Respect my authroitaaahh!
July 24, 2007 7:56 AM   Subscribe

It's become apparent that in my personal, work and social life, I need to get people to do what I want them to do naturally. Without having to justify every little incident. How do I do that and become more assertive?

Up to now, any time I've wanted someone to do something, I've tried persuasion and appealing to their better side. The nice-guy approach to delegation, if you will. But that's no longer enough.

What I need are hints and tips on how to attain an air of natural authority, where people will actually do what I want them to do without too much questioning.

Any suggestions?
posted by aprivateperson to Human Relations (32 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
What sort of things are you looking to get people to do?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:01 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you have authority? Common techniques would include using short, clipped, to the point sentences and then leaving before they can contradict or argue. If they do, interrupting is pretty much the clearest 'my voice is more important than yours' move you can do.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:05 AM on July 24, 2007

It's a little disconcerting that you phrase it "I need to get people to do what I want them to do," especially when referring to your personal life. What about what they want? I would be wondering what gave you the right. If you're a parent talking about your kids, then learn to be a parent, not an authoritarian. If you're talking about your spouse, well, you really have no right to expect them to do what you say. Or anyone else in your personal life.

I'd wonder why being persuasive is no longer enough. What has changed? Perhaps people know that when you seem "nice" to them, you're really trying to get them to do something. Naturally, they'll stop responding. No one likes manipulation. Also, do you praise them after they've (basically) done you a favor? I know someone who will ask me to do something and then gets upset when it's not done precisely his way. So I've stopped doing things for that person.

People need to respect a leader before they're willing to follow him/her. So, you need to be seen as responsible, responsive, and respectful of others. No one is going to listen to someone who is inconsistent, frequently late, disorganized, forgetful, etc.
posted by desjardins at 8:12 AM on July 24, 2007

"So let it be written, so let it be done!" worked well for the pharaohs.

But, on the off chance that you weren't born into royalty, you might have to learn to accept the fact that people don't have to follow your commands. Assertiveness is about establishing and enforcing personal boundaries, not about forcing your will on others.
posted by Gamblor at 8:27 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, assuming you're talking about trying to get people in your personal and work life to pull their fair share, I've found a good technique is to give constrained choices. The basic structure: (1) Identify and vocalize the major work that needs to be completed; and (2) offer other person their choice of half the work. For example, when talking to a spouse or partner on Saturday morning:

"So if we're going to make the matinee show, we need to get moving. Do you want to clean up the kitchen or take out the trash?"

Similarly, at work:

"Bob--the TPS report needs to be done on Friday, right? Do you want to research the sales numbers or would you prefer to write up the results?"

Persuasion and appealing to someone's better side are really only for situations in which you're asking someone to do you a favor that isn't at all their responsibility. In situations where you're trying to get someone to do something that is a shared responsibility (e.g., chores and housework), relying on persuasion can perversely make someone feel like it's not really their responsibility at all--because you've obviously taken ownership of it. Letting someone choose which part of the shared work they'd like to do hands that ownership straight back to them, minus nagging and begging and other unpleasantries. Everyone wins!
posted by iminurmefi at 8:32 AM on July 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

The only way to get people to do something is to make them want to do it. Even money often isn't enough, but trust and respect often are.

There is no such thing as an "air of natural authority". It's part of what Stephen Covey calls the "personality ethic" -- the idea that you can get results out of relationships (personal, business or otherwise) via specific techniques. That doesn't work, or at least it's not sustainable. Rather, what you get out of relationships is proportional to what you put in.

You might find this classic to be a worthwhile read. It's hard to take a lot of Carnegie's suggestions seriously in the 21st century unless you practice following them sincerely, though. They don't work as techniques.
posted by mendel at 8:33 AM on July 24, 2007

To attain the skills you need to develop an aura of authority, you could become a police officer, enter the military as an officer candidate, or join a local S&M club as a dom.
posted by Gamblor at 8:49 AM on July 24, 2007

It's become apparent that in my personal, work and social life, I need to get people to do what I want them to do naturally. Without having to justify every little incident. How do I do that and become more assertive?

This is all very vague. Concrete examples would help, because there are different techniques for personal, work and social life. Do these people have to like you? Do you have to continue associating with them in some manner? What's the relationship (spouse, child, close friend, distant friend, coworker, boss, employee,? All of these points lead to different techiques.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2007

Response by poster: Well, with my ex-partner, she just never listened to me nor did she take on board anything I said, whereas she expected me to listen to her and her feelings all the time.

A prospective gf has indicated that she likes people with an air of authority. And after the last time, I am very reluctant to repeat prior behaviour that leads to me being a doormat.

