November 15, 2012

Beware The “Have to’s”

Recently, I’ve made a point of flagging ‘have-to’ statements—my own and others’. What do these sound like?

“We have to get together.”

“I have to get you that information.”

“I have to start going to the gym.”

“That sounds like something I have to do!”

After which the speaker– having thrown the verbal “have to” bouquet at the situation—never mentions the subject again.

(Until the next time the bump into you and exclaim, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it! We have to do X!)

Why? Because the translation of any of the above is,

“I know I should be doing X but I don’t want to. If, however, I make a point of remarking on it it’s possible this verbal tokenism will keep you/others quiet long enough for the conversation to move along to another topic, after which I hope you will forget this was ever discussed.”

As I mentioned, I, myself, am not immune to the ‘have to’s.’ In fact, when I pay attention I notice quite a long list of things I seemingly ‘have to’ do that never seem to get done.

So, what to do about them?

With acquaintances and ‘friendlys’ (People with whom I’m friendly, but not quite friends) I treat “have to” statements like tiny, unexploded bombs. Unless I’m being paid to be a detonation expert, I simply note the land mine and back away.

If  I’m speaking with a trusted friend, colleague, client, it’s possible to call them on it without hard feelings—but the key word in that sentence is ‘possible.’  Proceed gently. Ask clarifying questions (For example, if you give them another option do they fall on it gratefully? This should give you an idea of their commitment.)

In those trickiest of conversations—the ones I have with myself— I find a mix of the above techniques works best. First, I simply note what’s occurring. If the situation persists, I dream up a few clarifying questions. After that, I try slotting in “want to” or “need to” and see what happens.

Because– to paraphrase Mick Jagger– you may not always get what you want, but you generally get what you need.

Frances Cole Jones