August 25, 2015

Mindful Communication: How to Get What you Want.


She sits across from me, eating the Vanilla Bean Greek yogurt with frozen blueberries that I prepared her for breakfast.

The way she licks the spoon after every scoop is provocative, intentional, deliberate. It is the most innocuously sensuous thing I’ve seen in some time. Her green eyes stare at me. My attempts to continue reading the Retirement Fund Annual Report have reached the point of farce.

Here I understand what she wants from me and I have a clear choice: get annoyed at the ‘”interruption’”to my routine or take her rather obvious cue that it’s time to go back to bed.

She knows how to get what she wants, and she doesn’t have to say anything. She doesn’t have to bully, moan, whine or manipulate. Or pout. Non-verbal communication at its best. If everything was as easy as this then we’d have it made, right? Unfortunately it’s not.

While communication involves many other aspects such as body language, let’s focus on words. Just as important as what you say, however, is how you say it.

In order to communicate our wants and needs to others we must understand how best to reach them. With people we know it can be easier, as we’re aware of the cues they respond to and those they don’t. Communicating with strangers can seem more difficult, but if we view all people as basically the same, we can assume they respond similarly.

For example, everyone wants to be treated with manners and respect, so there’s no real surprise there. Yet, I am still amazed at how bad people are (including, on occasion, myself) at getting what they want from others. In many of us, there appears to be a basic distrust of people. In any situation where we find ourselves having to ask for something from someone, we automatically assume that they don’t want to give it to us. So we can be rude, pushy or inconsiderate. How does that possibly help us get what we want? When you stop and think about it, it doesn’t make much sense. That’s where the mindfulness to pause and consider exactly, in every situation, the best way to approach an interaction with another individual can truly have an enlightening and powerful impact on our ability to positively influence outcomes in our daily lives.

We begin to amass a set of tools from the minute we’re born: skills we learn that help us get us what we want, beginning with an innate instinct to cry in order to get held or if we’re hungry and later that throwing a tantrum can (sometimes) get us another piece of candy or toy. This set of tools grows as we grow, but some of them wear out and are no longer as useful as they once were. By the time we reach adulthood, we have to put down or throw away the tools that no longer work. This can be a lifetime process of unlearning.

As a Southern transplant from the Northeast, where folks are typically a lot more “direct”, I’ve learned that I truly do get more flies with honey than with vinegar. I try my best to employ these kind of “sweet strategies” to get what I want and I am sure that it works better than being bossy or rude:

Assume the best not the worst. Most people want to be helpful because it’s in their characters to. Far from expecting everyone to do my will, I am, however, often surprised at how delighted and eager people are to help as long as I have the right attitude. 

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Don’t look down your nose at others. Remember, you are both here at the same time and place, so what makes you any better than them? I try to remember that every person I intersect with that day has to potential to make my day. I should at least try to make theirs. Why not?

Be flexible, willing to negotiate and even give in after you’ve tried your utmost. The other day I was trying to get on an earlier flight and as much as I tried to sweet-talk the gate agent into letting me get on for free, it was $50 to change my ticket. It didn’t do me any good to get mad about it. I figured it was worth it to me to get home a few hours earlier.

Always say please and thank you. These words are free. They cost nothing and can mean the difference between getting what you want and not.

Respectful distance: Strangers should be treated with reverence. I even call the kid in the drive thru sir or ma’am, but that’s a Southern thing. It never goes wrong.

Smile. Duh.

Sure, I still make mistakes but they’re usually closer to home with people I have deep relationships with. Watching out for old behavior patterns can seem like a full-time job. Basically I still want what I want when I want it, but I have to be a little more strategic about how to go about getting it.

Again, the key is truly having the mindfulness to try to reach another person when you need to. And it shows you’re willing to put the right amount and type of effort in. There’s nothing selfish or manipulative about it. All you’re doing is asking anyway, not making any demands.

I take her hand and lead her back to bed, thinking it the wisest thing I could have done, and perhaps the most important thing I’ll ever do.


Author: Gordon Purkis

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Image: Flickr

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