What do you need?

Listening to the recent interview Matt Mullenweg did on the Farnham Street Knowledge Project podcast I was struck by something he said about the encouragement he received to be more aware of the way he chooses his words.

The whole podcast is great – but you can find this section at about the 68 minute mark.

Ask ‘What do you need?’ instead of ‘What can I do?’

He makes the point that asking ‘What can I do?‘ immediately makes it about you. You become the hero who is coming in to save the day. Your intent may be good (in wanting to help) but the choice of wording subtly indicates you think the person needs your help to do things.

By comparison, asking ‘What do you need?‘ leave the other person in charge of the situation. They might want assistance from you, but they may need something else. Or maybe just even to talk things out. Or nothing. But either way – it is about their needs rather than your help.

This really resonated with me. Phrasing offers of help as ‘What can I do?’ is something I’m aware I do a lot. In hindsight I can see how the actual words I’m using are framing the offer in a way that implies I am the solution.

I’m going to work at choosing my words better in these instances – and feel like I’ll be more aware of other instances where my intent is good, but the actual wording/phrasing is unhelpful.

Can you think of instances where your specific choice of words has undermined what you were trying to communicate?


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