Getting others to work for you.
October 25, 2006 11:53 PM   Subscribe

How do you get people to do things you tell them to do?

Pretty much in any situation, I feel like I have trouble asking people to do things for me. If I need a ride, I feel embarassed asking my friends. I'm also scared, scared of them saying no. I hate it when someone refuses a request. It happens at work all the time, and it frustrates me to no end.

My theory is that I don't know how to get people to do things I want them o do. I always feel like I'm coercing them, and I feel like they resent helping me out.

I've read How to Win Friends and Influence People, it's pretty good, but I want something more straightforward than influence. I want to be able to manage people and direct and make things happen, in addition to being able to ask my roommate to do the dishes tonight.

I don't want to boss people around, I don't want to control them. But is there a book or something that will help me get the right kind of ideas about getting people to do what you want them to do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I read a great thing once on how to build confidence in these sorts of situations where you are afraid of rejection or failure.
Every day (or every other day, or some regular period of time) set a goal to make at least one completely unreasonable request at some point in the day. It has to be something that you are absolutely positive will fail, like asking if you can get ramen at McDonalds. The fact that the outcome does not matter to you, and you are expecting failure, will lessen the impact on you. Over time, you will get used to failing, and it will no longer hold such sway over you. Eventually you will have no problem asking for things you actually want.
posted by nightchrome at 12:17 AM on October 26, 2006 [5 favorites]

People essentially work on incentives... I can't recommend any books off the top of my head, but perhaps reflect on what motivates people and what would tip the scales in your favour for them to say yes. People's motivations are varied and once you can figure out what makes them tick, perhaps it can be a bit easier.
posted by perpetualstroll at 12:35 AM on October 26, 2006

You're thinking like a victim, guilty until proven innocent. Usually tit for tat will work - be willingly helpful and the benefits will follow. Just don't keep score.
posted by ptm at 1:02 AM on October 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

Lighten up on the surface while becoming more firm underneath. Instead of sheepish, guilty-sounding requests that will only color the response negatively, make lighthearted, smiling demands.

Replace the interrogatory words in your requests ("could you please?" and so on) with statements of fact ("I need you to...") but sweetened with a smile or a laugh. You could even apologize if it makes you feel that much better, but apologize for having to demand, or apologize for reminding someone of the inevitable -- "Sorry, but I need you to..." or "I know you're busy, but this has to be done today and you're the only one who can do it" or "Ah, here is the master of [job area] -- I have an urgent job for you" or "I know, I know, they're killing us this week, but this is unavoidable -- [so-and-so] is waiting for it right now" -- Stuff like that. Remain friendly and upbeat, toss in a mild compliment if you think it will help, be faux-conspiratorial if you think it's necessary, but tell, don't request. Jump right into it, don't pause, don't leave room for the other person to negotiate out of it. Get a yes before there's time to come up with a no.
posted by pracowity at 1:50 AM on October 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Replace the interrogatory words in your requests ("could you please?" and so on) with statements of fact ("I need you to...") but sweetened with a smile or a laugh.

Don't do this. If there is no way the other person is obliged to do this, then it will just rub them the wrong way.

Last time I remember someone doing this, they said that I needed to do something to help them with a project that I hadn't signed up for. I said, "no I don't" and that would have been the end of it. Asking may have produced a different result.
posted by grouse at 1:56 AM on October 26, 2006

yell at them
posted by matteo at 2:23 AM on October 26, 2006

yell at them
posted by public at 2:26 AM on October 26, 2006

Ask as if the response will be positive, and as if the request is completely reasonable. For some people, if you start out saying something like "I know it's a lot to ask, but... " it makes them think "Actually, that is a lot to ask..." and it creates a situation where it is easier to refuse.
posted by Sar at 2:47 AM on October 26, 2006

What is it you want them to do? Is it job related?

If so, it gets better with time, but people respond to a variety of approaches, which you will learn with time. You'll need to study leadership and motivation, you'll have to practice, and you'll have to screw up a lot until you mature. Once you do, you'll realize how little you can get in this area from a Metafilter post. There aren't any easy answers.

