Getting ‘Em to Do What You Want

With the exception of very few people in the world, people want to help others. Great! That doesn’t mean they’re actually going to help you out, however, especially if you’re asking them to do something that may take away from their goals (no matter how important it is to you!).

Use these few tips to help nudge ’em to your side. These apply to co-workers, bosses, teammates, friends, and even two-year-olds – it’s also basically what you’re doing when you’re doing marketing properly.

  1. Plan ahead.

Failure to plan is planning to fail, right? So, if you need to work with someone who’s busy, who has been difficult to sway in the past, etc., you’ll want to do a couple of things. First, evaluate whether this is something you need this person to do. If Sally is always busy and Adam has free time and Adam can get the same information, have Adam help you out.*

Secondly, if you know the person well, you should know what motivates them. When I was in the Washington Air National Guard, a couple of my Airmen were simply motivated by the desire to be the best. If I wanted them to do something, I’d simply have to suggest that a co-worker had done the same job faster/more accurately than they could probably do it. Others were more motivated by how their work would help the team. Some would do it if they saw it as a challenge; others felt comfortable doing a project if it was something they already felt they knew and could easily do. Figure out what motivates that person and get them to motivate themselves to help you.

  1. Ask in a timely manner.

Don’t create an emergency for someone else if you don’t have to. No one wants to be around Crisis Guy (or Gal).  But don’t ask for something too early, either – if you don’t have specific objectives and a specific, relatively short timeline, people are more likely to put your project on the back burner.

Kara (age 2) waves at the camera while sitting down with a stuffed koala, eagle, and dog.
“Oh hi! I am very excited to do what you tell me until I discover something else I could do. Like having a conversation with my stuffed animals!”

When it’s getting near my daughter’s lunch time, I start having her clean up her messes 15 minutes or so before she’s supposed to eat. It’s enough time that if she happened to focus solely on cleaning up and didn’t get distracted, she’d have a fair amount of free time to play some various dancing games that don’t require toys. Of course, she usually takes nearly the full 15 minutes.

One thing: Don’t remind adults every few minutes of what they’re supposed to be doing on your project. That doesn’t go over well.

  1. Stay patient.

Don’t win the battle to lose the war – don’t become so focused on getting one task accomplished that it’s going to sour your working relationship with someone. Remember, in all likelihood, they want to help you out. In most cases, they just have so many other things going on that they can’t get to your project.

Stay patient. If you have the time and ability, offer to do a task of theirs (or have it done by others) that is taking up their time so they can pursue your goals. When you’re leading your troops into battle, you don’t leave behind the machine gunner with the heaviest weapon and heaviest ammo and just wait for him to eventually arrive. You help him out by having others carry some of his load so the whole team can fight together.

  1. Praise publicly.

Sure, maybe someone was awful to work with and it took thirty requests to get a simple task done. However, you got done on time and your project looked great. Make sure you give credit publicly to everyone who helped you. Also, make sure you thank the person directly for their contribution. People are more inclined to do work for others who are appreciative of their efforts. It’s how tips work. It’s why people volunteer – they feel like they’re contributing something of value and others appreciate their efforts.

In short, just remember that no matter what business you’re working in, it’s a business of people, not tasks. Focus on people and you’ll improve your chances of career success.

*If appropriate, when you run into Sally, let her know the reason you’re going to Adam is to avoid putting more on her plate. If she wants to be involved, then make it clear she’s more than welcome to be. It sucks when someone thinks you have an ulterior motive for cutting them out of a process – make sure Sally doesn’t feel bypassed!