Friday, April 10, 2009

Communcating What You Want

People who've always been dependent on others for some kind of charity or goodwill often have a hard time saying what they really want because usually no one asks them. And if they are asked, the poor often think no one really wants to hear the truth.
--Jaqueline Novogratz in The Blue Sweater

Seth Godin sent me a copy of The Blue Sweater, which has the subtitle, Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. It's about how she is building a new paradigm of aid to poor countries, one in which the recipeints of aid, mostly impoverished women, are expected to pay back the small loans they apply for.

Novogratz shows how in many cases international aid leaves its recipients worse off then before. It's not that we shouldn't help each other, but help is not a matter of throwing some money at a charity and feeling all superior about it.

However, Novogratz' observation about how her poor clients have a hard time articulating what they really want; it's almost as if they never dared to contemplate their inner desires.

Many of us in the wealthier part of the world have the same problem. Not because no one has ever asked us what we want, but because we want so badly to do the right thing, to please others, so that they, in turn, will do our will, and take care of us.

My grandmother tried to teach me a lesson like this a long time ago. She had asked me what I wanted for lunch, and I replied that it didn't matter. She let me know that it did matter, that she was asking me because she wanted to know, and that it was not helping anyone to pretend that I didn't care. I should care.

In our communication, especially a formal presentation, the first step is to be absolutely crystal clear about what it is we want. Not what we're supposed to want.

Thinking like this takes practice. The next time someone asks you what you want for lunch, say something. You can even practice, thinking ahead about how you would answer.

And if you think that you really don't care, you're probably denying part of yourself. If that's the case, you can start writing a list of things you like, and another list of things you don't like.

And in honor of today's Christian holiday, let me suggest that Jesus didn't spend his life trying to please the right people. I don't think he was remembered as such a "nice" person.