If you are of a mind to have authority/respect you didn't earn, the military is a good place where you can practice being authoritarian with full organizational support.

Is this personal stuff?

If so, be prepared to do things yourself, always, and slowly develop the kind of reciprocal relationships that enhance cooperation. This, too, is long term.

If you wandered up to me and gave me a blunt directive, like most folks, I'd invite you to kiss my ass, smiling all the while. If I had a long relationship with you, I'd negotiate the request based on a lot of self-interests. Not entirely self-interest of course... people often like to do things for other people. But folks can spot exploiters, and they are often relegated to a special kind of sluggish hell, where their requests get minimal attention and abundant rejection.

It's great you read Carnegie. It's a good start.
posted by FauxScot at 4:04 AM on October 26, 2006

Replace the interrogatory words in your requests ("could you please?" and so on) with statements of fact ("I need you to...") but sweetened with a smile or a laugh.

Anytime somebody who's not my boss or my parents tells me I need to do anything, my automatic response is to say no. If you're asking me to do something and there's nothing in it for me, you'd better damn well include a please in the question (and it had better be a question, not a statement). I don't care if we're friends or not, it's about respect.

You say you want your roommate to do the dishes but you didn't give any other info. Are just being lazy and trying to get out of work or is it his turn and they're just stacking up? If it's the latter, you need to calmly state your case. I'm embarrassed to say I used to be this roommate when I was much younger and I had a very assertive roommmate who straightened my ass out when I slacked off. I still thank him for that when I run into him. You're not doing anybody any favors when you let them walk all over you.

We all know individuals who can get other people to do all sorts of stuff for them (and secretly wish we were them), but I think that's a trait you're either born with or develope in childhood. They have a way of convincing people they want to the task. You can probably get better at it by reading books (I second Dale Carnegie) or becoming more assertive, but I doubt you'll ever be one of those people if you're not already. I'm not saying you shouldn't still try to improve in this area of your life, but be realistic about your expected results.
posted by bda1972 at 4:17 AM on October 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just build up an immunity to rejection, life's full of it. Ask any salesman what they key is and they'll tell you: Persistence. Don't sweat it and find some other way to accomplish the things that need to get done. Stop feeling crappy about getting help, after all you'd do the same for them. Right?
posted by IronLizard at 4:42 AM on October 26, 2006

The person I know who gets the most "cooperation" from the people around us always prefaces his requests with "I need to ask you for a favor".

I almost never do anything for the tool.
posted by bukvich at 4:47 AM on October 26, 2006

I asked my friend who is a salesman this very same question. His answers were very similar to Sar and pracowity's suggestions, so I'd like to encourage you to take their advice! They may sound like simple things, but they're worth repeating. My friend said first and foremost, don't make a big deal out of what you are asking. If you make it sound like it is a huuuge favour, they will treat it as such and are more likely to say no. Staying positive and keeping a big smile is another thing; no one can say no to somebody in a good mood.

Also, if you do this, and they still say no, dont let the mood drop afterwards, keep smiling, and just say thanks anyway and say goodbye, or continue the conversation. Then later on, they will most likely feel like an a-hole, and wonder why they said no, and thus are more likely to say yes to you in the future.

Another thing my friend mentioned, and also something I read on headmap, is to lower your voice. Speaking loudly maintains a 'distance' between you and the person. Speaking more softly brings a person into your personal space, which makes them feel closer to you. Headmap says you can get coax anybody into anything with a whisper...
posted by mjao at 6:16 AM on October 26, 2006

Hmmm....maybe it's your mindset.

Unless you're paying me, I don't want to "work for you."

I'm more than happy to work with you, however. And if I can clearly see how my role in a shared process is needed, then I'm more than happy to put in my share of work. It's just that I'm not going to do something when it appears that you're not doing any work yourself.

I'm not implying that you're necessarily saying, "I want others to do the work that I'm supposed to be doing." I just think that you're needlessly seeing this as a "me-them" issue when really it can be an "us" situation.

