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Many years ago when I was earning my MBA at Wharton, students raved about a course Dr. Charles Dwyer taught in the education department. (The course might as well have been taught on Mars, but Dr. Dwyer was good enough to attract vast hordes of MBA students.) The highlight of the course, to many, was Dr. Dwyer’s five-step system for getting anyone to do anything you want.
I took the course and for many years carried a wallet card I made that summarized the five steps. In my youthful exuberance, I mistakenly thought that the toughest part of the system was getting other people to react correctly to the system. Time has corrected my misperception; the biggest challenge is for you, the practitioner of this system, to follow it without cutting corners.
The principles are simple, but following them are not. You have to commit your actions, words, mannerisms and thoughts to this system. You can’t just tell people what you want them to do; you have to precisely follow every step of this system and pay attention to even the tiniest clues you give others. You also have to genuinely believe that what you are asking others is best for them, as well as for you.
“The behavioral fragments of you are all you have to influence anybody else on the face of the Earth,” says Dr. Dwyer. “Not your good intentions, not your wisdom, not your knowledge, not your skill, not your authority, not your position. Your fragments of behavior, as interpreted by them.”
Before I explain a bit more, here is Dr. Dwyer’s system as he taught it to us:
1. Can they do it?
Make sure the other person has the ability to do what you want. You can’t teach an uncoordinated person to be the world’s top tennis player. Before you waste time trying to get someone to do something, make certain they have the potential to do what you want. If they lack the necessary prerequisites, forget it.
2. What's in it for them?
Whenever possible, offer a reward.
“If you can finish this job by the end of next week,” you might tell your management team, “I’ll let you all take Monday and Tuesday off.” Be careful to offer rewards that mean something to the people you wish to motivate; you might love free tickets to basketball games, but some of your subordinates may care less about such a silly game.
3. Guarantee the reward.
A $300 million lottery prize isn’t worth much to a person who correctly perceives that she has a .00000001% chance of winning it. To motivate a perceptive person, you not only have to offer an incentive, but also demonstrate that they will absolutely get the reward if they do what you ask. So if you are trying to close a sale of enterprise software to the vice president of a large company, you might say, “If our software doesn’t reduce your costs by at least 20% over the next six months, we’ll refund your costs in full.”
4. Reduce their costs.
Change has its costs to others, such as longer hours, harder work or more inconvenience. By reducing the perception – or better yet, the reality – of these costs, you make it easier for others to do what you want. If you are asking people to work late, offer to pay for their babysitters or bring in top-quality food for both them and their families. If a last-minute project forces someone to cancel their vacation, reimburse them for any cancellation fees.
5. Reduce their risks.
Even if you satisfy the first four steps, many people will still resist your request because they perceive what you are asking to be too risky for them. Risk means different things to different people. Some may fear failure. Others may fear being associated with a project that is likely to fail or lessen their reputation. To reduce another person’s perceptions, you first have to understand how they are viewing the risks associated with what you are asking. This means being able to not only listen carefully but also to interpret subtle clues revealed in their behavior and actions.
The right way to use these five principles is as a bit of checklist; next time you want other people to do what you want, check to be certain that you satisfy each of these five principles. Skip or rush a step, and you are likely to fail. To succeed, you must commit 100% to helping others do as you suggest.
To reduce someone’s risk, for example, actually reduce it rather than merely persuading them that the challenge “isn’t that risky.”
One last critical point…Dr. Dwyer believes that the most effective way to get someone to do something is to ask for their help. It works far better than telling someone what to do.
Bruce Kasanoff (@BruceKasanoff ) is the author of How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.