HYCS #4 – Power: How do You Know What’s Available?

HYCS #4 – Power:  How Do You Know What’s Available?

Since the goal of power is to expand what’s available so you get more of what you want, I’m going to tell you how:  You ask.

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Word Count: 1017

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Assignment Time: 10-15 minutes

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Let’s say your client wants you to drop everything and work on their new, high-profile, urgent, this-will-change-everything project.  Doing so will make your life miserable: You’ll have to work long hours and – honestly? – it looks like a lot of effort for very little result.

You don’t see a way to get you want and keep your job, which you also want.

It’s a good thing power is a process, not a feeling, because I bet you don’t feel very powerful. But before we get to the simple steps of power, let’s look at where you can already expand what’s available.

  • You and your client can change the work
  • You can change your attitude so you’d happily mow down your elderly grandmother to do it.
  • You can decide the job isn’t worth it, and say so.

Your dissatisfaction points to the need for better alternatives.  Your willingness to embrace all sources of alternatives creates more alternatives.  It’s your choice.

The process steps:

1. Be clear about what you want.  You can’t get what you want if you don’t know what it is.

While I am writing this, I am playing phone tag with my Aunt’s CCU nurse and getting frustrated at the distraction.  I stopped and wrote down the 7 things wanted to know. I set the list aside for 15 minutes, then added to it.   I had 3 goals:  To find out specifics about my Aunt’s condition, to work on discharge planning with the case manager and to be able to get back to writing with my full attention within in 10 minutes.

When I called back, the “nurse had just come back on the floor.”   Yes!

In my experience, the clearer I am, the faster things move.

But it’s not that simple is it?  Now that I knew what I wanted, I had to risk being refused.  I might offend my Aunt, or be seen as an interfering family member by the hospital, and be shut out by both.

And that’s the first hurdle to knowing what you want:  The vulnerability of not knowing how it work out.  Will I get anywhere?  Will I make it worse?  Will I still have a job?  Will I offend them?  Will this be worth it?
Right after you know what you want, all that you don’t know – what you are ignorant of – rushes in.

This is your mind at its most helpful.  Sure, certainty would feel better at this point, but certainty is limited.  Ignorance is what you need.  And look at how much of that you have!  Your ignorance is vast.  Ignorance is where life keeps all the alternatives.

2. Embrace ignorance.  Luxuriate in it.  Splash around in it like it’s a wading pool and you’re a 3 year-old.  Love what you don’t know, what you can’t be sure of, what could blow up in your face.  Love what your client doesn’t know, doesn’t want to know, or hasn’t considered.  If you can approach what is unknown with curiosity and a heart open to learning, it’s fun.  If your ego is involved, it’s agony.

How you view ignorance is another choice that is entirely up to you.  Do you feel powerful yet?

In the above work example, here’s a short list of what isn’t known:


  • Whether what my client wants me to do will achieve her business objectives?
  • Whether she has any business objectives?
  • Whether what she wants me to do will damage her business objectives?
  • How attached she is to this course of action?
  • Why she is so attached?
  • Whether this approach is as resource-intensive as it appears to be.  And, does it have to be?
  • What doubts does she have?
  • Is she willing to tell me about them?
  • How does she feel about me?  About this engagement?
  • What she knows that would make this work extraordinary


  • That the approach she’s chosen makes me uncomfortable
  • That she could make better use of your expertise
  • That the work bores you, scares you, interests you excites you – anything that’s happening inside you, the client doesn’t know.
  • What I think I’m best at
  • What I’ve been wanting to try
  • What I care about most deeply
  • What I know that would make this work extraordinary

3. Phrase questions to find out more about the unknowns, and statements to vet certainties.  Keep uncovering what isn’t known.  Certainty isn’t the goal here:  Exploration is.  Best of all is uncovering something neither of you know and embarking on a powerful partnership of exploration.  Some of the best consulting work comes from this.

Here’s a sample conversation to get you started.  It’s pretty close to a real one:

“How attached are you to doing it exactly the way you laid this project out?”


“I’m not seeing the connection between this project and your goal of making the relationship work better. Can you help me out?”  (spoiler alert:  Your ego is about to get bruised).

“Well, I think it’s quite obvious (ouch!).  If we explain that we’re on a journey of learning and need their cooperation, I think we can avoid hearing the same old complaints.  And, we don’t need to write down what comes out of the discussion because we’re just asking them to respond at a high level.  I think it’s a win-win.”

“I’m going to take a huge risk and tell you how that sounded to me:  ‘If we ask people to sit through a presentation about how we want to be of service when their experience has been the opposite, and don’t write down their suggestions, I think that will advance the relationship.’

“I just don’t know what else to do.  We’ve tried everything.”

“I believe you.  I don’t know exactly what to suggest yet.  I’m confident we can figure it out.”

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Behind every appearance of certainty is an ocean of ignorance where all the alternatives live.   Surf’s up!

YOUR ASSIGNMENT:  This week, pick just one conversation or situation.  For every thing that is certain, write down what’s unknown or uncertain.  EXTRA CREDIT:  Admit you don’t know and ask about it.