The best way to get people to do things is to help them see how what they do is important, and that their actions will lead to an overall improved situation of which they will also benefit. If this isn't the case -- if you really do just want them to do something for you -- then you will continue to have failures.

Also, don't forget that people are flawed in many ways, and may fail to do things for any number of reasons. It may have very little to do with your ability to convince or motivate people.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:50 AM on October 26, 2006

They just need the appropriate motivation -- the level of your urgency for it to be completed needs to be communicated in a language they would equally realize that yes, it really does need to be completed.

From the book, The Five Love Languages, the author was describing to one of his counseling clients about why the wife can't get the husband to do the dishes, with a something-like-this conversation ensuing:

Author, "[wife], how do you feel when [hub] doesn't do the dishes?"
Wife, "Very discouraging."
Author, "Do you feel turned on at all when he does the dishes?"
Wife, "Oh yes, very much."
Hub, "Where do we keep the soap?"
posted by vanoakenfold at 6:50 AM on October 26, 2006

Something to keep in mind: A lot of us who do ask for things don't always feel comfortable doing so. You may be overestimating other people's comfort with asking, which may be intimidating you too much. Especially with housework (and especially if you happen to be a woman), there can be a strong fear of being seen as nagging that complicates the issue. To some extent, you just need to muddle through sometimes.
posted by occhiblu at 8:34 AM on October 26, 2006

IIRC, the phrase I need you to... is actually interpreted by most people as giving an order or command - and not a very nice one at that. I know I've read it somewhere that prefacing a request with "I need" is actually quite condescending because the implication is that the recipient does not have a choice in fulfilling the request. Best to use sparingly if you want true cooperation from others.
posted by Carnage Asada at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2006

You got to ask for it. People won't like it. If you want to get things done, its the price to be asked. If you are willing to do the crappy jobs too, and people know it, they will resent it less when you ask.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:54 AM on October 26, 2006

Along the lines of Dale Carnegie and other responses above, Keith Ferrazzi writes about this in his networking manual Never Eat Alone.

Basically, the best incentive is the understanding of Reciprocity - You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

How to make a simple request:
1. Be humble (Would you be able to help me with _______?").

2. If necessary, stress how important it is that they help you ("It would really mean a lot.")

3. Let your friends/coworkers know you'll make it up to them ("I owe you one," etc.).

They'll be much more willing to help you out.
posted by mynameismandab at 10:03 AM on October 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

As a salesman and an business owner I've developed a pretty good set of techniques over the years that have helped me get people to do more or less what I want them to do. None of these techniques are secret really... you just have to learn when to apply them and when to be willing to back down. In short, here's a few tips that I've found useful:

1. Confidence is key. It will make or break the response. You have to feel confident in yourself and your question otherwise you'll fall flat on your face. What works for me is that I've realized - at the core - everyone is basically the same. Seems obvious, but once I accepted that as a universe truth I was no longer afraid of speaking my mind. If everyone has similar feelings and thoughts - but expresses them differently - it becomes easier to speak. Or at least did for me.

2. Don't try to manipulate. People see through that. Start by genuinely trying to create a win-win situation. For instance, if you need a ride and you have a friend who lives 5 minutes out of the way, ask her for the ride home. Then promise to take her out to dinner sometime (or otherwise show gratitude).

3. Be friendly and likable. Actively listen to what people say and engage them in conversation on it. Repeat back to them, in your own words, what you hear as affirmation that you listened. Not only will this endear them to you but you'll be amazed by what you learn and how easy it is to turn that to your advantage. People almost always tell you exactly what they want to hear if you are open to listening to them. Then once they tell you, and if you repeat it back to them, they will often be surprised that you understand. That technique can be very disarming in a negotiation.

4. A simple rule of thumb is you can't "sell" anything to someone who doesn't want/need it (whether an idea or a product). Rather, you need to help them understand their need for something and then present them with a solution to their need. You can do this by asking a series of leading questions and walking a person through the logic so that it seems that they come to your solution on their own.

