What's Behind the Psychology of Getting People to Do What You Want?

If you’ve ever been in any role of leadership, you know that getting people to play their part, volunteer, or just step up to help can sometimes be a challenge. As the leader, prompting the people around you to do what you want them to do can be an exercise in frustration. So how do you navigate the difficulties that come from asking for help without sabotaging yourself or your project? How do you get competent people to actually want to help you?

Getting people to do what you want them to do may not be as difficult as you think it is.


4 Ways Leaders Can Ask for Help and Make It Count

1) Understand that people want to help.

A mistake we as leaders make is going into a project with pessimistic assumptions. We believe that no one will step up, help, or contribute anything worthwhile. We believe that we’ll end up doing it all ourselves anyway, and so we don’t actually have any faith in anyone to do their part. This is a big mistake! Studies show that people actually do want to help. Helping releases feelings of pleasure in the brain according to neuroscientists. Most people really do want to help when asked.

So the first thing we have to understand is that people, by and large, want to help. Most just need direction, encouragement, and prompting to get there. As the leader, you have to coax people and give them the place where they can plug in effectively. If you approach asking for help from a place of expectation and positivity, you’re much more likely to get yeses!

2) Don’t turn helping you into a chore.

If you’re under the impression that the job you want someone to do for you is a pain, don’t let the person you’re asking to do it know. Positivity should be at the forefront of the entire asking process. Some leaders and managers seek to be too accommodating when asking for help and, as a result, apologize for inconveniencing, troubling, or asking their candidate to do something trivial, menial, difficult...fill-in-the-blank!

This is a dangerous approach to getting someone’s help. While you may think of it as a tactic to soften the blow, it actually sours the person’s expectations of the job at hand. You undermine the fact that they’re helping you with your apologies and your own bad feelings about asking them, thus robbing them of their joy in helping.

So don’t apologize for asking. It’s not burdensome to ask. If they can help and want to help, they’ll say yes. If they can’t and don’t, they’ll say no!

3) Be positive, specific, and respectful.

People need several components if they’re going to say yes to your request for help. One, be positive. Make whatever it is sound less like work and more like an exciting venture that they get to be a part of. You’re choosing them for a reason! Two, make it specific. Understand that people have commitments, deadlines, and needs that are beyond you and what you’re doing. If they’re going to help you, they need to know what it is and when you need to be helped, how long you need to be helped, and what exactly will be expected of them.

Lastly, people need respect. If they turn you down, accept their answer gracefully and with understanding. This leaves the door open to ask them again for something else down the line.

4) Make your target clear.

This point is important, so don’t miss it. You can word your ask beautifully, have impeccable clarity, and do everything right but if you don’t narrow down your target, you will not have anyone come to your aid. Have you heard of the bystander effect? It’s a psychological phenomenon that is not readily explained in which a group of people can witness an event, such as a mugging, and not a single person will call the police.

At the core, people will assume someone else will do it. They don’t want to get involved.

Something like that happens if you, as a leader, don’t really target individuals to ask for help. If you send out a mass e-mail looking for volunteers for a project, you’ll likely struggle to get the manpower you need. Target individuals. Ask one-on-one. It takes longer and involves more investment, but that’s how you get the response you are looking for!

What tactics do you employ when seeking help for a project? Share your strategies in the comments.