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Getting people to want to help you

You don’t need to be a genius to recognise that the world has become a more interdependent world. Whether it be in our personal or professional lives, we all need the co-operation and collaboration of others. However, while we might need such co-operation it is sometimes difficult to acquire. So, here are some thoughts about what you might do in order to get other folks to be willing to help you.

Interdependence & Collaboration

Getting people to want to help you

Search for a common interest and mutual gain

This is actually a great strategy in any ‘negotiation’ situation. It is one of the key elements of principled based negotiation. It means that you start out by exploring the common interests that you have rather than focus your discussion on where you are apart.

I normally leave politics out of my work, but from what I understand when the EU and the UK negotiating teams sat down over four years ago they started the Brexit discussions by telling the other side what they were not prepared to give way on. Maybe that’s why the discussions took so long and were so acrimonious?

Identifying mutual gain is also a great way for you to get someone’s co-operation; because there is something in it for them as well as you. Some folks call that win-win. I’m always a bit careful when using that phrase because in my experience it’s become a much-abused one, but it’s one that works when used appropriately.

Ask for help

Asking for help is something that seems to be hard for some people to do. I must confess that I have struggled with doing this over the years. Maybe it’s a male thing. Maybe it’s a British thing. I don’t know for sure, but asking for help can be seen as a sign of ‘positive vulnerability’ and one that can help convey authenticity, which in turn can help develop trust in a relationship.

The power of words

You don’t need me to tell you that your words have power; for good or ill. If you have never heard of the principle of inclusive language, let me introduce it to you now. It is usually used in reference to language that is appropriate for individuals and groups based on gender, race, orientation etc. As Hannah Fleishman of Hubspot commented:

Language has a big impact on our sense of belonging in the workplace. The challenge is, language is nuanced. The changes we should consider making to how we talk and write are often subtle.


While I agree with Hannah, in the context of this blog I am using the idea of inclusive language in a very specific way. You can enhance your influence by using certain phrases that draw people to you, including:

  • I wonder – for example, “I wonder if I might ask you for your help in getting the invoicing problem sorted out as it will be in both our interests?” or “I wonder if you had any ideas on how I can tackle the invoicing problem as I know it affects you as much as me?”
  • Because – now, this is a powerful piece of language. In 1978 Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer and her colleagues wanted to see whether people would let someone skip ahead of them in line at a busy library copy machine. They asked people three request variations. Take a look at the success — or conversion — rate for each question:
    • Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine? — 60%
    • Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies? — 93%
    • Excuse me. I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush? — 94%

It makes sense that not providing a reason performed the worst — simply asking without a ‘because’ makes you look a bit presumptuous.

  • We, let’s, us – these are really inclusive words that appeal to people sense of inclusion. Great leaders often appeal to the collective as a way of gaining the commitment of their teams

The power of reciprocity

The power of reciprocity is one of the 6 weapons of influence identified by Robert Cialdini. Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behaviour, gift, or service that they have received first. There is something about we humans that we are programmed to give back to people who give something to us. In this context, Cialdini referred to the followers of Hari Krishna, who utilised this principle by offering flowers to people at airports and then requesting a donation, which many people then made because of the need to reciprocate.

The smile!

I don’t have much to say about this one, except to say please do make your smile warm and sincere rather than that of a Texas Chain Saw murderer. Seriously, the smile is one of the key ways that we will be perceived as being approachable.

Be authentic and trustworthy

Again, there’s not much I can add to this point except to say that people are more likely to co-operate and collaborate with you if they perceive you to be sincere, authentic and trustworthy.

So, the next time you need to have someone being prepared to work with you, consider using one or more of these techniques as a means of influencing them with positive impact.

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