21 November 2005

Getting what you want

I am a freedom freak. I thrive on freedom and flexibility. When choosing, I like to keep my options open where possible. And, like most people, I don't like being manipulated. Given that, what do you do if you want someone to do something? For many people the tools of manipulation are the tools of choice. Guilt, intimidation, bullying and talking-down-to are common tactics and the result is often resentment, resignation and loss of power.

There is a better way. In fact, there are many better ways. Here are just two.

1) Make a request
The single most effective way to get what you want from someone else, is to ask for it. There is no substitute for clear communication and making an honest request for something by clearly stating what you would like, without any fluff or justification or manipulation is your best bet to get what you want. The difference between a request an manipulation is that with a request the person you are making the request of feels free to choose whereas with manipulation there is this subtle or not so subtle feeling that comes with the words that let the user know that not giving you what you want is not okay. One way to tell if you are actually making a request is whether or not you are satisfied with either a "no" or a "yes" answer. If you ask someone to do something for you for which they say "no", and you are upset or have a feeling of resentment... that's manipulation. If you ask someone to do something and they say "no" and you can honestly say, "Okay, great. Thank you for considering it", that is a clean request.

2) Make it a better deal
Another effective way to get what you want is to make it a better deal. If you want another person to do something, think about it from their perspective. Put yourself in their shoes, so to speak, and imagine, "what's in it for them?" If you can tweak your requirements or add something or take something away so that the resulting offer is something that they can clearly benefit from you have a much better chance of getting what you want. So, for example, you tell people that you would like to switch the company policy manual from three ring binders to a wiki, and you explain how once on the wiki people will be able to contribute freely and concurrently and not only that, they can subscribe and be notified of any updates automatically... that creates a compelling feedback loop for them. It's easier for them to have software notifying them of the latest changes in policy than to have stuff filling up their inbox. It's a better deal.

There is no good reason that I can think of to try to force people to do what you want. People naturally resist being forced to do things. You can always find a way to offer what you want and allow people to choose freely from a number of options. And given a free choice, people will often want to help you.

Manipulation is a relic of the past. Collaboration, cooperation, shared vision will lead us to a more productive future. You stand a much better chance of getting what you want by speaking clearly and enrolling others rather than attempting to manipulate them.

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