The 10 rules for a great life - Rule #7: Say what you need

By Jason Thomson on October 16, 2013
The simplest to write, the hardest to do.

“Say what you need.”

SAY. What. YOU. Need.

I don’t have the world’s greatest track record when it comes to relationships – married twice and in a third partnership these days. A big part of why these things have failed is because one of us, or both us, have not been able to clearly articulate who we are, what we stand for and what we need for ourselves and from our partners.

When I look at the six kids I parent, I know that instilling this concept is one of the most important things I can do. It’ll make a difference to the career they choose, the relationships they enjoy and the lives we lead.

But there’s a problem.

As contributors to the world around us, we’re taught to serve others, before we serve ourselves. “Share,” we say. “Help out,” we demand. “Contribute,” we encourage. All of these things are important and noble, but only when you understand who you are and what you need.

This is tricky business when it comes to kids. I constantly say to them, “You are the most important person in your world.” In the long run, what I’m saying is: Don’t look for validation as a way to live your life – know what your values are and follow your values.

What I don’t want to happen in this instance is for them to think that they’re the only person in their world. Instead, I challenge them to grow their confidence in who they are so that they can make a difference to the world around them, without the regrets or resentment that come with not standing up for yourself.

How I foster that balance is with two critical elements – clarity and courage.

Clarity is all about communication. It’s about being crystal clear with your needs. I feel like there’s a lot of shame associated with externalizing what we need – shame that manifests itself in adults who are angry, passive aggressive or oddly, self-involved.

Feeling angry? Say you’re feeling angry. Don’t want to hang out with the family. Tell us and we can talk about other arrangements. Forgot to eat breakfast and having a sugar crash as a result? Communicate that. Because the funny thing is if you don’t, the anger seeps out in other ways. The resentment becomes a scar and the sugar crash turns into a fight with the person nearest to you.

Of course, saying what you need means having the courage to say what you need – and that can be an even tougher sell. Relationships – personal, professional, whatever – come with built in power dynamics and addressing those can be flat out frightening. People can be afraid of confrontation and if their needs conflict with the needs of others, they might not stand up and say what they need. Bad things can follow.

I try to foster that courage here by providing regular, positive feedback to the kids for standing up and saying what they need.  I also model that courage by telling them how I say what I need – or letting them witness it first hand.

Then I balance that against how they ask for it and what it means in the greater scheme of things. Just because you can say what you need doesn’t mean you get what you need. I’m thrilled that my two-year-old has figured out how to politely ask for a glass of juice, but it’s up to me to say, “It’s 8 p.m., juice tomorrow.”

Say what you need. If I can teach this right, I may have done all I really need to do as a parent.

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