On asking, wanting and giving
by Chas (Chip) August
“Ask for one hundred percent of what you want one hundred percent of the time. Be willing to hear no. And negotiate for a win/win.”
Powerful words. Often we ask for some of what we want some of the time. Occasionally we ask for one hundred percent of what we want. Sometimes we are willing to hear no, but not if what we want seems really important. And usually no means “conversation over,” or “forget about it.”
Imagine how your life could be if you really asked for one hundred percent of what you wanted, one hundred percent of the time. Imagine how your life would be if you could accept each no you heard. Imagine if hearing no was actually the beginning of a conversation, not the end.
I think we all have something to gain by learning to ask for what we want. It is time to give up our expectations that our loved ones just know what we want, without our having to ask. And there is incredible growth available when we are truly willing to hear no. It is time to hear other people’s no as no, not as “I don’t love you” or “You don’t deserve to have your wants met”. And with all the conflict and turmoil in the world, we all need to practice looking for win/win outcomes in every area of life.
Many people struggle with the sometimes subtle distinction between stating a want, making a request about a want (asking), and having expectations that if one negotiates long enough or hard enough or well enough one will not actually have to take no for an answer (demanding vs. asking). It is important to recognize the times when we have an expectation that we will get what we’re asking for. No matter how reasonable the request, no matter how well thought-out, no matter how well spoken, everyone has the right to say no and have that no respected.
This brings us to a dilemma. How do I respect your no and still negotiate with you? What am I negotiating for? For me, the first thing I do when I hear that no is to ask for more information. Often, the no is in response to part of what I’m asking, not all. If I ask you out to dinner and you say no, I need to know if you are saying “No, not ever”, or “No, not tonight”, or “No, not dinner”, or something else? Perhaps, as we discuss your no, I’ll discover that what I really want is an opportunity for us to get to know each other better. And perhaps talking about your no will provide that opportunity.
When I talk about asking for more information I’m not talking about interrogating someone. I grew up in a home that used what I call the Perry Mason School of Discussion. Basically this meant asking someone lots of leading questions designed to trip the other person over their own logical inconsistencies. Or sometimes it meant haranguing the other person with questions till they just gave in. We didn’t discuss things nearly as often as we cross-examined each other.
I want to make an important distinction. The purpose of negotiating for win/win is not about winning someone over to your point of view. This is not the kind of negotiating you might do over a new car price with a salesperson. In our formula, we use the word negotiate as shorthand for — have a conversation that helps you learn more: about what you want; about what the other person wants; about what the other person has said no to; and, about what you have made that no mean. The goal of negotiating for a win/win is to give both of you an opportunity to be very clear about what you do and don’t want.
One problem with asking for one hundred percent of what I want one hundred percent of the time is that it focuses my attention on wanting. And how can I ask for one hundred percent of what I want 100% of the time when I don’t really know what I want? If I’m going to ask for 100% of what I want I had better be aware of all that I want. To me it sounds like a recipe for bringing out my internal greedy-little-kid. The part of my personality that wants everything all the time — I want a toy truck and I want an ice cream cone and I want you to hold me and I want you to leave me alone and I want to play and I want to go the beach and I want you to read me a story, etc.
One way to shift our attention from wanting all the time is to take on the idea of asking for one hundred percent of what you can give one hundred percent of the time. Be willing to hear no. And negotiate for a win/win. Imagine having balance in your giving and receiving. As we look for what we can give in every situation we remind ourselves that we have a lot to give. We enhance our self-esteem. We become a giving person.
As we give and get, we develop the attitude of gratitude. We see so much more to be thankful for. We become aware of how bountiful our lives truly are. Or, to paraphrase Oliver Goldsmith: Give to get esteem, till, seeming blessed, you become what you seem.
Now I have a confession to make. I don’t feel completely comfortable with the part of this formula that says I should do this “one hundred percent of the time.” I think we human beings can sometimes find ourselves in a near constant state of unfulfilled wants. We get dissatisfied with aspects of our lives and find ourselves wanting — wanting a raise, a better job, a vacation, less responsibility, more authority, a new car, a mate, a different mate, three or four mates, more sex, less sex, whiter teeth, ad ininitum, ad nauseum.
Imagine you have a best friend who’s dissatisfied with his life, and thinks he can cure it by filling himself with things, externally. He asks for one hundred percent of what he wants one hundred percent of the time. No matter how willing this person is to hear no, do you really want to invest your time and energy into a relationship where one of you is frequently asking you for whatever he desires in the moment? And are you strong enough to say no when you mean no? After awhile most of us feel a little uncomfortable saying no to the same person over and over again.
Maybe this hypothetical friend is very good at explaining what he’s doing and he invites you to do the same. Great, now your relationship consists of the two of you looking outside yourselves to find satisfaction, then asking each other and others for whatever you desire in the moment. Is this a recipe for a rewarding friendship?
So maybe the next step we need to include is awareness that happiness, joy, satisfaction, pleasure come from within. There’s an old saying: If you don’t go within, you’ll always go without. In other words, it’s important to really look at our wanting. To be aware of the times we are being less than loving to ourselves. To notice our internal critic, and yet not be run by him. To ask ourselves, “What is the experience I’m after, and how can I give it to myself?” And as we look within, be prepared to have your wants change.
Ask for one hundred percent of what you want one hundred percent of the time. Be willing to hear no. And negotiate for a win/win. Ask for one hundred percent of what you can give one hundred percent of the time. Be willing to hear no. And negotiate for a win/win. Look within. Listen. Communicate.