When my sister and I visited our nephew during his freshman year of college we took him to Target and offered to buy him a few things. He demurred and insisted that he did not need anything. She looked at him and said: “We’re not leaving this store until you put 10 items into that cart!” With that statement, the clear expectations outweighed his hesitation over accepting our generosity.

I told that story to one of my coaching clients when she hesitated about asking a colleague to critique an event, fearing she would hear only good feedback that would not help her improve. I used the analogy of setting specific expectations — like 10 items in the cart — whereby upfront she asked for feedback that shared 3 things that went well, 3 things that could be improved, and 1 thing that really needs to be changed. By outlining clear parameters, it makes it harder not to comply with the request than to provide the requested action.

We mean well when we are overly-nice such as when we decline assistance or provide only positive comments, but in the end that doesn’t serve anyone well. Make it easy for people to overcome their hesitations by providing explicit expectations about the behavior you desire from them.

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