What do you really want?

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That question is at the heart of almost any important conversation, whether you are negotiating a deal, in conflict with a coworker, walking into a meeting, or ready to take the next step in your career. I started taking that little question more seriously after attending an excellent course called Crucial Conversations (There is also a book of the same name, by authors Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, McGraw-Hill, 2002)
 
I’m convinced that if we took a moment to answer that question before plunging into an important conversation, we would save time, avoid confusion and build better relationships.
 
Crucial Conversations makes the point that in a conflict situation, the dialogue can easily slip into accusations and justifications, which can obliterate the main point you are arguing about. By asking yourself, “What do I really want?” you strip away the emotional drama and clear your head. Don’t answer the question by blaming the other person (“I want her to stop acting like a know-it-all!”) Instead, think about what you want (“I want my ideas to be considered.”)
 
In negotiations this question is critical, and mediators tell me that it’s the key that can unlock an impasse. Many years ago, a friend told me a story about how this question had an impact on her life. My friend’s teenage daughter wanted to be adopted by her step father but her biological father (who hadn’t seen her since she was a toddler) refused. My friend told me about the bitter divorce and was angry that he denied his daughter’s request to give up his parental rights and let her be adopted, even though he had had nothing to do with her.
 
In the middle of the drama, another friend of hers had asked her a simple question, “What do you really want?” She answered, “My daughter wants to have the same last name as the rest of the family.” Her friend said, “Then why not go down to the court house and pay $100 to get her name changed?” Problem solved.
 
Good sales professionals know this question is at the heart of their success with customers. Not only do they go into a customer meeting with an idea of what they want, but they turn the tables to find out what the customer really wants. By carefully probing and listening, they often uncover things the customer doesn’t state up front. For instance is the customer short staffed? Are they having quality problems with another vendor? Adding value to the customer goes beyond selling a product or service, and you can’t get there without helping them figure out what they really want.
 
For example, years ago, I received a call from an executive who was shopping for some leadership training. As I listened and asked questions to find out what he really wanted, it turned out the answer to his problem wasn’t training at all. Once we were both clear about the problem he wanted to solve, we were able to get the best outcome.
 
When I hear from job hunters, “What do I really want?” can be a difficult question for people who face a career crossroads. One executive I know has been downsized and for the first time finds himself faced with choices…return to corporate life, start his own business, downsize and do something with less pressure?
 
For most people the answer to that question doesn’t come easily. Young graduates are often frustrated that the answer doesn’t come wrapped up in their diploma scroll. It’s a life-long journey because even though you may have the answer for a few years, what you want will change over time. Successful careerists proactively pursue opportunities that answer that question, rather than drifting from one job to another, or staying for years in a job they may not be crazy about.
 
Day-to-day meetings give you an opportunity to use this question, too. A client of mine is facing several important meetings over the next few weeks. There is no crisis or big deal to negotiate. Instead, he is meeting a new peer he will be working with, as well as with another peer, with whom he has bumped heads in the past. Before each meeting, he is asking himself, “What do I really want?” His goal in the meeting is to also ask questions to determine what each of them really wants.
 
In both cases, he has business and relationship outcomes he wants. By asking the question himself, and identifying the answers beforehand, he will be more likely to be clear, focused and transparent—all the ingredients for a successful outcome. 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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