Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were all more clear on what we wanted and what we liked – and got it more often?
Well step number one would be to stop keeping it secret! We need to spend some time to consider our desirable future in its details and then find ways to share our vision with others. So some of us need to do the work to decide what we actually want and like, but what is hard to believe is how often we don’t speak up on what we know would make us happiest.
Why? We all too often go along and out of politeness instilled to us in our childhoods do not state what we actually want to see happen. And then we are surprised at being disappointed. This brings to mind the conversation between Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat: if you don’t know where you want to go, it doesn’t really matter what road you take. Indeed, if you do know where you want to go, but don’t say it at the right moment, you will likely not end up there. And the politeness is definitely to blame…
In business they even have an official name of it: the Abilene paradox, described in a famous 1974 article by management expert Jerry B. Harvey. The Abilene paradox occurs when a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many of the individuals in the group.
The name of the phenomenon comes from a story that is uses to illustrate the paradox:
On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted. One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.
The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.
So to be able to break through the challenge and do so politely, the use of sentences like “I would love it if we…” or “Could we consider…” or “It would be amazing if…”. There are many other elegant ways of stating what one wants, but it needs practice because we are not used to it.
Here is a recent job posting from a family using myBestHelper to find a nanny – it just wowed me with its clear, yet delightful ask of what they would want to see in a candidate:
Hi, we are looking for after school care for our six year old daughter entering grade 2. Duties include walking our pug dog, walking to school to pick up child and walking home, preparing snacks, occasionally supervising play with other school children (bonus: approved moms of other school kids can supervise when she is playing at their house, so long as you pick up!)
We provide a small amount of pocket money for occasional outings of your choosing. We have no scheduled after school activities at this time but if we were to schedule them they would be accessible by foot or bus.
Hours: M-F 2:45 (if you want to walk the dog early) or 3 PM to 5:45 or 6 PM. Other hours are sometimes available, especially when there is early dismissal from school or to baby sit. If you are willing to watch her on days when she off school due to mild illness this is a bonus.
Our house is easily accessible by 5 different bus lines with rapid service to downtown and Canada line skytrain. We are walking distance to the beach, Granville island, and many other fun attractions. We would like somebody who can commit to us for the full school year. Last year we had a wonderful nanny who played dolls and took kids out for ice cream on sunny days, but she went back to school so we are looking for somebody new. Our little girl now has high standards! We value care givers that are reliable, punctual, respectful to family, household, and friends, fun loving, easy going, good with pets. We will treat you well in return.
So try and see if this works! Use “If would be amazing if…” at least five times in the next three days – and if it doesn’t change your life for the better, write to me!
Alexandra T. Greenhill, MD, mother of three CEO and Co-founder myBestHelper