getting what you want from others

One fact of life is that we will always need the assistance and cooperation of other people. Maybe you run a company and need your staff to go “above and beyond” to carry out a big project. Maybe you need approval from your boss to implement a new policy or put a new system in place. Maybe you want to change careers and need support from your friends and family. Maybe you just need someone to listen to you. Heck, wouldn’t it be great to tell someone about your job and have their eyes light up with interest instead of glazing over with boredom?

Here are three simple steps to getting what you want from others:

Communicate What You Want

If there is something you want, you have to communicate it in a clear and direct manner, because no one can read your mind. The concept seems quite obvious, and yet it is often hard to do. We tend to make assumptions about what other people think, know or are willing to do and quite frankly, we are usually wrong. Let me tell you a story to illustrate this point.

This story comes from a book called the Abilene Paradox by Jerry Harvey. It is paraphrased for the sake of space. Jerry and his wife were spending a long weekend with his wife’s parents in a little country town called Coleman, Texas. It was a hot, Sunday afternoon at 104 degrees, but sitting in the shade on the front porch under a fan, drinking cold lemonade, it was actually a very pleasant day. All four of them were enjoying themselves and looking forward to a nice leisurely dinner at home. But then Jerry’s father-in-law thought, “These kids are from the city. I bet they are bored out here in the country. We should do something to entertain them.” So he said, “Why don’t we drive in to Abilene for dinner tonight?” Abilene was 55 miles away and the car had no air conditioning. No one thought this was a good idea.

But Jerry’s wife, wanting to make her father happy said, “Oh, Daddy, that’s a great idea! I’d love to do that. What do you think, Jerry?” Inwardly Jerry groaned, but he knew better than to disagree with his wife AND his father-in-law. So he said, “That sounds great; as long as your mother wants to go.” He was secretly hoping his mother-in-law would put her foot down to this nonsense. But his mother-in-law felt pressured by everyone’s enthusiasm, so she reluctantly agreed and the four of them set off. They returned four hours later, hot, sticky, and covered with dust. None of them had a good time.

Had even one person in this group stated their true preference, then they could have stayed home and enjoyed the evening in the fashion they all desired.

This kind of misunderstanding happens frequently; especially in group settings. People make poor business decisions, give up things they want, and do things they do not want to do simply because they choose not to state their mind.

If you want something, communicate it. It may take practice in order for you to get comfortable with this approach, so try it right now. Take out a piece of paper and write:

1. Something you want;
2. Who can help you get it; and
3. How they can help you get it.

Interest Them with Outcomes

The next step is to interest the other person with outcomes. In other words, explain how helping you will actually benefit them. Think in terms of “results” that the other person would desire. I will share with you how this works in my household.

My husband loves tools. Every time we go to Home Depot, he is drawn like a magnet to the Tool section. He will buy a new tool and then figure out some project that can be done around the house using that tool. This would not bother me, except that he wants me to help him. This is his idea of a fun weekend. Personally, I can think of much more interesting things to do. I’d rather go to a party with my friends; attend an afternoon matinee; read a book; take my dogs to the lake….basically, anything that does not require manual labor.

And yet my husband has convinced me to help him with every project he has undertaken. He is the King of getting me to do things I do not want to do by interesting me with outcomes. Here is an example:

One weekend he bought a circular table saw and said, “Let’s build some shelves.” I responded, “Why don’t you build some shelves and I’ll read this new book I bought?” He plucked the book out of my hand and asked, “How about seasonal shelves for your closet?”

Well, that got my attention! “Tell me more,” I said, feeling a little excitement despite my best efforts to remain uninterested. So he brought me in the closet and showed me three different walls where the shelves could hang, near the ceiling. He said, “We can put all of your out-of-season clothes on these new shelves; then the rest of your clothes won’t be crammed in here. You can actually spread them out and see them. We can also put this mass of shoes you hardly ever wear on one set of shelves. We will get a folding step ladder so you can reach those shelves when you need to. We can even buy matching wooden hangers and get rid of all these awful looking plastic and wire hangers.” I could clearly see this beautiful closet he was describing and I decided I must have it.

I spent the next three weekends sawing, sanding, hammering, painting, caulking, and lifting heavy things. It was worth every minute. My closet is like Heaven now. I walk in every morning and adore all that space and how organized and clean everything looks.

You can do the same thing to get someone’s cooperation. You just have to think about what the other person cares about. Consider from their perspective how helping you could be beneficial to them. If it is all about you, then you will be hard pressed to get assistance unless it is from your kind-hearted friends who tend to give and give without getting anything in return. Most people are not that altruistic.

On that sheet of paper where you wrote down what you want and who can help you get it, now write down why they would want to help you. What could they gain from the experience?

4. Why should they help you?

Simplify Your Message

Finally, if you really want someone to help you, then get to the point. Don’t beat around the bush and add so much detail that you lose their interest. For example, there were at least five things of great importance to my husband regarding those shelves:

  • What we were going to build
  • The design and dimensions of what we were going to build
  • What materials we needed to buy
  • What tools we were going to use
  • What steps we were going to follow to build it

How many of these things were important to share with me in order to get my interest and commitment? I was only interested in what we were building. Had he filled my ears with the other details, my eyes would have glazed over and I would have lost interest. He would have had a harder time selling me the idea.

Take another example. Let’s say you attend two seminars on healthy dieting. One instructor gives you ten steps to follow and the other gives you three. Which one are you likely to follow? The one with three steps is less overwhelming and easier to remember, so you will probably pick that one.

When you communicate, narrow in on the key point(s). Otherwise, those points may get lost in the noise.

These three steps, communicating what you want, interesting them with outcomes, and simplifying your message, may be difficult at first. However, the more you practice and work with them, the more natural they will become and the more often you will get what you want.