Ask for what it is you actually want

Avoid confusing matters by focussing on what you don’t want!

Kay white - Dart boardThis is something I hear this so often: “oh Kay, I just don’t want to XYZ” or “oh, it’s so annoying, I don’t want to get wound up by X” or “I just don’t want to make that mistake again” and so it goes on. Can you see how the focus in each of these statements is what you don’t want? What the person wants to avoid and yet the “I don’t want to” is the nub of the phrase.

Now I have learned, many moons ago, when first studying Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) that negative suggestions cannot be processed by the brain without having to focus on the suggestion first. For example, if I were to say to you “don’t think of a pink elephant” we both know the first thing you do is think of a pink elephant and then maybe put a cross through it. If I were to say to you “think of a green hippopotamus” as a direct suggestion, that’s exactly what you would do.

What is so subtle here is the effect it has on those around us when we give directions, when we ask for what we want (or ask for what we don’t want as is more often the case) and how we can often get exactly what it is we don’t want – because the direct command or suggestion was in the negative.

You might be thinking “yes Kay, blah blah I know about do and don’t” but I’d counter that and say “do you really?” How often have you said to your child, partner or colleague “don’t do that” or “don’t put that there” instead of “put the X on the Y please” i.e. a direct instruction?

It’s the same in our public domain. “Don’t walk on the grass” is far less effective than “stay on the pavement”. “Don’t leave litter” is less effective than “take your litter home please”. In each of the counter phrases there’s no suggestion of what we don’t want hence no hint of doing it by mistake.

One of the worst things you can say to someone is “don’t forget your X” – because 9 times out of 10 they will. It’s far more effective and influential to say “remember your X” or “take you X with you”.

Having to postpone a key meeting last week with clients, we focussed on when we could, how it would work (not if!) and what would work best. Can you see that with an intention and focus heading towards what we wanted, it made it so much easier for us all to make it happen?

You will hear people saying “don’t do this” and “don’t put that there” and “don’t forget X” all the time. My question to you is this. When it’s you asking, before you launch into, “don’t blah blah”, ask yourself “if I ditch the ‘don’t’ – what do I actually really want instead?”. Then, ask for that instead.

Let’s make it your time to shine, in your own way. When would now be a better time to go for Promotion, Recognition and Rewards?

For more information and immediately helpful tips on how to connect and be valued and heard in business:

Here’s a helpful, immediate Gift for you. Q is for Questions – A downloadable PDF of a chapter from my # 1 best-selling book The A to Z of Being Understood.

Use the chapter to lead conversations, to be more compelling when you first meet someone and – crucially – connect with colleagues, clients, customers by the power of your confident questions.

About the author

Kay White is our Show Up & Sparkle blogger. Known as the Savvy & Influential Communication Expert for Ambitious Women in Business, Kay shows professional women how to attract promotion, recognition and rewards at work without feeling they have to ’sell their soul. Kay shows her clients, who are corporate career women at all different stages of their careers, how to naturally attract more income and opportunity all while being true to themselves. Combining strategic moves with influencing skills plus compelling and assertive language and powerful mindsets, Kay draws on her own 20+ years corporate career in the very male-dominated world of London insurance broking. She started at 18 as a Secretary and left as a Director to start her own business. Hosting an annual 3-day Event for corporate women “Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard LIVE” Kay encourages and shows women how to be the best, most valuable version of themselves. Kay is author of the Number 1 Best-Seller “The A to Z of Being Understood” and you can connect and find out more from Kay at :

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