s a vital element to our wellbeing as humans. Thirst, tranquility and safety are examples. Notice that – physical, psychological or spiritual – we all tend to share similar needs. Here’s a list of common needs.
- Want = The Solution, What: It’s an answer to satisfying a particular need. If you’re thirsty you might want water; if you need some peace you could desire silence; if you need safety you might want a new door lock.
Our wants are the choices we make to respond to our needs.
Notice wants are one of many options. Instead of water you could want a soda; music instead of silence; a Rottweiler, not a lock. Unlike needs, wants are informed by our environment. For ex., the need for clothing can result in wanting the clothes informed by the fashion culture.
- Request = The Strategy, How: It’s the act of petitioning something from someone for the purpose of satisfying a want or a need. Ex: You could ask your partner for water, your colleague to turn down the music, or the landlord for a new lock.
Requests are strategies we use to satisfy our wants and needs.
Notice once again how a request is one of several strategies. You could have decided to get the water yourself, move to a quieter room, or change the lock on your own.
If we confuse the three, we end up requesting things we don’t want and wanting things we don’t need. We confuse problems (needs) with solutions (wants). We neglect the strategies (requests), forget the why (needs) and focus only on the solution (wants).
A tool for when we don’t get what we want: Ask yourself: What is the real problem (the need, why)? Are there other solutions (the wants, what) or better strategies (the requests, how)? Now adapt your wants and requests to meet your needs!
When a request is the best strategy, we want to trigger willingness from the receiver, not denial. We’ll discuss how to do this in following entries. Comments? Questions?
I’ll never forget the first time I was called on in class after moving to Portugal. It was the ninth grade geography class. I studied hard. But, having recently moved from Canada, my teenage mind was still in French mode: I read in Portuguese, but my brain worked in French.
So after clearing my throat to talk, nothing intelligible came out. A huge laugh from everyone was the result, including the teacher! That day I understood (the hard way) that words play a big role in communication.
Similarly, language has a powerful influence on relationships. The words we use to express ourselves – and before that the words we use to think of ourselves and others – shape the way we feel when we relate to others.
When we feel empowered – calm, clear and confident – we relate to others in a rewarding and dynamic manner. When we don’t, relationships are unproductive and toxic. Words play a major role in this.
Here are 2 ways to use language to empower relationships:
- When facing a challenge, use sentences where “I” is the subject instead of “you”. I’m not saying we talk about ourselves all the time. I mean that when we describe our reality with “I” sentences, the power to influence and change that reality increases greatly.
“You” sentences tie your hands. You depend on others.
Imagine your coworker Emilia has the ball, the ball being anything you want. Consider the sentence: “Emilia has the ball and won’t give it to me.” Here, Emilia has all the power because she’s the subject: She has the ball; she won’t give it to you.
“I” sentences give you agency,
the power to shape your reality and relationships.
Now consider this: “Emilia has the ball and I haven’t found a way yet for her to give it to me.” Here, power is balanced: She has the ball but you haven’t yet found a way to get it. Now there’s something you can do (find a way), which means you have power. Subtle but very effective.
- In difficult situations, use the verb “to do” not “to be”:“to be” is disempowering because it focuses on the person; “to do” is empowering because it focuses on the event.
For instance, you turn to Emilia and say: “You are uncooperative”. This suggests a negative feature about her, which might provoke a defensive reaction on her part.
Instead “you did something uncooperative” might avoid that because it describes an action, not her. Moreover, “to be” suggests more permanent traits; while “to do” leaves room for things to change.
The language of “I” and “to do” is empowering.
It enables us to feel calmer, clearer and more confident.
Sometimes the influence of language is not evident and can be tricky to use. Leave a comment with what is on your mind. You can also send me an email to email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.
By the way, there was someone in my geography class who actually thought my attempt was kind of cute: the pretty sister of one the real popular guys in school. It was my first “Portuguese” crush.
On Tuesday, a client and I met to discuss a session we’re going to do on relationship management. One of the topics was how the corporation’s managers sometimes can’t stand some of the people they work with. They feel it’s useless and case closed.
I love this topic, especially when it comes up in my seminars. It’s always interesting to see the look on participants’ faces when I present the commitment ratio of the relationship building system I created: 80% you; 20% the other person. What?!
Yep, that’s the look on their faces. You do 80% of the work and the other person does 20%. “That’s not fair!” — some might say. Relationship management at work is not about fairness (that comes later), it’s about effectiveness.
The ultimate challenge is not
how you relate to others. It’s how you deal with YOU!
Relationships need to function for everyone to get their jobs done. An 80/20 ratio assures your commitment produces functioning results that guarantee performance. “But it doesn’t make sense: the other person is the problem, not me!” — others object.
This reminds me of a story back in my university days. One late night, as I was making my way home, I saw a man literally banging his head against a street post. I kind of recognized him, so I walked up to him.
After a long monologue, I came to learn his tragic story. His wife had left with another man and took the children. His partner was no longer a partner. His business was crumbling. He was drinking… I almost felt sorry for him. But then I didn’t.
It’s a tough lesson: either you take on the responsibility
of being in charge of the events of your life or… you don’t.
