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Chapter I: What do you want?

In my consulting business, new clients often tell me about situations that frustrate them. They feel their desire to move forward or to improve their life is being thwarted somehow. After spending some time listening to them, I ask, “What specifically is the outcome you wanted? Almost without exception the next thing I hear is a repeat of what they just told me. So I listen a little bit more, and then I try again: “What specifically did you want to see happen?” To this I get even more of what the person is angry about or what is not happening. I then ask, “What is it you don’t want?” To that I typically get an even more energized rerun of their previous response. They haven’t yet answered my question, but their frustration and fatigue have been made crystal clear.

For example, I was meeting with a business owner, and when I asked her how things were going for her, she told me about a family situation that she was struggling with. She had just had a heated exchange with her teenage son, and she felt angry and sad. I asked her to describe what was happening.

She said she had complained all evening about how bad the garbage smelled in the kitchen and how nice it would be if someone would do something about it. By bedtime nothing had changed. She had worked all day and was tired, and she determined that she was not going to be the one to do anything about the garbage. She went to bed hoping her son would take the garbage out by the time she got up in the morning. But no, that nasty garbage odor still greeted her when she came down to the kitchen the next morning to make coffee. She called her son into the kitchen and really got on him for not caring about her and not doing his part, and generally made sure he knew how disappointed she was in him.

After she had told me what had not happened, I asked her what she wanted to have happen. She began to tell me in great detail. She wants the garbage in the kitchen taken out to the garbage bin outside the house twice each week, on Thursday evening after dinner and on Sunday evening after dinner. If enough garbage accumulates to fill the bin earlier, she wants that to trigger a one-time adjustment in the schedule, followed by a return to the weekly pattern.

She also wants a fresh plastic garbage bag placed in the receptacle after the used bag with garbage in it is taken out, and the container returned to the location where it’s typically kept. Then she wants the full bag immediately tied shut and placed in the outside garbage bin.

Actually when my client says she wants her son to carry out the garbage, she expects even more. She wants him to go around and get all of the household waste cans that collect nonrecyclable trash and empty them into the garbage bag retrieved from the kitchen trash can. That way all the trash will get taken out twice a week.

But that’s still not all. One further expectation is included in this “take out the garbage” assignment. In this household, some rooms also have a waste can for recyclables. She keeps recycling bins on the back porch. Once a week, on garbage pick-up days, the city picks up the recyclable material as well and hauls it away–that is, if someone has taken it out to the curb. So in the request, “take out the garbage,” she expects all recycling to be included.

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