You Want Me to do What?!?

By being good at influencing people you are able to get what you want or need while increasing trust and decreasing defensiveness.

You've probably heard or even said these words at some point in your career. It's usually a sign that indicates a battle will soon begin. But what if you could find a way to diffuse or even prevent these types of situations before they occur? You can - if you know how to influence.

Some estimates suggest that in our lifetime we will influence 10,000 people! This number may sound like an exaggeration, but if you think about your daily conversations, you will see how quickly influencing situations add up. For example, it may be as simple as getting to pick the movie you will see at the cinema or it could be more complex, like getting an employee to do something he has seemed unwilling to do in the past.

If you're good at influencing, you are able to get what you want or need while increasing trust and decreasing defensiveness. You can also confront someone-about their work performance, behavior, or other important issue-without conflict. Here are some tips to get you started:

The Bank of Trust
Have you ever had someone who you didn't trust ask you to do something? What was your reaction? Did you do what they asked? Most likely, you dismissed their request. After all, why would you do something for someone whose motives you were questioning?

Whenever you think of trust, think of a bank account. Every time you do something to build trust, you make a deposit. The more deposits you make, the more trust you build. Every now and again you may have a slight breach of trust, perhaps due to a misunderstanding. We'll call this a withdrawal.

Each time we interact with someone, we are making either a deposit or a withdrawal. The more deposits we've made, the easier it will be for us to get what we want or need. Building your account takes time. However, these accounts will always pay dividends if you keep banking on this model.

Take Ownership
What's your reaction when you hear the words, "[Someone up the totem pole] wants you to do this?" If you are like most people, your first reaction is, "Who the heck is [this person] and why are they telling me what to do?" As a leader, you may have received the initiative from [higher up], but it is really you, the boss, who wants something done. You are the one that has the relationship with the employee. If you have made enough deposits in your trust account, then you should be well positioned to make the request.

Many people resist using the "I" message because they believe that requests will carry more weight if they come from someone else. This approach fosters a culture of compliance, rather than one of commitment. Instead, own the request. Begin your statement with "I." For example, "I would like you to…" After all, you are really the one that is making the request.

How many times have you been asked to do something and you are left wondering why? Imagine how much time would have been saved if the person making the request had included a brief statement as to why they were making this request. Consider these two statements: "John, I would like you to provide me with the finalized bid packet by Wednesday at noon." If you are John, you are probably wondering why the rush. You also may be thinking about the five other requests on your desk.

Now imagine how John might react if the request was made in the following way. "John, I would like you to provide me with the completed bid packet by Wednesday at noon. The deadlines for submissions are the end of the week. This deadline will provide us with enough time to make any necessary adjustments to the submission." John now has all the information he needs to deliver the request. If he requires input regarding prioritizing his current workload, he will then be in a position to ask.

Specificity Rules
We often don't get what we ask for because we have not been specific enough in our requests. For example, managers expect their employees to meet certain milestones, although most don't specifically tell their employees exactly what this means. Nor do they provide them with specific examples regarding the desired outcomes they would like to see.

Here are some specificity rules to ensure everyone is on the same page.
1. Before making a request, think about exactly what you want and be sure you are being specific in your request.
2. Don't assume that the other person knows exactly what you want. Be prepared to offer examples, if necessary.
3. Create a clear picture of the desired behavior you are seeking, rather than the undesirable.

Putting it All Together
Once you've established trust, you can frame your request in a way that will influence others to do what you've asked for. Here's an example of an effective behavior request that we would use if we were trying to influence John:

"I need you to have project status report on my desk by this Wednesday, at noon. By that I mean, the usual monthly report run as of April 30, 2009, along with change orders and analysis of expected budget for remainder of project. As a result, you will establish yourself as project manager and I will be able to concentrate on getting the additional resources you need to support this project and acquire future jobs."

You can see how trust, along with the proper use of language, provides answers to the subconscious questions that often prevent us from getting what we need. 

  • Who really wants this?
  • Why do you want this?  
  • What exactly do you mean?
  • What's in it for me?

The ability to influence is one of the most powerful skills you can master. The language you use can inspire people into action, which is exactly what you need to build a team and/or organization that is willing to go the distance for you.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions ( and has been helping companies align their people assets with their business goals. She is considered an expert in generational workforce issues. Roberta publishes a monthly newsletter "HR Matters" which is jammed with resources, articles and tips to help companies navigate through sticky and complicated HR workforce issues. Click here to read her new blog on Generation Integration. She can be reached at 413-582-1840 or [email protected].