The Language of Results

Quote of the Week

“Underpromise, overdeliver.”
Tom Peters

The Language of Results

by Michael Neill

In my work as a transformative coach, I am continually fascinated by what enables some people to create results with remarkable consistency while other people seem to struggle to make things the way they want them.

One of the key differences between “producers” (people who get the results they’ve set out to get) and “explainers” (people who have wonderful explanations for why they haven’t gotten the results they set out to get) is the language that they use along the way.

Think about this for a few moments – if you want to use language (i.e. speaking and writing) to produce results, what are some of the options that you have?

Well, one of the most frequent forms of language that people use to attempt to move things forward are descriptions and explanations.

For example, if I want you to come away on a holiday with me, I might describe to you how beautiful the setting is that we’re going to – the feeling between your toes as your feet scrunch down into the ocean-cooled sand of the golden beaches, or the way the sun glistens off the snow as your skis carve their way down the beautiful mountain trail.

I might also explain to you all the reasons that coming on holiday would be good for you – you’ll get a chance to relax and open up to new, creative ideas, not to mention the health benefits of being away from the daily grind for a little while.

But compelling as those descriptions and explanations might be, they don’t actually produce action – if they’re effective, they simply produce a state we might call “readiness”. That is, you are now inclined to act, but you will probably not do so without some additional impetus.

In addition, that same facility to describe and explain can often be used to describe all the obstacles between you and your goal and to explain away all the reasons why you haven’t achieved it.

That’s when people tend to shift to the second most frequent form of language used to influence others – demands and complaints.

A demand is a request with an implied (or explicit) threat behind it. The threat is usually hidden in an unspoken second half of the sentence, as in:

Come on holiday with me… (or our relationship is over!)
Buy my product… (or you’ll never make money, lose weight, or be happy!)
Do what I want you to do… (or I’ll make your life a living hell from this day forward!)

A complaint, on the other hand, is a request disguised as an observation or comment. While a demand comes from a sense that the “demander” is in some way one up on the “demandee” in an implied place of power and control (i.e. they have the power to make you miserable and/or control over your actions or your life), a complaint tends to come from a place of one down and apparent powerlessness.

“I can’t actually do anything about this”, the complainer complains, “but maybe if I can make you see how unhappy this all makes me you’ll do something about it for me.”

While I’m certain that you can come up with examples of times in your life where complaints, demands, explanations and descriptions have served you, my experience is that results can be produced much faster and with greater ease without spending too much time on any of the above.

Here’s how authors Jeffrey and Laurie Ford put it in their lovely little book Deadline Busting:

Requests and promises (including threats) are the only forms of speech specifically intended to produce action and results.”

1. Requests

A request is different from a complaint or a demand in that it is explicit in terms of what is being requested, it is made to the person who has the power to make it happen, and it is “control free” – meaning that the person of whom the request is being made gets that they are free to say “yes”, “no”, or to offer up other alternatives to what is being requested.

While there are no hard and fast rules about the specific language of a request, here are a couple of contrastive examples which you may find useful:

Complaint:
“How dare you eat the last slice of cake – I really wanted that for my desert! You always do this – you just don’t care about me…”

Demand:
“If you ever take the last slice of cake again, I will leave you! Do I make myself clear?!”

Request:
“In the future, my request is that when you want to eat something out of the fridge that you check with me to see if I have plans for it. Would you be willing to do that?”

Complaint (to a co-worker):
“Our boss is such a jerk. He sends out 50 emails a day and then complains about how we don’t get back to him in a timely manner!”

Demand (to an employer):
“I can’t work under these conditions. If you don’t stop sending all of these emails I’m going to have a nervous breakdown!”

Request (to an employer):
“I’m finding that I can completely handle 3-5 project segments per day. Would you put a note in the subject line of your emails to let me know if you would like what’s in your email to take precedence over the projects I have prioritized for the day?”

2. A Promise

A promise is simply a declaration that you will get something done, backed by your reputation, commitment, and action. Perhaps one of the most compelling examples of how a promise can drive a project forward comes in this excerpt from a speech given by President John F. Kennedy at the inauguration of the Aerospace Medical Center in 1963:

Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall–and then they had no choice but to follow them.

This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome. Whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against. With the vital help of this Aerospace Medical Center, with the help of all those who labor in the space endeavor, with the help and support of all Americans, we will climb this wall with safety and with speed-and we shall then explore the wonders on the other side.

Although Kennedy was killed just one day after giving that speech, America did indeed land a man on the moon before the end of the decade – just as Kennedy had promised during his inauguration nearly ten years previously.

Today’s Experiment:

  1. Choose a project where you would like to create results in a new way.
  2. Decide that for the duration of this exploration, you will refrain from using excuses, explanations, complaints or demands in relation to this project.
  3. Come up with at least one bold request and one bold promise you can make today to move the project forward. Repeat daily until you have created the result you want!

Have fun, learn heaps, and create a life that makes you (and everyone around you) go “wow!”

Copyright (c) 2009 Michael Neill, author of ‘You Can Have What You Want’ All rights reserved – Read more tips at www.geniuscatalyst.com.

Coaching Call to Action

For all of you who have told me you are a procrastinator, are you ready to create results in a new way? Try Michael’s experiment this week. I’d be happy to “hold” your request and promise about a project you want to move forward and check in with you at the end of the week. Just send me an email and tell me what you have requested and promised and how you would like me to check in.