Leadership Skills: Changing “I Have To” to “I Want To” is Power

Here’s a multiple choice question, and there is no trick involved — choose either A or B:

A. I prefer to go through life feeling controlled and controlling.

B. I prefer to go through life feeling powerful, free, and always at choice.

Did you choose B? Me too. In fact, if you chose A, you’re probably on this blog by mistake.

So what’s my point?

I’ve noticed that there are simple things I can do with language that lead me to feel controlled and controlling versus powerful and free.

And here’s a big one: I continuously strive to remove the phrase “have to” from my vocabulary, as in

  • I have to go to the store.
  • I have to do my hair.
  • I have to go to a team meeting.
  • I have to do my expense report.
  • You have to use your napkin.
  • You have to get your report to me by 5:00.
  • You have to do what you said you would do.

The less I use the words “have to,” the more powerful and free I become, and the better my relationships are.

How can that be? I’ll explain.

When I use the words “I have to,” I’m signaling to myself and others that I’m acting out of obligation — that I’m doing something I really don’t want to do but have no choice.

As a result, I’m signaling that I’m being controlled in some way.

When I use the words “You have to,” I’m signaling that I control that person and that he or she must please me and do as I say (or else). I’m using an implied threat in order to gain another person’s compliance.

So what do I do instead? That’s easy: I substitute the words “I want to” for “I have to”:

  • I want to go to the store.
  • I want to do my hair.
  • I want to go to a team meeting.
  • I want to do my expense report.
  • I want you to use your napkin.
  • I want you to get your report to me by 5:00.
  • I want you to do what you said you would do.

When I do this, I’m compelled into the present moment by my own language and I realize that I’m completely “at cause” for what’s happening in my life.

When I say to another person, whether a teammate, spouse or child, what I want from them — in place of what they “have to” do for me to withdraw my implied threat — I’m much more genuine.

By making a conscious effort to change my language like this, I’m not making any implied threat. And I’m allowing the other person to experience making their own choice in response to my request.

Before you dismiss this as just mind games with semantics, think about this: Buckminster Fuller taught me that words are the most powerful tools ever invented by humankind.

How are you using these tools?

You can alter your experience of reality by carefully choosing your words!

And, what I’m suggesting is a simple small step which, if you commit to it, will accrue over time into large and powerful results. It’s up to you.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip

Think of something you “have to” do. Start doing it, and as you do so, say the following words to yourself and notice the thoughts you have associated with each:

  • I HAVE to do this (thoughts of someone controlling you)
  • I AM doing this (thoughts of yourself in the present)
  • I GET to do this (thoughts of your choices)
  • I WANT to do this (thoughts of your freedom and power)

Does changing the language make a difference for you? Pretty powerful, right?

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Collaboration, Leadership on 10/28/2013 01:00 am
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