3 Ways to Get People to Do What You Want Them To

08/14/2015 | Roger and Susie Engelau

How do you get people to do what you want them to?

We think because we express a need people should and will respond. Especially if you’re the business owner, the leader, the boss.  Maybe you requested that:

  • A volunteer step forward for a new project and no one did
  • Someone take over an ongoing task and somehow they never did
  • An employee learn a new and improved procedure and they didn’t do it

You might think people don’t do what you ask them to do because they’re apathetic, too busy, not paid enough, too caught up in their own issues, too young, too old, or even lazy. But the real reason they don’t volunteer for that project or perform that task the way you asked them to is because of how you asked them.

I can’t think of an organization I’ve worked with who hasn’t expressed exasperation over people not doing what leadership has asked them to do. Here’s what I think…

If you want to get people to do what you want them to do, you have to change the way you “ask.” In fact, you don’t ask so much as you involve. And it’s a specific form of involvement… involvement that uses their brains, gets them thinking, and taps into their talents.

I guarantee this. If you want to get people to do what you want them to do, do these 3 things:

  1. Engage them in critical thinking. This is what you engaged in when you came up with the idea or solution that you now want your employee or volunteer to buy into or help implement. Typically, people aren’t given enough detail, so they don’t feel a part of the process. Yet, we expect them to buy into and invest their precious energy communicating and implementing it. They won’t. not until we draw them in, involve them, and most importantly, give them the chance to think critically about the issue before they’ll engage.

To get people to do what you want them to do, they need to know the definition of the initial problem, the background, the process that was followed in solving it, what options were considered, what other solutions were explored. Engage them in the problem-solving. So often we develop the solution and then try to get people to help us implement it. But they have no background knowledge, no feeling of ownership, and therefore, little interest.  People want to be asked to help solve a problem, not to be part of someone else’s solution.

Engaging people in critical thinking is also referred to as reflective learning. In an article called Turning on the Lightbulb by John Robert Dew (you can access the article at www.QualityProgress.com but there’s a small fee) describes some ways to engage people in reflective, or critical, thinking:

  • Use group discussion around structured questions
  • Engage the group in a critical incidents discussion
  • Hold a case study discussion
  • Use the group to brainstorm and arrive at root cause

These leadership activities take longer than if you come up with the solutions on your own but… what good are your solutions if no one is inspired and engage to take action on them?

  1. Repeat it 17 times. We have this strange notion that just because we’re talking, people are listening. We even believe they heard everything we said.  Nothing could be further from the truth. As listeners, our minds are filled to the brim with tons of complicated issues we’re dealing with each day. How many different places does your mind go when someone is explaining or describing something to you? That’s what people are doing when you’re talking too.  But 17 times?!  Here’s the breakdown:
    1. The 1st 3 times – They don’t even hear you
    2. The 2nd 3 times – They begin to listen
    3. The 7th, 8th, & 9th times – They realize you’re serious
    4. The 10th, 11th, & 12 times – They begin to question you on the message
    5. The 13th, 14th, & 15th times – They begin to act on it
    6. The 17th time – They’re carrying the message

I figure I’m ahead of the game if I can repeat a message even 3 or 4 times. Anything’s better than just once.

  1. Ask people individually. To get people to do what you want them to, I like this line from an Entrepreneur article... “approach each person as a source of unique knowledge.”  So often we put out broadcast requests—an email message, a verbal group announcement, or an article in the organization’s newsletter. These are too impersonal to be effective when you want to get people to do what you want them to do. Use group announcement vehicles to share information and provide updates (they can count as one of your 17 times) and make requests to one person at a time.

Few people are walking around looking to put their time and energy into someone else’s project.

To get people to do what you want them to do, engage them in critical thinking. It’ll require you to bring them into the project earlier, communicate (lots) more, and approach them one by one.