Asking vs. Telling – Applying An Un-kept Secret

Why doesn’t she understand?  I told her how.”

It’s his own fault because I told him what he needed to do.”

“I told her and told her and told her and she still doesn’t do it right.”

Whether I’m working with businesses or couples, I continue to hear these kinds of comments.  And my perception is that they do not lead to effective communication or healthy relationships.  In fact, the telling behaviour tears relationships apart.

I’m curious; do you like to be told what to do?  Or more importantly, are you in the habit of telling others what to do?

When I’m told what to do, I get a picture in my mind.  I see myself as a 7-year old child in front of a crotchety old teacher with grey hair, double-chin, horn-rimmed glasses, floppy skin under her arms, and bad breath.  And that pungent, old battle-axe is shaking her finger at me disgustedly.  It’s really comical when I look at it later, but at the time, I feel small, insignificant, and stupid.  I don’t like that feeling and chances are great that I won’t do what I was told to do anyway, because it becomes a duty, a have-to, or an order in my mind.  I don’t take orders well.

On the other hand, if I am asked, I will do almost anything.  I will put my heart and soul into the request and go above and beyond the expectations.  And I will feel fantastic about having the opportunity to help someone.

I believe that an innate human trait is a desire to help others – it’s a basic component of life and business.  Every business I think about is “in business” to help their customers get what they need, solve problems, or help them to feel good.  It takes asking to find out specifically how we can help.

Business is not about telling customers what to do.  Think about it.  How would you feel if you walked into a shoe store and before your eyes adjusted to the light, the salesperson shoved a pair of shoes in a bag and said, “Give me your credit card and take these.  They’re what you need to wear.”  Would you suggest to the salesperson that they immediately take a trip – to somewhere really hot?

Telling builds walls of defence.  Telling puts distance between people.  Telling crumbles the foundation of a relationship.

Asking brings people together.  Asking creates a sense of cooperation, and in a larger sense, creates community.  Asking builds trust and makes the relationship stronger.

With those points in mind, why would we tell someone else what to do when we can gain far greater results by asking?

Yes, I understand there are times in an emergency situation where we must be authoritative and tell others what to do.  However, that doesn’t happen often for most of us.

So friend, I’m asking you to accept my challenge.  It’s your choice and if you don’t agree with it, let’s have a discussion.  I’d like to hear your perspective. The challenge is to focus your intention and attention on asking for what you want.  Here’s the how-to:

  1. Become consciously aware of your thoughts before you let the words slip past your lips.  I believe this is a critical step and may I suggest you keep doing this on a full-time basis?
  2. At any point where your tendency is to tell someone, “You should …”, “You need to …”, “You better…”, “Do this/that…”, “Don’t do that”, or anything of that nature, it will be very helpful to STOP.  Those types of statements take away the other person’s ability to choose – they steal their freedom.  And stealing is a criminal offence.
  3. Clarify in your mind exactly what you want and ensure that the desired result is healthy and respectful for all involved.  If your demand is a power-trip, manipulative, or based in ego, call me because we have some serious coaching work to do.
  4. Reframe the statement in your mind so it is a question – an “ask.”  Use, “Could you please …?”, “Would it be possible for you to …?”, “May I suggest you …?”, or “How would it work if you …?”  These types of questions open up all kinds of choices and possibilities.  It includes the other person as a valuable resource and allows you both to look at the situation with a different perspective.

5. One of two things will occur.  (1) The person will gladly and gratefully fulfil your request, or (2) he/she won’t fulfil the request and it will open up positive conversation and negotiation which may lead to a solution far better than either person thought possible.

The words we use and the way we use them has a huge affect on the results we create in our lives.  As I continue to practice with this asking model, I continue to experience greater results, personally and professionally.

Do you want to build and enhance your relationships, create greater happiness, joy, and success?  If so, may I suggest you work to make the above steps a habit?  Once it is a habit, you’ll amaze yourself at what comes out of your mouth and the profound positive affect it will have on your life.

It works really well for me.  In fact, let me practice:

– Could you give this a whirl?
– Can this work for you?
– What might change in your life if you applied these how-to steps?

But don’t tell anybody – it’s a secret.