In my youth, I couldn’t stand it, when my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. As a small kid things had been easier. A story my mother repeatedly shared was that asked what I wanted in kindergarten I had solved the question by painting a “machine that makes holes”. It took a few years, but I eventually got it. Growing older that spontaneity disappeared. I told myself that I preferred to be surprised. And for special occasions, I made sure that I was saving enough money to buy myself the things I wanted.
It sounds like an easy question. But it isn’t. It’s maybe as difficult a question as “how are you?”
These questions are an invitation for self-disclosure. They confront the person with all the beliefs they have about themselves, others, and society.
In the past, some restaurants had menus with and without price indications. The idea was to put people at ease to choose whatever they wanted when invited by someone else. It took away the possibility to compare prices on the menu and choose one that felt adequate in the given situation.
It is one of many mechanisms people have to act according to the status they see themselves in, to avoid showing too much of themselves, and to stay within their belief of what they are due to receive or may ask for.
Answering such a question is even more difficult in a team setting where there is a hierarchy to which the team feels subject to.
Figuring out an answer thus starts with the ability to establish enough safety in the team for everyone to become able to share without fearing guilt or shame for one’s desires and ideas.