Dear Lifehacker, I've read about how to plant ideas in someone's head, but the whole idea of manipulation makes me uneasy. Still, I'm not great at making a case for what I want, even though I know it's a skill that would be incredibly useful. Can you offer any suggestions to help me better convince others to do what I want?Sincerely, Unconvincing
TV shows and movies focus on characters who are impeccable at reading others, so it's not unusual to wonder if these sorts of tricks are based on reality. To some extent they are, as you can learn a lot from body language and sometimes get what you want through manipulation, but popular psychology works more effectively in the vacuum of fiction. In the real world, you can't always get what you want, but you can make more convincing arguments.
People are going to do what they want to do, and it's not a simple matter of saying a few magic words to convince them that your needs should be their priority. It's extremely important to remember this, as it's not only unethical to manipulate someone into doing what you want, but it's often going to be a waste of your time.
All of that said, we often fail to get what we want because we succumb to common pitfalls of communication. If you want to convince someone to do something for you or change their mind on an issue that's important to you, presenting it in the right way can make a big difference. There's never a guarantee, and there's no magic method, but there are a few things you can do to better your chances.
Structure Your Request in the Optimal Order
When we want something, we have a tendency to butter up the person who can give it to us. As creative thinker Simon Sinek points out, this just makes everything you say seem disingenuous. Consider this: you send someone the following message:
Hi [INSERT NAME HERE],
Haven't seen you in years. I hope you're doing well. Congratulations on all you've been doing. It's really amazing! We should grab coffee sometime. If you could do me a favour, I'm in an online contest where I can win a big prize and I was wondering if you'd vote for me. Hope you're well, talk to you soon.
All the pleasantries fall short because they're preempting a request, so it sounds like you're saying all of that stuff because you want something and not because you mean it. Here's the same letter in the opposite order:
Hi [INSERT NAME HERE],
I'm hoping you could vote for me in an online contest where I can win a big prize for my work. I haven't seen you in years. I hope you're doing well. Congratulations on all you've been doing. It's really amazing! We should grab coffee sometime.
Suddenly the pleasantries feel more genuine because you asked for what you wanted, then got to the buttery stuff. It feels real because it isn't coloured by something else you want. If you're trying to convince someone to do something for you, just ask. Get to the other stuff afterwards and everything you say will be more effective.
Require as Little Decision Making as Possible
People — all of us — are bad at making decisions. Choosing is generally a pretty stressful thing, and that stress hardly stems from the choice we make, but rather the act of making that choice. The longer we deliberate and the harder we think, the more we deplete our willpower. And because willpower is a finite resource, we get stressed more and more easily as it's depleted. This is a problem for everyone, and not a problem you want to exacerbate when making a request. If you need help from somebody, don't ask them to make a complex decision. You want to make that decision as simple as possible.
Let's say, for example, you want a friend to help you move to a new home. Simply making the request is the best option. Tell them when the move is, how much help you're going to need and leave it at that. You want to avoid things like suggesting different moving dates and picking the one that best suits their schedule. That gives them a more difficult decision to make, they'll think about their choice a little more, and it'll stress them out just a little bit more.
While additional decision making isn't always going to earn you a "no", it doesn't help. Pile on too many choices — even if they're well-intentioned and meant to help the person you're asking — and you'll hurt your chances of getting the result you want.
Ask for What You Want Right After Lunch
According to a 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PDF), our glucose levels play a large role in the kinds of decisions we make. As a result, making a request of someone while they're hungry isn't a great idea as you increase their likelihood of saying no. David McRaney, author of the human psychology blog (and book) You Are Not So Smart, explains:
They found that right after breakfast and lunch, your chances of getting paroled were at their highest. On average, the judges granted parole to around 60 per cent of prisoners right after the judge had eaten a meal. The rate of approval crept down after that. Right before a meal, the judges granted parole to about 20 per cent of those appearing before them. The less glucose in judges' bodies, the less willing they were to make the active choice of setting a person free and accepting the consequences and the more likely they were to go with the passive choice to put the fate of the prisoner off until a future date.
It's kind of frightening what a difference food can make. If you want something from someone, ask after lunch. They'll be more awake than they will be after dinner, and they won't be deprived of the glucose that will help them come a little closer to that "yes" you're looking for.
Don't Talk So Much
Less can be more in many situations, and it's especially true when you want something. You may feel like you need to explain your position again and again, but the more you talk, the likelier you are to supply information that doesn't matter. The problem is the information that needs to be heard might not be the first thing out of your mouth. By the time you get to the point, you may have lost your listener. Forbes offers up some simple advice:
When you say something complex, and people aren't getting it, it's not going to help, generally, to say additional complex stuff. Before you start talking, take a minute to think about how to communicate the essence of your message in a simple way.
Figure out what you want, then figure out how to ask for it in a few sentences. Most requests are simple, but we have a tendency to encumber them with additional talk that isn't necessary. The point of this tip is another argument for what most of the tips in this post are saying: keep it short and to the point.
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