How To Make People Do What You Want Them To

Getting people to agree with you and do what you want them to is a key skill; the art of persuasion can be a beautiful thing, whether you’re the boss or trying to get a boss on your side. RISING spoke to Luke Cunliffe – executive coach, writer, adventurer and motivational speaker – to find out how we can influence those around us.

1. Respect Oils The Wheels Of Persuasion

Let’s start with the basics. It sounds obvious, but if the conversation you need to have is of a sensitive nature, ensure you won’t be disturbed. Plan in enough time for the meeting and check that the other person has enough time. Let them know how long it will take. And think about context – don’t deal with people when they don’t have the time or opportunity to digest what you’re saying and respond.

‘I worked with a company where one guy screwed up, and the two bosses told him on Friday night before he went on holiday for two weeks that they’d talk when he got back,’ says Cunliffe. ‘His two weeks were ruined, but when he got back the bosses said, “We can fix this.” When he told them, “I thought you were going to fire me,” they realised what they’d done. They never intended to ruin his holiday. This is about respect, and you’ll lose respect by acting like this. You have to bring your best values to the conversation if you’re going to persuade people.’

‘Be confident in your tone, make eye contact and keep your message clear and easy to follow’

2. Relocate The Conversation To Persuade

Got a delicate conversation to complete? You may well be better off escaping from the work environment for it. ‘I was coaching the junior partners at a law firm in London. When I finally met one of the senior partners he said, “You’re the reason my lunch bill is so high” – because my advice to all of the junior partners was to take people out for lunch,’ says Cunliffe.

Interesting advice; what was the reason for it? ‘They were prone to having loud conversations in the office, often disagreeing in front of associates, and it made a bad impression. You have to have a level of respect and an air of civility when you’re breaking bread. The partner did then say, “It works a treat. I’ve got people talking to each other when they never used to.”

This becomes very useful if an upcoming meeting with a potential flashpoint is looming. If you think someone’s going to disagree with you, buy them a meal first. ‘Be honest,’ Cunliffe says. ‘You can say, “Look, you might not agree with what I’m going to say but how can we come to an agreement?” You can make your counter-argument privately. Otherwise the meeting becomes about grandstanding and saving face.’

3. Avoid Setting Off BS Detectors With Preparation

Persuasion requires work, including homework. Plan what you’re going to say and write it down as bullet points to give it structure. Back up your arguments with reason and specific examples. Then all you need to do is deliver, and that’s about communication skills.

‘Be clear, brief and articulate,’ says Cunliffe. ‘Don’t deliver multiple messages – give one and give it succinctly. Be confident in your tone, make eye contact and keep your message clear and easy to follow. And don’t prevaricate!’

‘Many bosses make the mistake of believing, “Look, I’m the boss, so it’s your job to listen to me”’

4. Learn To Drive On A Two-Way Street

Persuasion has to be a reciprocal process. Or, if you’re being devious, you have to make it at least appear to be a reciprocal process. ‘If you listen to me I’m more likely to listen to you,’ says Cunliffe. ‘Many bosses make the mistake of believing, “Look, I’m the boss, so it’s your job to listen to me.” But if you pay lip service to what I’m saying I’m not interested in your point of view. A dialogue will create a process of collaboration’

‘I worked on a project for a major retailer, delivering a programme of change to 20,000 staff. There was one awkward bugger who was very antagonistic, but we gave him an opportunity to air his views. He said, “I’d normally be against this but this is the first time I’ve been asked for any prior input. It may not work, but I’m going to suspend my disbelief and give it a chance.”’

5. Get Them To Think It Was Their Idea

This is a key skill in the art of persuasion. You need to keep your goal in mind at all times, but weave an atmosphere of collaboration. ‘It’s OK to tell people that they know their own jobs better than you do,’ says Cunliffe. ‘If you’re the boss it’s also OK to say, “If you make me look good, I’ll make sure you get a promotion.” But then deliver that promotion when it’s due and you’ll establish a strong reputation. Enthusiasm is key here. You want people to buy into what you’re trying to achieve so you have to project that to the person you want on-side, even if you can’t stand them.’

Likewise, if you’re the employee you need to deliver on your promises and establish a reputation for achievement. Whatever your role, persuasion will become a whole lot easier once you’ve done that.

WHAT NEXT? Persuasion requires practise until it becomes a habit. ‘To succeed at the highest level you need to become outstanding at influence and persuasion. Being competent just once or twice isn’t enough,’ says Cunliffe. Apply the concept of That Sounds Reasonable (TSR) to your plans and negotiations. Consider how your message fits in with this. Would your plan sound reasonable to you? Will it sound reasonable to your audience? If so, you can start honing the communication skills you need to get your message across. If your message isn’t reasonable, you’re wasting your time…

Luke Cunliffe is an international executive coach and trainer. If you’re interested in finding out more, email him at