Sometimes you're asked by another, "What do you need?" or "What do you need to make this work?" Recognize these questions as great gifts — most often, the asker is sincerely trying to help. Sadly, and too often, the answers we supply are self-defeating. They do lead the asker to supply what we ask for, but we ask for things that don't really help, and we fail to ask for things that would really help.
How does this happen and what can we do about it?
I've seen several different ways to supply self-defeating responses to this great gift of a question. Rather than offer a catalog, here are some guidelines for providing helpful responses.
- Know the difference between "wants" and "needs"
- Confusing what we'd like with what we actually must have can be disastrous. We can find ourselves spending goodwill and political capital reaching for non-essentials.
- A simple test to distinguish wants and needs begins with asking yourself, "If I don't get this, is the goal achievable?" If the answer is no, it's a need. If the answer is yes, then ask, "At what additional cost is the goal achievable?" The answer to that then becomes a new need.
- Know your redlines
- Once we know our needs, we usually find that some are a bit mushy. For example, we might not know how long something will take or how much it will cost, or how much mastery a candidate team member truly possesses.
- Even when needs are mushy, you probably can determine your minimum requirements — your redlines. Know your redlines and be prepared to communicate them clearly.
- Stay in your own hula-hoop
- Resisting the temptation to take on the problems of others is difficult. (See "Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop," Point Lookout for June 27, 2001) When answering the what-do-you-need question, we sometimes include the needs of others on whom we depend for our needs.
- Instead of listing others' needs, enumerate your own. Include the items you need from those others. What your suppliers need is not one of your needs. It's one of theirs.
- Respond with whats, not hows
- Problem solving Confusing what we'd like
with what we actually must
have can be disastrousis another difficult-to-resist temptation. We tend to offer what we think will be the ingredients of solutions rather than the outcomes we actually need.
- Instead, focus your answers on what you need. You can suggest ways of achieving it, and those suggestions might lead to joint problem solving — a most desirable result. But be clear about the distinction between what you need and how to get there.
Most important, practice. Before you enter the conversation, assume the best — assume that you'll receive this great gift of a question. Making up your answer on the fly might work, but it's risky. It's far better to work out your answer in advance, using these guidelines. You can begin by asking yourself this question: what do I need to practice answering the what-do-you-need question? Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.