Life is full of numerous instances of each of us wanting
things from others. Sometimes these “things” are as
simple as getting our own “decaf non-fat double latte
with no foam” the way we want it, or as complicated as
getting someone to listen to a detailed description of
our tiring day and receiving empathy for the many
challenges we overcame in the process.
When we do NOT get what we want
in a particular
instance, it is common in our society to say,
“You did not…”
in some form. For example:
You gave me whipped cream and I said I didn’t want any.
You’re late, again!
You are not listening to me.
You don’t understand what it is like for me to have to..…
You make me so angry!
You are not dependable.
You gave me the wrong thing.
You don’t care about what I want.
While any or all of these may be “true” from a
particular perspective, and may to varying degrees help
explain why it is that we did not get what we wanted
from another, they confuse what we did not
get with why we think we did not
By starting off with a “You”-statement like one of those
listed above, we maximize the chance that our listener
will respond defensively, thus diverting attention from
our more important basic message, which is I did
not get what I wanted.
We have a choice. We can either focus on (a) what
they did, or on (b) what we wanted.
Focusing on what they did
tends to generate arguments about:
What they did or did not
Who said what.
Whether or not they
listened to us.
Whether or not they are
The degree to which they
care for us.
How honest they are and/or if
we can trust them.
These types of arguments rarely end up getting us
what we want. Even if they do, usually one or both
parties pay a price in the process.
On the other hand, focusing on what we want
produces a much different result. It is almost
impossible to respond to “I did not get what I wanted”
with “Yes, you did”. By keeping the conversation
focused on what we want, we maintain
control of the conversation. Conversely, if we shift
the focus to what they did,
we give away our power to others. After all,
isn’t the entire reason for the exchange that we
did not get what we wanted? So why waste
our time on what the other person(s) did or did not do?
Unfortunately, all too often this comes from a desire
to blame others for not getting what we wanted.
The best way of getting what we want, now and in the
future, is to keep the focus on what is wanted,
without ever using the word “you.”
If we say:
The most likely outcome is:
“I did not get my coffee the way I wanted it.”
Focus on what is wanted
“I did not get my coffee the way I asked for
Argument about what was asked for
“You did not make my coffee the way I asked you
Argument about what was said and/or what was
“This coffee isn’t right.”
One of the above arguments
“This isn’t what I asked for.”
Argument about what was said
is an example of how we can get what we want even
when confronted with an individual who is more inclined
to be defensive and/or argumentative than to focus on
complying with our request, we may have to refocus the
conversation on what we want several
As the example in
shows, as soon as we shift our focus from what
we want to contradicting the other person, we
lead ourselves into a debate or argument. Our chance of
getting what we want drops dramatically.
Our cultural norm is to shift the focus of the
conversation to what the other person is saying,
rather than repeating, “I did not get what I
wanted.” We may have been taught that to do so
is selfish or self-centered. This is unfortunate, as we
are simply restating something that is true for us, “I
did not get what I wanted.” Beware --- many
people will infer “you”-statements. This is
their doing; do not fall into the trap of
accepting responsibility for what is created in the mind
If we maintain our boundaries and stand firm in our
position, without ever accusing others of being
wrong, we not only center ourselves (improving
our self-esteem), we also further the development of
boundaries that better serve us and enhance our
self-empowerment. This in turn will help us maintain
more productive, satisfying, candid and intimate
relationships with others.
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