How to get anyone to do anything you want

by Bruce Kasanoff on October 26, 2011

1.) Make sure they have the ability to do what you want.
Skip this step, and you will waste a lot of time. The only true obstacle to persuading someone to do something is if they lack the ability to do it. You can’t persuade an out of shape person to run a five-minute mile. If they lack the ability or self-confidence to do what you want, forget it.

2.) Offer a reward.
“If you can finish that project by Tuesday night,” you might tell your intern, “I’ll let you sit in on my meeting with the CEO.” Or, if she doesn’t want to be in high pressure meetings, you might say, “I’ll give you my tickets to the game.”

3.) Guarantee the reward.
The greatest prize in the world isn’t worth much if there is little chance you will win it. To persuade someone, you not only have to offer a carrot, but also prove they will get the carrot if they do what you ask. So if you are trying to close a sale, you might say, “If our software doesn’t reduce your costs by at least 10%, we’ll refund your money.”

4.) Reduce their costs.
People have a much greater ability to change their reality than most realize… if they are willing to pay the cost. Such costs can include longer hours, harder work or more inconvenience. By reducing the perception – or better yet, the reality – of these costs, you make it easier for others to do what you want. You could tell your high school son, “If you agree to go to practice five days a week, I’ll let you drive to school instead of taking the bus.” (In my town, this means kids can get up later, and home sooner.)

5.) Reduce their risks.
Most people hate to fail. They hate to be embarrassed, or to lose ground. Even if all four conditions listed above are satisfied, people can still resist your request because they perceive it to be too risky – personally – for them. To secure their cooperation, you must reduce their perceived risk. You could, for example, agree to keep secret the fact that your peer is working on a project until he successfully completes it.

One of my professors in graduate school was Charles Dwyer, who presented us with this five-step approach. It works.

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