And in my new job, I shall be managing a team of four people (spread across the country) in a way that I've never had to deal with before.

So I need an air of authority!
posted by aprivateperson at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2007

So, in part, you want "an air of authority" to suck up to a "Submissive" who might someday become your girlfriend? Tell me, when you do anything together who pays? And how old are you (and she)?

To answer your question, I tend to do more for people who make me feel good. The "you catch more with honey" syndrome. What I think of as an "air of authority" turns me right off, as does being given orders, and I don't like being expected to catch hints either. Ask me a clear question politely in a pleasant voice, and let me feel I'm gaining something by doing as you ask.

Phrasing is also important: "Would you like to wash the dishes?" will inspire a quick "NO," because I don't ENJOY washing dishes; it's too stupid a question to be taken seriously. But "Will you wash the dishes so I can cook our supper?" has been known to work, as has "I'll cook dinner for us if you'll wash the dishes afterward."

But "I want you to wash the dishes" inspires "So?" if not outright sarcasm, and "Hurry up and wash the dishes!" will send me out to eat alone, leaving the dirty dishes behind.
posted by davy at 9:30 AM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: Here's the problem with your question -- taking on "an air of authority" as a way of fulfilling someone else's request still sounds like doormat territory to me.

Well, with my ex-partner, she just never listened to me nor did she take on board anything I said, whereas she expected me to listen to her and her feelings all the time.

But maybe some good, old-fashioned assertiveness would still be useful. Here are some general links on the topic. Rather than starting with surface-level tricks and communication skills, though, I'd look deeply into how you view yourself in relationships and how you treat your wishes in the face of others' wishes. Others will view you and treat you the same way.
posted by salvia at 10:01 AM on July 24, 2007

Don't think of it as an air of need more than an air. You need management skills and self-confidence.

A way to demonstrate self-confidence without being an arrogant jackass is to 1) do your homework so that you actually know what you're talking about, and 2) admit when you don't know something instead of making shit up. 3) Divide up the work, and give people some control over which aspect they choose to do -- everyone always feels like they're doing the lion's share or the drudgey-est part, even when they are really, really not.

This is surprisingly hard to do, even on purpose. And that pretty much goes for both personal and professional life.

where people will actually do what I want them to do without too much questioning.

The only way to do this is to communicate clearly. I don't mean that you should be a condescending twit who spells out how to put one foot in front of the other. But avoid requests that are full of assumptions, presumptions, and hidden subtext.

Sure, relationships have plenty of subtext -- heck, my best friend and I speak in a patois of in-jokes, mumbles, snorts of laughter, and half-uttered words -- but you have to already be on the same page.
posted by desuetude at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: You may need to learn leadership skills, and effective teamwork. But beyond the skills usually covered in formal leadership and teamwork training, I've found a few things to be paramount, especially for people new to leadership positions:

Leadership Skill #1: Recognize that some people cannot be led. Other people, perhaps of greater experience, education, or self-perception of other qualities, cannot be led by you. Do what you can, constantly, to improve as a leader, and you may convert some of the latter to effective members of your team, but you'll never win over the former. With those people, even a military level of coercion isn't sufficient to make them effective team members, which is why the military has a discipline system that includes involuntary discharges.

Leadership Skill #2: Leaders know they deserve to be followed, because they have greater knowledge, experience, or because they've assumed greater responsibility for outcomes. If you aren't recognized as a leader naturally, it's usually because of an obvious disparity in one of these areas, and until you provide clear and continuing demonstration of your worth as a leader, you won't be followed. In any situation where authority doesn't bear commensurate responsibility, real leadership is not possible. Unless the effort demanded of you, or the risks you assume as a leader aren't truly commensurate with the rewards you're perceived to get in return, you won't be respected. This is a problem many CEOs of American companies have now, because it's obvious that their pay and perks are in no way related to the performance of the firms they've been hired to manage.

Leadership Skill #3: Leaders are loyal to their teams. If you don't believe in the value of those you lead, you won't be followed. As a new leader, you can put a team through a short period of testing, but if you can't take them to some level of accomplishment that you and they can mutually recognize in that period, you'll never successfully lead them thereafter.

Leadership Skill #4: Not every situation is appropriate to leadership. Personal relationships may be some of those situations. Teams can work quite well as distributed leadership organizations, where the ultimate authority and responsibility for team management never resides with a single individual. Good leaders recognize these situations, and can flexibly contribute as peers or subordinates, when circumstances dictate.
posted by paulsc at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2007 [8 favorites]

Maybe I'm OK with the idea you want your work situation to run more smoothly. But wanting to manipulate people outside of that environment? What are you some kind of control freak? Maybe you should figure out how to accept the fact that people get to decide for themselves what they want to do.
posted by Gregamell at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: The opposite of being a doormat is not being authoritarian -- they're two sides of the same coin. Either you're so terrified that the other person won't take your opinions into account that you never mention them, or you're so terrified the other person won't take your opinions into account that you make demands instead of requests and terrorize them into obeying you.

