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Adults and children alike often resist direct commands to perform tasks, especially when the people issuing the requests have no real or perceived authority. People who reluctantly comply with commands often develop resentment, which could take the form of passive aggression or not completing tasks as well as they could have been done.
There are, however, several techniques that reduce such resistance and increase the probability that people will do what you want them to—and, at the same time, maintain good relationships. with you. The trick is to get people to do what you want because they want to not because they have to.
1. Use the Magic Word
My parents told me when I was a youngster that “please” was the magic word. I soon learned that when I prefaced my requests with “please,” I tended to gain compliance. The word’s magic powers of have carried over to adulthood. People really do tend to comply with requests when the word “please” is embedded in the request unless they have a good reason not to comply. Children will comply with their parents’ edicts more readily if the word “please” is embedded somewhere in the command. “Please” is a command softener that gives the impression that the person who is being asked to perform a task has a degree of control in task compliance.
2. Say, “You’re Welcome”-Plus
When thanked, most people respond, “You’re welcome.” But to make your response more powerful, add, “I know you would do the same for me.” This invokes the psychological principle of reciprocity. When people are given something tangible—or even something intangible such as a compliment—they are psychologically predisposed to give something in return. Reciprocity increases the probability of compliance to future requests.
3. Get a Commitment
Getting a verbal commitment from people increases the likelihood of compliance. This technique is based on the psychological principle of consistency. People tend to follow through on verbal commitments because to do otherwise would induce cognitive dissonance or guilt. Verbal commitments are especially powerful when they are made in public. Getting a commitment transfers the responsibility of completing the task from the requester to the person asked to perform it, thus creating a sense of responsibility.
- Mom: I want your room cleaned up by the time I get home from work this afternoon.
- Child: Okay, I will.
- Mom: Good. I’m counting on you. Do I have your commitment that your room will be clean?
- Child: Yes, I’ll clean my room right when I get home from school.
- Salesperson: I am going to leave you with some brochures. Will you, at least, give me your commitment to look at the material before you make a decision to buy our competitor’s product?
- Customer: Sure, I’ll take a look at the material this evening.
In both examples, the probability of compliance increases significantly when a verbal commitment is made to take action on each request.
4. Embed Your Command
Embedded commands contain direct requests but the requests are surrounded by command softeners. You’re still issuing commands; however, in this technique, the key is to cleverly embed the command within a string of softeners, the easiest being to add the word “please.” For example:
- Command: Wash your hands before eating dinner.
- Embedded Command: Please wash your hands before dinner.
Sophisticated embedded commands can be constructed by using additional command softeners to the request. For example:
- Command: Fund my project.
- Embedded Command: After reading my proposal, the only conclusion that I think you can come to is to fund my project.
5. Be Presumptive
Construct your request with the presumption that the person to whom you are making the request has already completed the task. The presumptive gives the illusion of commitment where no commitment has actually yet been made. Most people will accept an implied commitment and feel an obligation to complete the task. And instilling a sense of urgency to the request will increase the probability of compliance. Adding implied incentives to the presumptive further increases the probability of compliance. The incentive may look like a bribe, but incentives serve as a reward for good behavior—and increase the probability of future compliance. Rewards do not have to be issued upon the completion of all requests; in fact, they’re more effective when issued intermittently. The following examples illustrate the presumptive technique.
- Mom: After you rake the yard, why don’t we go out and get an ice cream sundae.
- Child: Okay!
- Dad: Why don’t you rake the leaves (handing a rake to his child) and I’ll bag them.
- Child: Okay.
- Salesperson: After we close this deal, where do you want to have dinner?
- Client: I know of a nice restaurant nearby.
6. Add a Sense of Wonder
Introducing a sense of wonder in conversation or in the form of self-talk also increases the probability of compliance. People typically want to tell others about their expertise. Introducing a sense of wonder takes advantage of this tendency. If you need help with a task, seek out a person with that skill and during the course of your conversation simply muse, “I’m working on this project and I’m having some difficulty. I was wondering if you may have run into the same problem.” An expert in the field will have difficulty not volunteering his or her expertise to show their mastery. They may even offer their services to help you solve the problem. This creates the illusion that the expert is offering his or her expertise and not being requested to provide advice or free services.
If you found these techniques helpful, go to http://words-talk.com/store.html for additional resources for effective communication, controlling anger, and techniques to detect deception. For additional information, you may contact the author: jackschafer500 [at] yahoo.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John R. “Jack” Schafer, Ph.D., earned his degree in psychology from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California and served as a behavioral analyst for the FBI