The 3 Action Principles: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything

by Dean Rieck

Today's the big staff meeting and you're running late. As you grab your briefcase and lunge toward the door, a little voice stops you cold.

"Are you bringing it home tonight?"

It's your child. "Uh, bring what home?"

"The toy you promised to bring home!"

You feign ignorance. "Toy. Toy? What toy?"

Your child smiles, face full of expectation. "The Power Space Commando Ninja Mutant Laser Brain Blaster!"

Why do kids have such good memories? "I thought that was for your birthday. Besides I'll be working late tonight, honey."

"But you promised."

Ouch! You did promise, but you're really late. Why is this coming up now?

"Well, we'll see. Okay?"

Your child's face screws up in dismay. "But you promised!"

You look at your watch. Is it that late? "I just don't have time to talk about this now! How about ..."

"But ... (sniffle) ... you proooomised! You said tonight. And I believed you!"

There's no time for this now. You make a snap decision. "Okay. Okay. I'll stop by the toy store tonight. All right?"

The little face lights up again. "Really? Allriiiight! Thank you thank you thank you."

Two minutes later as you drive away, you see your child waving frantically at you from the front window, eyes wide with glee.

Oh, well. You'll just have to stop by the toy store on the way home. The deal's done. Trouble is, you can't figure out what just happened.

Sound familiar?

Kids know something that you and I often forget. They instinctively know three simple principles to get anyone to do anything anytime they want.

1. If you want something, ask for it.

My wife used to be subtle about gifts she wanted. She would walk me by a store and comment on the leather purse in the window. Or she might leave a catalog open on the coffee table, the corner of the page turned down, pointing to a jade bracelet. Then she would be flabbergasted on the big day when she tore back the wrapping paper to reveal a bread maker or battery-powered socks.

But she has learned that a direct approach works best. Now, she writes down her wish list, complete with price, color, size, store location, and item number. I buy the items on the list, wrap them, and hand them over on the big day, all the while thinking I'm clever for getting just what she wants.

Everyone's happy.

The child in my previous example knows what he wants and asks for it. Repeatedly. There's no question. No confusion. It's clear, direct communication.

2. If you want someone to do something, give a reason why they should act.

I recently read about a study where a psychology student tried to skip ahead of a long group of people waiting to use an office copier. The first time, the student walked to the head of the line and asked, "May I please use the copy machine?" Between choice expletives, many people told the student to wait his turn.

Later, he tried again. Only this time the student said, "May I please use the copy machine because I have to make a copy?" Even though the reason given was meaningless, that one word "because" generated a "yes" nine out of 10 times!

It's a natural human instinct to want reasons to act. We make emotional decisions, but we temper those decisions — and rationalize them — with logic. We need to know the reason why. In our opening story, the child not only asks for the toy, but also gives a good reason for prompt action: "You promised."

Why use a reason? Because it gets results.

3. If you want something now, create a real and unavoidable time limit.

Sales reps know from experience that people are more inclined to give you what you want if you establish a time limit and ask for an immediate decision. People have difficulty making decisions, and given enough time, they will find enough reasons to say, "No." Limiting the decision making time — and thus bypassing the opportunity to find negatives — makes it easier to say, "Yes."

Car salesmen know this. Retailers having a store sale know this. And experienced direct mailers know this, too.

The wily child waits till the parent is walking out the door before asking for the toy. There's no time to think. Refuse, and you get a crying fit. Agree, and while you may have to make a trip to the store, you've maintained the peace.

The conclusion? If you want response — and you want it now — make like a kid asking for a toy. 1) Ask for it. 2) Give a reason. 3) Create time pressure.

Copyright © 1997 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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