Just Ask

Have you ever been frustrated when someone hasn’t delivered on your expectation? Maybe there’s someone in your life who continually falls short of the mark. If so, you’re not alone. And the news you may not want to hear? You may be part of the problem.

We’ve all had an occasion in our life where we feel like someone didn’t measure up, where what we were expecting from them wasn’t delivered. Things like anger, resentment, and frustration can build. If left unaddressed, it can erode trust and destroy relationships. It doesn’t discriminate between personal or professional relationships either. It’s an equal opportunity problem.

There used to be a time in my life where I could build up a great case as to why ‘Person X’ was clearly out to make my life miserable because they didn’t meet an expectation I had. Or I got frustrated because I wasn’t getting what I wanted. Fortunately I discovered a way to eliminate that frustration. I had to ask.

Ask

I didn’t happen upon this because I’m incredibly brilliant (though don’t tell my daughter, I’ve still got her convinced that between my wife and I we pretty much know everything a seven year old ought to know.) It came to be out of frustration I felt when others were upset about my not meeting their expectations. What I realized as I dug into it was that nearly every time someone got upset at my failing to meet their expectation, that expectation hadn’t been communicated to me. In their mind it was obvious what they wanted or needed. NEWS FLASH: People aren’t mind readers. (Some of you are hearing Ms. Cleo saying “Call me now!” in a heavy Jamaican accent. If you’re not, well you missed out.) You’re likely saying, ‘Of course they’re not mind readers, Christopher, everyone knows that.’ Well if that’s the case, why do we often treat people like we expect them to be? We’re setting them up to fail.

That got me thinking about my own actions. I started looking at where I was feeling frustrated with others, and saw that it inevitably stemmed from my not asking for what I needed. I hadn’t shared my expectations. (If I was in an old Looney Tunes cartoon, this would be the moment where my head would have been replaced with that of a donkey.)

Here’s an example: a few weeks ago, my wife commented that she hadn’t had a chance to clean out the cat’s litter box yet. It was a simple comment in the middle of a larger conversation. Now to some, that would seem obvious – she wants you to clean out the litter box. To others, it might simply be sharing what was going on, recapping some of the things from their day. What I later discovered was that in her mind since she’d mentioned it, she figured I’d take care of it. I won’t get into how we filter and process information (that’ll likely be a whole ‘nother blog post), but for her she’d moved past it with the assumption that it’s a done deal. You can see where this is going to wind up, can’t you?

You have to start by overtly asking for what you need or want. That’s just the start. If you already make it a habit of asking, kudos, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re headed in the right direction.

Clarify

Asking is the beginning, and how you ask will enhance or undermine of getting the results you’re after. Sometimes we feel like it is obvious what we’re asking for, and are surprised when others don’t have the same understanding we do.

Let’s jump back to the litter box. Recently my wife asked me to clean out the cat’s litter box. I said I would. Pretty simple, right? Yes and no. You see, what I discovered after the fact was that the expectation that each of us had created in our mind as to when that would be completed wasn’t the same. For her, she thought I would do it right away, because that was what she would have done. I didn’t know that was her timeline. I figured I could do it in a little while. The result: she was frustrated a few minutes later when it hadn’t been done, and I became frustrated because I said I’d do it, and felt I hadn’t even been given time to do it.

When you are asking for something, it’s important to be as specific as you can. That might seem like an unnecessary statement, yet you’d be surprised at how often I hear people complain that they’re not getting what they want from others. When I inquire about what the request was, that clarity is often missing. I hear things like, “It’s obvious what was needed. I shouldn’t have to clarify.”

To my wife’s credit, we’ve talked about this, and one of the things I’ve asked is for her to be clearer in her requests. If she needs something in a specific time frame, let me know what her expectations are. It reduces the likelihood of frustration because now I know as well. It’s something I continue to work on too. I do my best to be clear when I ask for things so that she doesn’t feel like she’s having to guess or read my mind.

A quick and easy way to check to see if the person you’re asking is clear on what you want or need, is to have them share what they heard. Whether they paraphrase or repeat verbatim it doesn’t matter. The point is that it allows you to check for understanding.

Be Unattached

You’re cruising along now. You’re asking. You’re being clear in what you ask for. And sometimes you’re still getting frustrated because people can’t deliver on what you ask. This is where being unattached to the outcome is needed.

Just like there will be times when people ask something of you that you may not be able to do, or you may try to and fall short, you need to realize that it can happen for others. I struggled with letting go of attachment to requests for a long time. Especially when others made requests of me. I often felt compelled to have to say yes.

I now understand that sometimes others will ask something of me that I can’t provide, whether because I’m not able, or I don’t have the capacity, or perhaps that it conflicts with another commitment I’ve made. Regardless, my saying no to that request is not the same as saying rejecting the person. I simply can’t honor that request in that moment. When I remember that, it becomes easier to remember there may be times when others can’t honor an ask I’ve made of them. And it’s not personal. This does not mean you give up caring if things get done. It means you let go of having to control everything.

When you can let go of the attachment to what the answer or result should be, you free yourself from worry and frustration. We’re human. We’re not perfect. Sometimes we strive and fall short of the mark. Allow others and yourself to be human.

Train Your World

A friend and fellow coach once told me, “Train your word in how to be with you.”

The best way to take responsibility for the results you’re getting (or not getting) is to take responsibility for your world. Train your world how to be with you, and how you’ll be with it. If there is something you need, ask. Be clear. Then let go of attachment.

I know it’s made a difference in my world.