Monthly Archives: July 2012

Making direct requests

When giving directions or instructions is not appropriate, the best way to get what you want is to make a direct request.

This means asking clearly for what you want, but with full knowledge that the other person has the right to refuse.

Getting to the point saves time, encourages authentic communication, and heightens transparency. But the desire to get a certain response often leads to the use of tactics that fall short of a real request.

The following are common approaches that people use to get what they want, instead of making a direct request and supporting others’ freedom to choose their response:

(1) Playing the victim. Some tell sob stories, drop hints and share their struggles to gain sympathy. They hope to be rescued, but never really ask for what they want.

They might say “I’m running out of time to finish this article; I’m afraid I’ll miss the deadline,” instead of ask you to review, edit or do something else to help them get the job done.

When all they receive is sympathy but no help, they feel hurt and angry that you didn’t come through for them. This type of passive-aggressive behavior is emotionally draining and time consuming for both parties.

(2) Using emotional blackmail. Some use fear and guilt to manipulate others to do what they want. Then they threaten or punish others if they don’t do what they want.

A client of mine once complained that if her husband really cared for her well being, he would take her out to dinner more often, especially when she was feeling down. When I asked whether she had shared with him the significance of this gesture, she said no. When I asked her what was stopping her from telling him, she said he should already know.

So, instead of making a direct request, she let the resentment build and have it seep into how she communicated with him. Once she began to express her desires rather than expect her husband to read her mind, the relationship dynamics began to change.

(3) Disguising directions and instructions as requests. A direction that is prefaced with the phrase, “Why don’t you?” is not a request. The question “Why don’t you call Tom?” simply means “Call Tom.”

Couching instructions as permission to do something that you want done is not a request either.  Saying “You can give me the final draft on Monday,” is different from asking, “Could you give me the final draft on Monday?” This approach might lead to confusion because it seems to give the person leeway to choose the response, when that’s not really the case.

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Each of these three approaches begets drama, fuels miscommunication, wastes time, and irritates others. In contrast, making direct requests is simpler and cleaner: it lets others know exactly what you want and how they can help you, and gives them the freedom to decide how to respond.

While a direct request does not always get you what you want, it allows you to strengthen your communication and connection with others.

When you are able to ask directly for what you want, and graciously accept the response that follows, others will more likely want to help you.

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Photo by: Alexander Drachmann

The power of NO

True productivity is not about working long stretches and getting it all done.

It’s about choosing what you say yes to and what you say no to. It’s about maximizing your impact in areas that are significant to you and where you make the most difference.

Being a team player, volunteering for extra duties, and offering to help are positive behaviors. But saying yes to every request can lead to missed deadlines, low-quality work, delays in critical projects, high stress, lingering resentment, and failure to keep commitments and promises.

Even when it’s better to say no, you might say yes because:

(a) You want to be friendly, agreeable, liked or popular.

(b) You think you would harbor a sense of guilt if you walked away.

(c) You fear you will not be called upon for future opportunities if you pass on the present request.

(d) You believe you have no choice.

But the reality is:

(a)  There are many ways to say no without getting blacklisted.

(b)  There are times when you must walk away from stuff that’s wrong for you or distracts you from your real priorities.

(c)  There will be future opportunities if you state that you would love to help, except the request involves areas outside your expertise or focus, or you have prior commitments that are non-negotiable.

(d)  The decision to not over-commit is always a choice.

The next time you get an impromptu request, ask yourself the following:

(1)   Do you lack the interest, knowledge, resources or skills to complete the task efficiently and effectively?

(2) Is there a more appropriate person who can do the task just as well, if not better?

(3) Will handling it consume too much of the time you need to tackle your major projects?

(4) Are you capable of higher-level work that would provide greater value?

(5) Are you getting dumped on with other people’s priorities?

The more yes’s you have to these questions, the more reasons you have to say no. If no seems too drastic, you could say not now, ask for more time, or refer someone else. But think before you jump to yes — or you could wind up earning the reputation of being unreliable or scattered.

When you’re busy reacting to distractions, interruptions, and other people’s issues, you will be less focused on your major projects and top priorities. Feeling overwhelmed saps your energy and blocks your creativity.

But when you clear out clutter and tune out static, you can be truly productive. You can savor the present, live your vision, and produce amazing results in areas where you really want to be and where others need you the most.

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Photo by: Horia Varlan

From resolutions to intentions

 It’s July and we are now half way into the year. Did you set New Year’s resolutions at the start of 2012?

If you did, are you near meeting them? Or, like most people, have you forgotten about them or abandoned them by now?

The last New Year’s resolution I made was to practice yoga daily. Yoga, every day, first thing in the morning.

On January 1st, I was off to a perfect start. But once February rolled around, other stuff began to take priority (like getting enough sleep or getting to work early).

Soon, yoga became just one more task to check off from my to-do list. Making it into a resolution turned it into something I had to do and achieve. The next year, I resolved to never make resolutions again.

I find that setting intentions (i.e. determination to act in a certain way) is much more effective in sustaining change. It involves reflecting on your deepest values (e.g. self-care), tapping into your heartfelt desires (e.g. good health), and making conscious choices to live in alignment with them (e.g. yoga practice). The course of action you take is a dynamic process, not a hard and fast rule.

Why resolutions don’t usually work

Habits are hard to change overnight. Resolutions are the bad habits you want to drop or the good habits you want to take up once the new year arrives.

But most changes require ongoing, consistent and deliberate effort over time. Sheer desire to start the year fresh gets you only so far.

End goals are affected by external factors. On the road to success, you will have detours, stop signs, and U-turns.

When you are overly attached to reaching a specific goal in a specific time frame, you are more likely to get discouraged or stressed out by obstacles and delays.

Focusing on flaws depletes your energy. Most resolutions include fixing perceived weaknesses and negative aspects of your life.

Berating yourself for the things you’re doing wrong chips away at the inner reserves you need to sustain change.

Why intentions work better

New habits are formed by specific action steps.  An intention involves making moment-to-moment choices that will get you closer to where you want to be.

When you know your larger purpose, you know what you need to do and where to focus your attention.  Instead of pining for the fruits of your action, you enjoy the action itself.

Aligning with your values is inner-directed. If your effort is directed more toward bringing out your true nature, instead of reaching an end goal, you are more likely to stay on the path even when it gets rough.

When you have setbacks, you sit with the discomfort, recoup, and renew your energy. Then you pick yourself up and start again as part of the alignment process.

Embracing your whole self preserves your energy.  Setting intentions involves reflecting on how you would like to show up differently in the world. It does not require seeing yourself or your life as a problem that needs to be resolved.

Rather than scold yourself for your flaws, you call out the more positive aspects of what is already within you.

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While yoga practice is still a priority for me, it is not a daily activity that I must squeeze in when I need to attend to other priorities. As long as I foster self-care and good health through other conscious choices and courses of action, I’m at peace.

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Photo by: flickrfavorites