So What Do You Want Me To Do?

So What Do You Want Me To Do?

A career coach, a motivational speaker, and a nutritionist meet, and in talking about their work, they discover that they all give the same core advice to their clients: Know What You Want. Maybe it isn’t surprising, as this seems pretty reasonable advice for any endeavor. I’m thinking that it is certainly true of communication.

But here’s a difference. In the planning of a career or life change or when beginning a healthy eating program one answers that dictate for oneself: “What do I want? I want this! Here I go!” But in many communication interactions, usually the ones about which we fret over what and how to say things, the question we need to ask relates to someone else. In communication, The Question is “What do I want the other person to do?”

Frequently speakers begin talking without much thought beyond what we want to say. But then what? Do you want something to happen as a result of your speaking? If so, and you know what it is, you will craft a more precise and effective message than one that results from “I’m going to tell him x and y.”

Sometimes this isn’t a big distinction, but sometimes it can make the difference between a good talk and a not so good talk.

Agatha was charged by her manager to give talks about the new health plan to all departments. “There’s so much,” she complained, showing me her proposed talk which was long and dense enough to render comatose the most fervent of health plan advocates.

“If someone has an issue next week will they consult the notes they took during your talk?” I asked.

“No, they’ll come and ask me what to do.”

Maybe her talk can be shorter if she asks, “What do I want them to do?” She decided that she wanted them to know the key changes with the new plan, and to make an appointment to talk to her when specific issues came up. Her talk was short and the listeners were grateful.

Hotspur was preparing to summarize a meeting for his boss. He regarded his planned step- by -step replay with a yawn. In answer to The Question he said “I want her to know that I’m smart and analytical, and I want her to send me to other events for her.” A new, snappy summary emerged.

Lulu had to tell her assistant that she couldn’t publish his report because of all the errors. Covered in red pen marks, the report was terrifying to behold. I asked if she had to show it to the poor man. Again, The Question was asked and yielded, “Well, I guess I want him to stop making these grammatical mistakes and produce something we can use.” She decided to refer to the unfortunate report but to focus on an upcoming writing course that she recommended.

Ramona was disgusted with her teenager who had failed to empty the dishwasher for the umpteenth time, which infraction she added to the impressive list she was preparing to present. She thought The Question was unnecessary. “I want her to do what I tell her to do.” ( I think “duh” was implied.) I wondered if the planned recital of sins had been effective in the past and suggested something simpler, and easier on Ramona’s nerves. “If the dishwasher isn’t emptied by 7:00, I’m turning off the TV for the evening.” Then do it.

Patty’s feelings were hurt when her friend laughed at something she’d said. She spent time wondering whether or not to “say something” and if so, what to say. “How would she like it if….” and “She needs to know that she can’t….” or “I remember the time that she……”. The Question was harder to answer in this case because Patty had to admit that what she wanted her friend to do was just be aware that she’d been hurt. It seemed easier to plan attacks or punishments than to admit such vulnerability.

Figuring out what you want is hard enough; figuring out what you want from someone else deserves some thought.

Preferably before you speak.