Neither one is good, or healthy, or "leadership." Both are simply acting out of fear.

You need to learn to identify what you want, to trust that what you want is worthwhile, and to communicate what you want in a clear, straightforward manner. Once you've stated what you want and why, and learned whether the other person has any additional concerns or opinions, you can learn to negotiate if necessary.

Communication skills workshops or books (this is a good one), assertiveness training workshops or books (this is a good one), or practices like psychotherapy or meditation can all help you achieve the skills you're lacking.

But don't just turn into a bully. Seek to be authoritative, not authoritarian.
posted by occhiblu at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: And two more book recommendations:
When Anger Scares You
The Dance of Fear
posted by occhiblu at 11:40 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree that it's not authority you seek, it is confidence and the ability to lead.

Socially, confident (not authoritative) people are generally those considered most attractive. If you aren't particularily self-confident, fake it. No one will know the difference.

In the workplace, you want to be an effective leader. Set clear goals, and figure out the best way for the group to acheive them as a team. Most importanly, be extremely organized, and keep the lines of communication open (i.e. solicit feedback, inform everyone of your goals and plans, and let people know that you are open to their suggestions). Effective bosses do not give orders with authority; they manage a team.
posted by emd3737 at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2007

What desuetude said. I'm actually dealing with this at work, where an authority figure tends to ask for things that seem arbitrary and unnecessary because they don't (or can't) explain the context in which they are requesting them. If you're not going to give people the information they need to make their own good decisions in both of your interests, the business will be dependent on you to make all the decisions, and then you're just going to have to tell people to do things like a taskmaster does. But maybe this is what you want, to feel better about cracking the whip regardless of what the underlings think or want. It's definitely the simpler way to go, even if people dislike the strategy.
posted by rhizome at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: rhizome reminds me of a good strategy, and one that I think helps build mutual respect: Assume good intent. Assume that everyone in the system (romantic relationship, office team, whatever) is actively interested in doing what's best for that system, and interpret all their actions in that way. If their actions seem to go against the best interest of the system, then assume you simply don't understand their reasoning, rather than assuming they're working to undermine or disobey you. Doing so helps build trust, teamwork, and a shared sense of purpose.
posted by occhiblu at 12:42 PM on July 24, 2007 [7 favorites]

Think of other people like children, and behave accordingly.

By that, I mean:

1. Be honest;
2. Be open;
3. Set boundaries based on a sound assessment of the situation at hand;
4. Stick to those boundaries, unless your assessment is proven invalid;
5. Be gracious.

Works for me; my biggest concern is getting people to *stop* thinking I'm the person in charge, even though I rarely tell people what to do unless they ask me (and they always do.)
posted by davejay at 3:37 PM on July 24, 2007

I've had this problem at work, though I've gotten over it. I like my people to feel like they can tell me if we're doing something stupid, or if they have a better idea. Problem is, I don't like to have to debate every last decision I make.

The trick is to keep in mind that you are the boss. They are not. It's ok to sometimes say, "Ok, well, you think it's stupid/unnecessary. I want you to do it anyway." Know the difference between honest suggestions and whining.

Maybe I tell them later why I decided the way I did, when nobody has anything to be defensive about. Maybe I was wrong, so I admit it. Maybe knowing what I know now, I would have done it differently. Maybe not.

But, I do not want to have a submarine with a scrammed reactor, no propulsion, and a battery going dead at an alarming rate, and some jackass wanting to know why I want him to shift a bunch of equipment around before he'll do it, because he has a "better" plan. Obviously, being in the military helps a little with the legitimate authority, but that doesn't go as far as you might think on a submarine.

Develop a "do what I say, right now" voice and a "what do you think" voice, (maybe even an "I'm just joking around with you" voice) so people can tell the difference. Nothing is worse than a guy you can't read in that sense.
posted by ctmf at 3:39 PM on July 24, 2007

When you speak, keep your head perfectly still.
posted by carsonb at 6:03 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: I have the opposite problem. Honestly, and it gives me conniptions sometimes. In social situations, specifically, somehow I put off an air of leadership and I can't help it. This means if the project at hand is something I'm not good at, the group's outcome suffers. People just keep turning to me to make decisions, no matter how much I try to blend in with the wallpaper.

