How to ask for what you actually want...

Avoid confusing matters by focussing on what you don’t want!

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I hear this so often 'oh Kay, I just don’t want to XYZ' or 'oh, it’s so annoying, I don’t want to get wound up by X' or 'I just don’t want to make that mistake again' and so it goes on.

Can you see how the focus in each of these is what you don’t want? What the person wants to avoid and yet the 'I don’t want to' is the nub of the phrase.

Now I learned, many moons ago, when first studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) that negative suggestions cannot be processed by the brain without having to focus on the suggestion first. For example, if I say to you 'Don’t think of a pink elephant' you and I both know the first thing you do is have to think of a pink elephant and then maybe put a cross through it. If I were to say to you- 'think of a green hippopotamus' as a direct suggestion, that’s exactly what you do.

What is so subtle here is the effect it has on those around us when we give directions, when we ask for what we want (or ask for what we don’t want as is more often the case) and how we can often get exactly what it is we don’t want – because the direct command or suggestion was in the negative.

You might be thinking- 'yes Kay, blah blah I know about do and don’t' but I’d counter that and say 'do you really?'

How often have you said to your child, partner, colleague 'don’t do that' or 'don’t put that there.' Instead say 'put the X on the Y please'- i.e. direct instruction.

It’s the same in our public domain. 'Don’t walk on the grass' is far less effective than 'stay on the pavement.' 'Don’t leave litter' is less effective than 'take your litter home please.' In each of the counter phrases there’s no suggestion of what we don’t want hence no hint of doing it by mistake.

One of the worst things you can say to someone is 'don’t forget your X.' Nine times out of ten they will. It’s far more influential and effective to say 'remember your X' or 'take you X with you.'

Postponing a key meeting last week with clients, we focussed on when we could, how it would work (not if) and what would work best. Can you see that with an intention and focus heading towards what we wanted, it made it so much easier for us all to make it happen?

You’ll hear people saying 'don’t do this' and 'don’t put that there' and 'don’t forget X' all the time. My question to you is this- When it’s you asking, before you launch into, 'don’t blah blah”'ask yourself 'if I ditch the ‘don’t’ – what do I actually really want instead?'. Then, ask for that instead.

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Kay White

Savvy & Influential Communication for Ambitious Women in Business,