My wife, Anne, and I have raised five wonderful children, so we have had a fair amount of experience negotiating with toddlers and teenagers.
The scenario that resonates with most parents is the ritual of trying to get a small child to go to bed. It starts with the sing-songy voice of, “It’s beddy time!” and a reply of “I want to stay up!” (Insert stock picture of toddler with arms folded and a defiant face.) It often ends with a parent’s order: “Go to bed!”
Looking back, I missed a great opportunity for an enriching personal experience. Because, rather than saying, “Well, you have to go to bed,” I should have said, “OK, what do you need?”
Clients often express themselves in this way, by announcing what they want as opposed to what they need. Like the classic story of the customer who walks into the hardware store and says, “I want a drill.”
The salesperson replies “What kind of drill?” The customer looks confused. The customer doesn’t know anything about drills! So the salesperson introduces the customer to a wall of drills. What the salesperson should have said was “For what purpose?” Because the customer doesn’t need a drill; the customer needs a hole! So the customer has really come to buy a tool that will give him the right hole. When asked, “For what purpose,” the customer would have described the project and could have quickly purchased the right drill.
So when my child announced, “I want to stay up,” I should have asked, “OK, what would you do if you stayed up?” Now I can find out something about my child: imagine the possible answers! They may give me clues to even deeper needs that have escaped my attention:
· “You could to read to me” (I’d like to spend more time with you)
· “I could have a snack” (I am still hungry)
· “I could get a drink of water” (I’m thirsty)
· “All of the above” (I’m four years old and am developing a sense of identity and I don’t like being told what to do all of the time!)
Looking back, I suspect that last bullet point was at the heart of many of the issues we had to work through with our children. We responded to their “wants” with our conflicting “wants”—such as “I want you to get enough rest otherwise you’re cranky” or “I want to get my one hour of quiet time with your mother” —instead of addressing their developing “needs” as they were maturing:
· I need to be heard
· I need to make my own decisions
· I need to feel respected
· I need space to grow
I have learned over the years to pause, listen, and ask questions when I hear “wants” to reveal the client “needs.” In this way, I can provide professional services that exceed expectations and build lasting relationships.
· I want a price reduction (I need help fitting this into my budget)
· I want references (I need to know how you work with clients)
· I want your best people (I need confidence that you will be successful)
So, after almost 25 years, I am pretty good at teasing out client “needs” from the “wants.” Funny that, only now, I am realizing that those lessons were there for me to learn long ago in the form of a defiant toddler in pajamas.