When he finally asked if I wasn’t going to say anything, I asked: “You expected people would behave in a certain way, right?” What?! — was the look on his face. Then silence. Then a smile.
“That’s right”, he said. “I’ve blamed everyone around me for everything that has happened to me. That puts the power to lead my life in their hands, not in mine. To be in charge, I need to accept it’s my fault.”
That day, that man began to understand that it will always be up to him to take charge of how relationships affect his life and how he will proceed. He understood that the outcomes of our relationships start with us.
Today, that man leads a fulfilling life — lots of challenges no doubt, but fulfilling. Today, he is an 80/20 man, committed to producing functioning results that guarantee performance. His approach is: regardless of what happens, it’s always my responsibility.
Could this work for you? I’m eager to see how the managers will respond!
On June 29th at 10:30 pm, while I was out enjoying an evening jog, I tripped and broke the 5th metatarsus (the main bone of the pinky) of my right foot. On August 8th at 10:00 am the cast was removed.
That’s a photo of my nephews painting my cast.
The following are some of the things I learnt during those 39 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes.
1. Not getting in the way already great help
Performing everyday activities took a little longer and was a bit more complex to carry out. In practice, this often meant it was harder for those around me to go about performing their own everyday activities.
Using a cast helped me learn to consider beforehand whether I would be of greater help staying out of the way instead of getting in the middle and making things messier. Often, the best way to help was just not getting in the way.
I extend this to other areas of life. Though I may want to lend a helping hand with my advice or expertise, it is wise to first ask whether this will actually make things better. At times, staying still or silent is the best option.
2. Accepting dependence is tough
I also got used to the idea that some things I would just not be able to do on my own. For ex., I could not walk around with our daughter, Irene. For five weeks, I was a “sitting daddy” and relied on others to attend to many of Irene’s needs.
Life is a circle of interdependence: though autonomous, we rely on others and the services they provide for large amounts of our happiness.
3. Accepting restriction is also tough
Not being able to take a walk, run, swim or shower normally were tough for me. I even had dreams where I’d be walking and then noticed in shock that I still had the cast and shouldn’t be putting my foot on the ground.
One the principles we use in my conflict resolution seminars is that a conflict with no solution is a solved conflict. Accepting my limitations proved to be a challenge. Once accomplished, it’s also a blessing.
4. Non-empathetic remarks are scary
It wasn’t on purpose. In fact, they were not even aware of it. But the truth is that, in an attempt to be sympathetic, some people would tell me their own stories of broken bones. And they didn’t spare the dramatic details:
“My cousin broke his foot and had a cast for THREE months!!”, “I also broke my foot and it never really healed. It gets sore when I run and hurts on rainy days.”, “Be careful with the doc’s advice. Sometimes it makes things worse!”
My experience tells me it is not empathetic to share your ”horror” story with someone who is going through one of their own. They don’t need to hear the ups and downs of your experience. It doesn’t help cope.
5. Vulnerability introduced me to nice people
On the other hand, people were very kind. Just an example, when my wife, Claudia, Irene and I travelled on vacation, we anticipated a stressful and rough ride. Not true.
The services for passengers with mobility constraints were great. At every airport, we were assisted with great effectiveness and extreme kindness, at no extra cost. I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who helped us.
A cast taught me that vulnerability can bring out the best in those around us.
6. Love makes loved ones endure
Another aspect was that my wife had extra work on her hands. As the days went by, I could see the fatigue growing, and an increasing effort was required to endure. But she endured. And then she endured some more. My love for her has grown.
I am fortunate to have seen that love fuels faith and strength in tough times.
7. Life withers and dies when trapped
Finally, the day I had the cast removed I noticed that my right leg was very thin. Even some of the hair on my leg had died (of asphyxiation?) and fallen off.
This made me think about how we, as humans, are not built to be trapped. Whether a relationship, the past, a job or even a dream, whatever imprisons us, weaken us and eventually kills the life in us.
My foot is almost fully functional and the vacation will soon be over. So expect to hear more from me from now on. 🙂
I normally thought of body language as that part of communication that our bodies convey to others and that other people’s bodies convey to me. But that evening Evgueni gave it a twist and got us thinking in a different way: Your body speaks to you. Are you listening?
I will usually listen to what other people’s bodies are saying. And I make an effort of being aware of what my body is telling them. But I really hadn’t given much thought to the idea that my body is also talking to me, that I can listen to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I do pay attention to my body: when hungry, I eat; when tired, I rest; when restless, I exercise… But I hadn’t thought about this relation as a conversation.
Have you spoken to your body?
What is it saying?
Conversations (real ones at least) involve memory, interaction (action + reaction + action + …), openness, reflection and unpredictability. Conversations allow for disagreement and conflicting views, and thus for persuasion, compromise and collaboration.
Wow! I hadn’t realized I could do all that with my body! Have you ever pictured your relationship with your body in these terms?
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a fantastic talk on TED TALKS (click to watch). She postulates and proves that our bodies work for us. Our body postures change our brain chemistry as well as the way others perceive us.
Our bodies boost our self-confidence. They are powerful allies and agents of our happiness. It goes beyond food and exercise – It’s a creative conversation!