So, anyway, what you should do is be really, really self confident. This has less to do with your interactive style with other people than you might think. It's something that people can sense about you.

Cultivate a sense of attentiveness, so that you will seem to be aware of all angles of any given issue, and have already considered the options in store. Be self-deprecating only insofar as you consistently frame your conversational contributions around yourself and your analysis of people and situations. "I statements" a-go-go. (Of course, this is also a recipe for how to be arrogant, but only if you go too far.)

For example, don't say "we should blah blah blah," say "I'm going to blaha blah blah and do you want to blank or blank?" Don't register frustration. Frustration is for the impotent. If you want to be in charge, you have to have a solution at all times. It had better be the right one, which means you should know how to delegate responsibilities if you don't have the right answer yourself.

It's also important to realize that some people just won't be led and will chafe under reins no matter how necessary.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:03 PM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

This isn't as concrete, but try it too: Let your personal space flow into other people's space.
posted by carsonb at 6:07 PM on July 24, 2007

Hold eye contact. Smile genuinely.
posted by carsonb at 6:09 PM on July 24, 2007

read the One Minute Manager. Pretty good insights into good management practices and how to motivate people to do what you want.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:12 PM on July 24, 2007

As long as we're giving book recommendations, I'll cite the one providing the hints above. They're from chapter 1, Status, of Keith Johnstone's Impro.
recommended previously
posted by carsonb at 6:13 PM on July 24, 2007

So I need an air of authority!
You can't fake this. If you try, you'll get eaten alive and spit out. Don't try to fake it.

Quit trying to please people. Do what you want or think is right. Sure, listen to others and judge if they have good advice, but you need to know yourself and know what you want.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:07 PM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: i know exactly what you're talking about ... because often people perceive me that way. so much so that often i am mistaken for being the person in charge, even when i am not. i can sum it up in three terms: competence, confidence and loyalty.

competence: you need to know what you are talking about. do the research. if someone else knows more then you do, shut up and listen. most people are really willing to share their knowledge--even if it's not all right. learn to listen to them, and then figure out what's true vs what's not. everyone has at least a little truth in them--find it.

it's also important to show competence in the details--make sure your spelling and punctuation are accurate. maintain a sense of style in your work, both written and verbal. constantly strive for the highest standard possible, and stress consistency.

confidence: you have to act like you know you're right--but, you have to make sure you're right. there's no harm in admitting that you don't know something--it's a lot better then pretending you do. if you're not sure, shut up and listen. you can be confident in your indecision--after all, that's the best way to get other people's input that will lead to the best solution.

loyalty: what you want is for people to work for you because they want to. don't belittle them, don't condesend to them, and don't ever point out their shortcomings in front of others. you want to create an air of respect and friendliness--to the extent that your people want to talk with you because they like you. when you do so, they will always do their best, because they want to--not because you are making them. and for god's sake--leave them an 'out'--when they mess up, accept it as part of doing business, and allow them to save face. i constantly hear from people about how much they like working for/with me, despite the fact that i perceive myself as some kind of pompus asshole.

it's not as easy as it sounds...and i'm not totally sure how i do it, but i just do. it can also get in the way sometimes, especially if your supervisor has issues with authority. there is often a fine line between being a good leader and being an asshole--and it's really important to know where that is. you're going to cross it sometimes ... but at least know when you do, as opposed to being oblivious.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:46 PM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I understand this problem quite well and will be following this question for my own purposes. (Not helpful, I know, but just sayin'. "Thanks for asking.")
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:00 PM on July 24, 2007

The Invisible Grip.
posted by dgaicun at 12:11 AM on July 25, 2007

To attain the skills you need to develop an aura of authority, you could become a police officer, enter the military as an officer candidate,

LARF. No no no no no: enter the military as an enlisted person, and then take your branch's equivalent of NCO training. (Officers don't tend to know the first thing about how to project authority. Good ones delegate to competent NCOs; bad ones micromanage, pitifully.)

In my time the relevant block of instruction was called the Primary Leadership Development Course. (Now the Army seems to have changed it to the more hooah-sounding Warrior Leader Course.) I tell you what, PLDC taught skinny, high-pitched-voice-having me to project command voice and presence - if you're to believe my instructors, anyway.

I highly recommend the experience, or whatever close equivalent you can gin up in your own life. There's nothing like having some genuinely competent individuals tell you, in so many words, that you're a "hard charger that can ably lead troops" to give you the confidence you'll need to take on a wide variety of life tasks like they ain't no thang. You may, in fact, find that you develop a neat little "hard charger" personality module that's generally and appropriately quiescent, but is always there to be called upon when necessary. I hope you find this is the case.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:47 AM on July 25, 2007

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