What Do You Really Want?

Originally published November 2008; edited 2014

Negotiation Tip:  Clarify What You Really Want

I love speaking about negotiation with groups, and groups of women especially. Women want to know what they don’t know. And they want to share their experiences, and yes to share a good laugh!

There is always a story about a courageous act that succeeded brilliantly, and another about the perils of playing it safe, playing it “small” as Marianne Williamson cautions against.

Your Language Influences You

Recently I was speaking to a group of women in the construction industry about negotiation.  Our choice of language and its role in our communications and negotiations became a touchstone.  As the 40 or so members did their go-round of introductions, a tradition is to also answer a question posed by the guest speaker.

My question for them was “What do I really want?“, the key question that begins your negotiation preparation.

I was fascinated to notice that of the 40 members, only about ten percent used the words “what I really want is…”  The remaining ninety percent said instead “what I would really like is…”

In addition, the types of things that followed seemed to vary depending on which phrase was used. “What I would really like” tended to precede broader, less tangible and more elusive objectives, things that were more likely to be outside the direct scope of the woman’s sphere of control or influence.  More hopeful, even tentative objectives. The women who said “what I really want is…” were more specific, deliberate and concrete.  Like, “more time off to spend with my kids”; “a day at the spa”; or even “great sex!”

We had a good laugh about how we unconsciously use language patterns we’ve grown accustomed to, and even what we believe is “appropriate”, especially as women. Some felt saying “I want” was too bold, too risky, too unexpected.

Does this matter?  I think it does.

The Impact of Clarity is Exponential

One of the ways you can become more effective in your negotiations, and more influential in your communications and dealings with others, is by being really clear.  Really clear on what you want.

The impact of clarity is exponential.  The clearer you are about what you want, the clearer you can be in asking for what you want, in planning how you are going to ask for it, and in how you negotiate — and  how it will affect the other person involved.

As the women at my seminar articulated, stating ‘what would really like’ rang as a wish for the future, rather than as a statement of desire for the present, as it does with “what I really want”. “I would like” is a conditional statement; it implies that some other condition is required, or needs to happen. There is a sense of a lingering “if”, or “one day…”.  As in, “what I would really like is X, if  Y happens“.  For example, “I would really like to vacation in Italy for a month…if I could afford it (or: if my boss would give me the time off).

See how it puts your desire out there? Outside of you, perhaps dependent on something else happening – or someone else’s actions? This can be great for kick-starting your imagination, dreaming broadly. But when it comes to steering your life, and day-to-day progress, “what I really want…” is much more empowering.

“I want” simply is.  The want exists in the present, irrespective of whether, and how,  your want is fulfilled.  And perhaps that is what makes it so hard to articulate, especially for women, who learn to value connection with others, put others’ needs first and minimize their own wants and achievements. You may even feel it is inappropriate to articulate something as bold as “I want”!

Before you even choose which phrase to use, articulating what you want presumes that you know what you want.  And so we are back to clarity. This can take some work, especially if it is a new skill.

There are a lot of tools available to help gain clarity in knowing what you want, and defining your outcome goal {Check out my Tips for Getting Clear!}.  It’s hard to be satisfied with any outcomes, if you’re not clear what you wanted in the first place! Sometimes, it is as simple as beginning with identifying what you don’t want, which then acts as a foil to reveal what it is that you do want instead.

Clarity is empowering, especially when it is coupled with clear knowing of what we don’t want.  It is much easier to walk away from a bad deal, when we can see it clearly.  This creates confidence that you can hold your own.

Even if all you do, if your first simple step is this, you will revolutionize your mindset and your results: Ask yourself first.

What do I really WANT?

Then BE bold, take the risk, be unexpected – go ahead and say it:

“What I really want is…”