It was late in the day recently and my wife and I were both far from home. We needed someone to start the dinner, so that we could all get to a 7 pm meeting. Our 14 year old boy was at home. He is quite able to boil water and cut an onion, so I called him to ask if he was willing to start cooking.
In my best parent voice I asked him, “Eli, can you please get the water boiling for spaghetti and cut up an onion?
“I’ll get the water boiling” he replied, with the energy of a person who has not slept in days. He said nothing about onion.
“How about the onion?” I asked, knowing he detests the smell of a fresh cut onion. With as much excitement as I had the day I had my root canal surgery he said, “I’ll tryyyy”.
I recalled the sage wisdom of Yoda and said “Eli, as Yoda once said to Luke Skywalker, I say to you: do or do not, there is no try.” I was thinking how brilliant I was to use this bit of wisdom and certain this would work. Soon he’d be cutting the onion, dinner would be finished in time and we’d make our meeting.
Instead he said, “Ok, then I choose ‘do not do’.” I laughed and decided to not force the issue. We could eat the spaghetti without the onion.
What happened here? Well, perhaps I was outwitted by a 14 year old. Or maybe I was too lenient of a father. Or could it be that I was also practicing what I preach? “Press on a ‘yes’ and let go of a ‘no’”. (See above for a clear example of Eli, a few years earlier, giving a very congruent “no” when I had asked the 3rd time to raise up that giant bass).
What do I mean? Sometimes people say “yes” to your request but do not intend to follow through. Or they will drag their heels and not do it in the time you need it. If you pay attention to the non-verbal cues, particularly tone of voice, you can sense their willingness to comply.
When someone says “yes” that sounds like a “no” or a “maybe” I believe it is incumbent on the person making the request to gently press for their level of commitment to the request. When they say a firm “no” it may be best to let go.
This is hard to do, especially in conflict-reticent cultures such as we have here in Minnesota. But the best communicators do things like this all the time. If you want a chance to practice this sort of communicating please consider joining me at one of my upcoming workshops or keynote presentations.