Last week, I talked about asking yourself what you need. This week, I want to look at what happens when we ask that question to others.
When? Maybe the right word is “if”. It’s not a question we often ask of other people, and if we do, it’s often phrased as “What can I do for you?” “How can I help you?” Because when we see someone in pain, unhappy, suffering, we want to help. Right?
However, the answer to those kinds of questions is frequently “Nothing” because the person either doesn’t want to be a burden or honestly doesn’t know how you can help them.
Asking “What do you need?” takes the burden of responsibility off yourself – and the person you are asking.
I admit that I struggled with that a bit. If I ask people what they need, aren’t I implying that I will give it to them? What if I can’t meet their needs? What if I can’t help? I found myself feeling a little defensive about asking that question. It just felt too open-ended.
In reality, there are some people who might interpret it that way, who might try to make you responsible for meeting the needs you asked about.
But many others, most others, won’t.
What they will hear is:
- That you care enough about them to ask what they really need.
- Acknowledgment that you see them, that you recognize that they have needs.
- And, perhaps, permission to get in touch with their own needs.
Just asking the question, doesn’t make you responsible for fulfilling that need.
Now, you might be able to. You might want to. But you don’t have to. Really. (I know sometimes as leaders, we think we have to meet everyone’s needs, don’t we?)
Asking the question with curiosity and caring often opens the door for people to simply recognize what they really do need, maybe a need they hadn’t even realized they had. Then, they can go out and fulfill that need – or find someone who can help them, even if it isn’t you.
But that’s not even the most important thing.
Asking the questions supports them in feeling seen, heard, and understood.
Because that’s what we all want, isn’t it?
And if you don’t trust yourself or the other person enough to ask the question out loud. Ask it internally. You’ll be surprised at how even that tiny phrase can shift your feelings about or your view of that other person.
It will turn them into a being instead of a label.
I encourage you to try it. Say it with gratitude. Think it with caring. Be open. Be curious.
And maybe, just maybe, you might find your next family gathering a little more enjoyable than usual. Your work colleagues and teams might appreciate it too.
Let me know how it works out. Please?