Weekend Read: How To Get People To Do What you Want

You’re in a store, browsing. The salesperson slides up, greets you with an approachable smile, and says, “Can I help you find something?”

You were thinking about that purse. You bite.

“I like this bag, but I’d prefer it in brown.”

She starts asking you questions. What’s the occasion? Is this for everyday or special occasions?

She gets you to talk. You tell her you have a wedding to attend. She relates a quick story about a recent wedding disaster. You both laugh.

She says, “I love this one for you. It’s not the most expensive, but it will last a long time. Isn’t it great?”

You decide you must have the grey one.

Sale closed.

The idea was planted in your head. It might not have been there before, but the salesperson got you to make it stick.

It’s really easy to get people to do this. Ask the millions of liars, scammers and hustlers –  online, on informercials…everywhere.

The idea is planted in our head because it is satisfying a hunger we had for something; the need to be accepted, to fit in, to look better to others, even to show off.

Playing people is evil. We don’t recommend being evil.  This is as much about being able to spot when it’s happening to you as it is about doing it yourself. What we would like to do is let you in on a couple of secrets to be more influential, to create a legit win-win for you and your customer/colleague/interviewer.

It was their idea all along. Using the word “you” instead of “I” or “me” is a powerful tool in communication. Downplaying oneself while praising another is not only humble, but it’s influential.

Saying to a boss, “I know that you already have a plan for this…” while discussing a bold new initiative at work is a way of putting the idea in their lap. You have thought of the new system or policy, and you want it implemented – but you’re telling the boss you admire that idea “they came up with”. It makes them consider the alternatives.

Turn a hater into a neutral. Doing something nice for someone you know is not a fan can turn them around, or at least dial down the anger.

David McRaney posted this on his blog:

Benjamin Franklin set out to turn a hater into a fan, but he wanted to do it without “paying any servile respect to him.” Franklin’s reputation as a book collector and library founder gave him a reputation as a man of discerning literary tastes, so Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a selection from the his library, one which was a “very scarce and curious book.” The rival, flattered, sent it right away. Franklin sent it back a week later with a thank you note.

Mission accomplished.

Find common ground. Before the job interview, do as much (legal) stalking of the person who you’re going to sit down with as you can. Find out if they have kids, where they went to school, if they collect miniature cats – anything that you share an interest with. Prepare a dossier of your person. Work it into your conversation, but in a subtle way. Use the word “you” a lot.

When meeting with a rival at work? Same thing. Find something you can talk with them about that they will be anxious to discuss, whether it’s sports or music or a passion you both share outside of the office. This relaxes the environment. Your rival discovers that you share an interest they do; that means you’re not, in their eyes, that much different from they are. The tone of the conversation will be more relaxed. When the sticky subjects are raised later in the meeting, you have created a better environment to work out your m. Now might be a good time to suggest something that is “their idea”. Keep using that word “you”.

Getting together with a customer or client? Again, doing your homework before is critical. Good salespeople know their client’s agenda. They know they hunger for a solution that will make them look good in the eyes of their bosses. If you make your pitch partially “their” idea…you are on your way to closing them.

It’s amazing how many people come into meetings or interviews cold. It’s the equivalent of walking on the new car lot without having first looked around online for prices and options. The smart (and sometimes evil) car guy will prey on your ignorance, and pretty soon, you’re paying $1,000 more than you should.

Being influential and being underhanded are two very different things. Ask a successful retail salesperson about their experiences when they are shopping. They will often tell you they appreciate a talented seller assisting them. They like being sold by someone as savvy as they are. They respect the art form.

There are plenty of people trying to play you. Watch body language, listen to their words. If they are using the word “you” a lot, maybe they’re up to something…


John Scott is the National Online Learning Coordinator and a media history instructor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention.



His debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be released soon.

Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.

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