5. Never ever lie or be dishonest. You can only pull that card once and if you get caught you will immediately be disregarded upon future conversations. It's not worth the risk.
posted by tundro at 10:38 AM on October 26, 2006

Not mentioned so far, so I'll throw in a couple more observations.

First, although it seems paradoxical, people who have already done you a favor are more likely to do you another favor. Some people like helping other people, for various reasons. That, in fact, is an underlying operational principle of AskMe. So, once you've identified someone as a person who enjoys helping, don't be afraid of asking again.

Second, if some one has done you a favor, praise them to other people. Saying thank you to a person who has helped you is polite, but it is expected, and is, for that reason, even embarrassing to some people who like to help, like being offered money for assistance they've given. But going out of your way to praise some one that has helped you to third parties is powerfully reinforcing, on a couple of levels. First, the person who did you the favor in the first place gets active recognition for their good deed in the wider world. Second, the third party to whom you are praising the first party gets an impression that you are a person who remembers kindness, and thus the third party marks you mentally as a person worth helping, should the time come. Tip O'Neill once explained to me that this mechanism was the reason for 1/2 of his success in politics, and Tip was a pretty successful and likable guy.

Third, seek out others to help, in small but constant ways. This is something I learned from another Massachusetts politician, Barney Frank, for whom I have a lot of respect. Frank once said that in Washington, it was easy to get overwhelmed with the politics of the big picture, and all the vote swapping that went into making the big political deals work. So, for him, an important counterbalance was to remember that no matter how busy he was, in every day, he probably had at least 5 minutes to solve some 5 minute sized problem. If he just made a phone call, or answered a letter, or gave a mini-interview, in 5 minutes he could single handedly help somebody in a memorable way, without any need to do any deal with any one else. So, he advocated looking for those 5 minutes "opportunities," as being the most rewarding way to inject each day with a humanizing and spirit lifting act. And he's right. If you start doing 5 minute favors every day, as you come upon the 5 minute sized problems of others, you'll soon feel better about asking 5 minute favors of others when you need them, because you'll know how good small acts can make you, and them, feel. This, by the way, is another operational principle of AskMe.
posted by paulsc at 12:35 PM on October 26, 2006 [5 favorites]

Don't Shoot the Dog
Teaches positive reinforcement techniques. Meant for dog traing but it works, as the auther points out, quite well on people as well.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:50 PM on October 26, 2006

I find a lot of peole to be generally helpful. Look at how many helpful replies you've gotten here. Start by asking for small thing, like a pen, change for a 5, or a safety pin. See, people don't mind. If you need a ride, 1st ask if anybody lives near you, then ask if they'd mind giving you a ride. If it's out of their way, offer gas.

Say please and say thank you. Be helpful - keep in mind that what goes around, comes around (yeah, yeah, in theory). Offering help to others gives you confidence, and will help you ask for help because you won't feel so small.
posted by theora55 at 4:41 PM on October 26, 2006

I found that when asking for favours, prefacing if with "It's okay to say no, but are you able to help...", then if they do say no, don't look sad or say anything to make them feel bad.

I find that someone who guilt trips me into helping becomes someone I don't want to ever help again. I'll help people who I feel need the help and are being open about it without being pushy about it.

Be prepared to help others and do things they ask as much as you ask of them. I personally don't like asking people to do things for me, but since I often help people with things (say, moving house) I have a bit of a store of gratitude from others which I can call upon when I need it, and I'm usually surprised by how ready people are to assist.
posted by tomble at 6:09 PM on October 26, 2006

This book is well worth reading:

Influence: Science and Practice, by Robert B. Cialdini

NB - the cover is meant to be ironic, so it does look a little bit like some book from the 50s which promises to teach you to hypnotise women into going out with you or something. It is in fact very well researched and includes lots of academic references if you wanted to follow them up. It's easy to ready nonetheless.


posted by ESC at 12:06 PM on October 27, 2006

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