Looking for a doable New Year’s resolution? Would you like one that yields immediate payoffs so it keeps you motivated? Here’s a plan for you. At the beginning of each month in 2012, I’ll suggest a simple way to practice just one consensus-building or communication skill for that month.

You’ll find your interactions with other people working out better when you keep these resolutions, and that will inspire you to continue practicing your skills. And a one-month resolution will feel more doable than a one-year commitment.

Here’s your resolution for January:

During this month, whenever someone asks you to do something you can’t or don’t want to do, before rejecting their request, ask them why they want that thing. Make your “why” a sincerely curious question, not a challenge. Then think about whether there’s a way you can address the reason behind their request without giving in to the request itself.

For example, a coworker asks you to cover for him while he takes a long lunch. But you really need a break away from the office, and want to go out at lunchtime yourself. You ask your coworker, “What’s up today?” (another way of asking why). He tells you it’s his anniversary and he needs to shop for a gift. He can’t do it after work because dinner is planned for 6:30. You could offer to do the shopping for him while you get a break from the office.

Next, your teenager asks to borrow your car, but you want to go to the gym. Ask her why she needs the wheels. If she wants to meet a friend for a burger and chat, could she drop you at the gym and pick you up an hour later?

Whether or not your coworker accepts your personal shopper offer, or your daughter’s plans coincide with your exercise time, you’ve gained practice in asking why before rejecting people, as well as in moving from each answer to at least one alternate suggestion.

Refer to Chapters 5 – 7 of Bridges to Consensus to learn more about what to do if your alternate suggestions won’t work for the other person. These chapters will also give you many more examples of how to use the magic question “why” and will help you to refine your skill.

If you should forget and refuse another person’s request, and then remember your January practice resolution, you can still backtrack and ask them why whenever you do remember.

Don’t wait for a major issue to ask “Why?” Practicing on small matters will build your skill, poise and confidence for important issues, so try it every chance you get.

Wishing you all a safe, happy and successful New Year, filled with mutually satisfying consensus and brilliant communication.

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