Give Them What They Want

Give Them What They Want

What’s up with these people?

The Practice:
Give them what they want.

Why?

Research shows that relationships are built from interactions, and interactions are built from moments. A critical moment in an interaction is when one person wants something from the other one. (“Wants” include wishes, needs, desires, hopes, and longings.) The want could be simple and concrete, like “Please pass the salt.” Or it could be complex and intangible, such as “Please love me as a romantic partner.”

Wants can be communicated in many ways. Gaze, touch, tone, facial expression, posture, and action speak volumes. Whether verbally or nonverbally, some people express their wants clearly, but many do not. The more important a want is, the more likely it will leak out slowly, or be expressed with a lot of distracting add-ons and emotional topspin.

Now what?!

Think of a significant relationship. How clearly have you expressed your own wants in it? How do you feel when the other person makes a sincere effort to give you what you want?

When I reflect on these questions myself, it makes me realize that it’s not so easy to communicate clearly and that I should cut others more slack.

Second, it makes me realize that I should generally try to give others what they want if it’s reasonable and possible. Out of self-interest, doing this is the best odds way to get off their radar, build goodwill, and take the moral high ground. Out of benevolence, doing this is kind and caring. Everyone is scared and hurting, not just me.

Of course, I do not mean giving people things that would harm them, you, or others. Nor do I mean giving up asking for what you want. And if they’re rude, demanding, threatening, snippy, high-handed, or harsh, then their want could be a nonstarter until they change their tone.

In essence this practice is about an inner freedom. You are free to decide what is reasonable in what the other person wants and what you are going to do about that. You are free to disentangle yourself from your emotional reactions to their wants. And free to live by your own code, honoring your own values and perceptions of reality, no matter what others do.

How?

Find out what they really want. Sort through the surface clutter to the real priority for the other person. What could be the softer, deeper, younger longing? Perhaps ask questions like: What is important to you here? What would it look like if you got what you wanted?

Most people want pretty straightforward things: Put the cap back on the toothpaste. Don’t interrupt so much. Ask me questions each day about myself, and pay attention to the answers. Be nice to me. Keep being my lover even while we raise children. Pull your weight with housework. Stick up for me with others. Be interested in how I feel. Most of the time, it’s really not that hard to give someone what they want. It’s more a matter of whether you want to.

Once you have a pretty clear idea about what the person wants, decide for yourself what if anything you are going to do. Remember that your wants matter, too, and that you can’t give without also filling yourself up. And remember that giving others what they want is usually a good way to take of yourself.

Personally, it was a great breakthrough to realize that giving others what they wanted was not knuckling under to them. Rather, it was a kind of triple-bonus aikido move that tapped into my caring for people while pulling me out of conflicts and putting me in the best position to ask for what I wanted myself. I redefined situations in which people criticized me into a kind of game in which I unilaterally eliminated the reasonable basis for their complaints, and began to enjoy what’s traditionally called “the bliss of blamelessness.”

Pick something reasonable and just give it to the other person for an hour or a week without saying a word about it, and see what happens. Pick something else and see what happens. When it feels right, talk about what you’re doing. When you like, also talk about your own wants.

This practice may seem like a high bar. But actually, when you make the shift, it’s like walking downhill with the wind at your back. You are still taking care of your own needs and not letting people push you around. Instead of getting caught in sticky quarrels, you’re delivering the goods as best you can and moving on.

Know what it’s like to be with someone who takes care of herself while also giving you what you want as best she can? That’s what it’s like to be with you when you do the same yourself. Very sweet!



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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