A simple approach to defining what you want

There are lots of experts who will tell you what to do once you know what you want. They will give you motivational tips (which means they are not based on emotion, not evidence) and they will give you evidence-based tips (often the result of social science research). What they don't do is tell you what to do when you don't know what you want.

After all, if you don't know what you want, what's the point? People think that you must know what you want. And that's probably accurate on some level, but your conscious awareness might be out of the loop.

I spent a large part of this week asking people to grow their influence by knowing what they want other people to do. I kept asking people what they wanted. The answer that no one wanted to give out loud was something like "I would like people to be impressed by me just as I am, and I'd like them to figure how to use the information I give them. I don't want to have to think it through, because I'm not really sure what I want in this case. Couldn't we keep it general?"

The problem with this approach is that, as we say in NLP, the meaning of a communication is the feedback it gets. If you don't decide what you want in specific terms, you have no idea if you're getting what you want. And that means you can't learn from what you do, and you can't get better, and you can't predict the results you will get.

What if you start with that? It's pretty specific. I want to feel that I can count on the results I will get when I have to communicate to support my survival.
© Can Stock Photo / JohanH

For lots of reasons, if we get good results without a good feeling about those results, we survive but we don't feel good and so we assume that our survival is still in jeopardy. So the good feeling is a non-negotiable part of what we want if we want to know that we have what it takes to survive.

So what have I done here? It's a relatively simple model for moving forward when you don't know what you want. Begin by jumping out to the thing that is so general you are sure you do want it (to predict the results of your communication). Then notice the feeling that has to be part of that for you to want it. Is it good enough to be right if you still feel anxious? Is it good enough to preserve the relationship or do you have to feel good about the relationship you have preserved?

I am not saying you will always have the ability to communicate in a way that gets you all of what you want. I am saying that if you know just these two things: the most general outcome that you are sure you want AND the way you need to feel when you get there, then you will have a yardstick against which you can measure your efforts. You will be able to get better, because you will be able to evaluate how much closer you got to what you want with the effort you just made.

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