Friday, March 18, 2011

Getting What You Want from Others

Over the past week or so, I've had a bunch of conversations with friends who were dissatisfied with fellow residents of their spheres. As we talked, it became clear to me that the dissatisfaction was not general, but instead, focused on the target of dissatisfaction being non-compliant with certain desires and requests. i.e., the other guy wasn't doing what they wanted or expected him to do.

Without fail, my first question in situations like these is: Well, what was in it for him?

And nearly without fail the answer to my question is: huh?

Then I explain that every time you ask someone to do something for you, they do it in exchange for something of value to them. It may be money. It may be a sense of satisfaction in the work. It may be belief in your cause. It may be feeling good about helping someone in need. It may be the desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. It may be wanting to get laid.

Regardless of the specifics, whether you call them "altruistic" or "selfish", everyone does what she does because she receives something in exchange. There are no exceptions.

Nonetheless, when enlisting the support of others or trying to effect a changes in priorities or just getting our kids to clean their rooms we forget this. Worse, we often ignore the interests of the motivatee and focus on those of the motivator.

Faith and Clay
My friend Faith is starting a business and wanted some help with her website. I introduced her to my friend Clay who is a software guy and has been coming up to speed on new web technologies. It was a perfect match! Faith has no money to pay Clay; Clay doesn't really need the money and could use the practice. Faith is doing work that helps people; Clay is motivated by helping people. Faith is energetic and enthusiastic; Clay typically answers the question, "How you doin?" with "I'm getting by, I guess."

As Faith and I talked on Tuesday, she said, "I'm not sure about Clay. I don't know if he's really into this. He doesn't get back to me and he hasn't really committed to helping me. Maybe I should be looking for someone else."

I asked, "Well, what have you done to recruit Clay? What's in it for him?"

Faith actually inserted a long silence before her "Huh?" and then proceeded, "What do you mean? I don't have money to pay him."

I responded, "I understand that, but you do have a lot to offer him in exchange for helping you."

We went on to list all that Faith had to offer Clay: Doing something that would significantly benefit others... Being part of a team of energetic and enthusiastic people... Honing his skills on more than practice exercises... Making new friends...

Faith had a lot to offer Clay. That brought us to the next question. What exactly did Faith expect from Clay in exchange? I asked Faith and she said, "Well, I want him to do develop the website and to supervise my interns."

I said, "I understand that conceptually, but how much time are we talking about here and for how long?"

Faith replied, "Well, that's another problem. I keep asking Clay how much time he has available for me and he never really answers!"

Step I: Be clear and concise on what it is that you expect in the exchange.

"How much you got?" is never a great opening line when trying to inspire trust and confidence. Even if someone has bought in completely to what you're doing, she will still be reluctant to commit until she knows what it will cost her. Importantly, the cost must be specified both qualitatively and quantifiably. Until then, you're operating in the world of hypothesis; you can have lots and lots of discussion that never actual results in concrete action.

So, if you've been struggling with getting people to behave in accordance with your plans, perhaps it's time invest in your recruiting skills.
  1. Recognize that recruiting others to participate in your plans always involves an exchange of some kind or other.
  2. Understand what you're asking for both qualitatively and quantifiably (e.g., over the net six weeks, I'd like you to spend three hours per week raking leaves in my backyard.)
  3. Understand what the other person finds motivating and rewarding
  4. See what you have to offer that matches those motivations
  5. Make an offer

If you pay close attention to the transaction, you'll find that you dramatically improve your success rate in getting others to do what you want them to do.

Happy Friday!

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