Desired Outcomes define our relationships

by Jim Cathcart
copyright 2008

From the time we are born the world asks us “What do you want?” And the better we become at defining and communicating what we want, the more likely we are to get it.

When a baby cries the mother seeks to learn what is needed. Is the child in pain, hungry, wet, cold, ill?
Until she knows what the child wants the mother is unable to fulfill the need or desire. So, she guesses; first rocking and soothing, then offering food, then a blanket, etc. until the crying stops. The mother is a metaphor for how the world operates toward us.

The world is driven by requests. When you clearly ask for something then ways to receive it begin to appear. This is true on many levels. Let’s say you have bills coming due and don’t yet have the money to pay them. Your first likely reaction is to “worry.” That is simply your mind sorting through the possibilities to give you an accurate Threat Assessment. You see, worry is the mental rehearsal of disaster. It is how we think about challenges and determine whether we are in trouble or not. If we easily see a way out then we relax. If we don’t then we become more alarmed.

People get far too distressed by worry. I suggest you keep it in perspective. Recognize it as a natural, helpful mental and emotional reaction to danger. Any challenge; getting to a meeting on time, finding a way to make a sale, avoiding a traffic ticket, or averting injury…will produce a thought process centered around threat avoidance and self-protection. Our difficulty increases if we end up staying in that mode for too long. We move from Threat Assessment into Pessimism.

Pessimism is the mindset of assuming that the threats are insurmountable and eternal. We take the posture that because there are threats we are therefore defeated, so why even try? This is a very destructive mindset.

We need to know what we want and what stands between us and achieving it. Part of that process is seeing the potential obstacles. Another part is seeing the successful outcome. A baby doesn’t yet have the capacity to see or articulate the desired outcome, but they know it the instant it arrives and they respond accordingly. Adults on the other hand, can visualize, describe and even vicariously experience the outcome in their imagination. But we do it far too little. Instead we spend time going around in circles within our worry loop. Reviewing again and again the negative possibilities.

Optimism by comparison is the mindset of assuming that regardless of the obstacles, there is probably a solution somewhere. So we continue to probe and explore until we find it. Without optimism we would not persist. Our mindset is a choice. We are not the victims of it, unless we choose to sustain it. So avoid pessimism at the first signs of it and embrace optimism well before you have tangible evidence to justify it. There is a way, somewhere, somehow, with someone’s assistance. It can be done.

So what do you want? Think of this in any context that is meaningful to you. What do you want on the job? from your next business contact? from the work you’ve put into a project? from your coworkers, customers or vendors? What do you want in your dealings with others? from your friend? from your neighbor? your kids? your spouse? And what do you want in life? from yourself? from others?

The more clearly you can define what you want the more valuable your relationships can become.
Here is why: almost everything you achieve will be in some ways done through others. The more people you have hoping and helping you the more likely you are to succeed. But they cannot help until they know what you want.

Assume right now that you listed all of your life’s goals on one sheet of paper and shared it with everyone you know. Odds are that some of them would discard the list, others would read and store it, and some would actually spend time thinking about how they could help you attain it. If only ONE person assisted you then you would have increased your “workforce” by 100%!

Personally, one thing that drives me nuts is indecision. To hear others avoiding decisions makes me very anxious. I recall one especially frustrating evening when “where shall we go for dinner?” was the question before us. We started suggesting restaurants with none getting much support and then people started embracing the indecision. One said,”Then let’s just see what leftovers are in the refigerator.” That’s when I chimed in with the assertion that we needed to make a decision. I said, “If nobody has a preference then let’s go to George’s Restaurant!” It was an excellent restaurant but not a popular suggestion because nobody else wanted to be the one who had made the choice. What was frustrating my efforts and keeping our group from an enjoyable dinner was simply not telling the world what we wanted. Once our goal was identified then we could progress into problem solving mode; call for reservations or eat on the patio or have drinks at the bar until a table was available, etc.

This same dynamic is true in all situations. Customers tend not to buy from us until we ask for the order. Waiters don’t serve us until we choose the meal or drink we want. Traffic won’t move aside for you until you signal your intended direction. And your employer won’t show you how to advance to higher pay until you show your interest in advancement and willingness to overfill your current responsibilities. We need to show others where we are headed so they can help or step out of our way.

How would you feel if upon arriving at a friend’s home for dinner, you were asked, “What would you like for dinner?”
I’d feel put out. It is the host’s job to determine what the meal will be and, after being considerate to individual taste preferences, to serve what was prepared. The guest shouldn’t have to drive the decision.
How would you feel in a football game if your quarterback used the huddle to take a vote as to the next play or game strategy?
Or if your employer didn’t let you know what you were working toward?
Leaders must lead. The world needs for each of us to do the same in our own life.

Again I ask, “What do you want?”
Once you know what you want or help your customer define what they want then your relationship takes on a whole new meaning. You become partners in problem-solving, collaborators toward an identified outcome. That is why I say that “Desired Outcomes define our relationships.”

When an outcome is identified then the rules, protocols and expectations of the relationship reshape themselves around the new goal. If you are riding in an elevator with a stranger there is very little “relationship” in place. All that is expected of each other is common courtesy. But if you find upon exiting the elevator that both of you are going into the same meeting where you will be negotiating a contract from opposite sides, a whole new set of “rules” apply to your dealings. Alternately, if you were to discover that both of you were about to become partners in a new venture, then your relationship would be defined by the goals of the venture.

So, as you contemplate your next task or communication with someone else, I’d like to ask you on behalf of the rest of the world:
“What do you want?”
(Surely we can find some ways to help you get it.)

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2 Comments

Filed under Behavioral Economics, Relationship Intelligence Training

2 responses to “Desired Outcomes define our relationships

  1. Jim Gillespie

    Hey Jim,
    Nice article, this something all of us can relate to.
    I enjoy keeping up with you on your web site.
    Take care,
    Jim Gillespie

  2. Howard Feiertag

    WOW, another great article, Jim, just loved it!
    Gotta use some of it in my Sales Clinic column for HMM…..Hospitality Sales folks need to be reading your stuff….
    Regards,
    Howard Feiertag

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