How to get people to do what you want

Back in March of last year, David Maister was interviewed by Wayne Turmel and he said some amazing things. I’ve been meaning to talk about this for some time, but the work of transcribing from audio has tempted me to put it off. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing.

David Maister is a business consultant, but what he says here is extraordinarily appropriate for most of us technical people, too. He describes starting out with the same vision of success that I had, and how completely wrong it was.

What I found out was, the tragedy which is they kept on promoting me throughout my academic career if I knew how to pass the exams at the end of every semester, in spite of the fact that the people around me didn’t necessarily like me. In other words, the fact that I was not exactly socially skilled did not matter for my progress. Then, of course, in my middle thirties, I leave the university setting and make this terrible discovery that the world is actually filled with people and that if you want to get anything done, then you have to work through people or you have to get people to respond to you in some way or another.

For me it was the most terrifying self-discovery because truly I was not very good at this. With all those qualifications, I really thought I was going to earn my living by being right. You know, I’d come to people and say, “I’ve got a better answer than you. Let me help you.” My motives were reasonably pure. “Let me help you by telling you the answer.” What I discovered is, the vast majority of people did not take kindly to that. It’s kind of like I subsequently–the light bulb went on–I subsequently discovered that it’s really the same in our personal lives. If you’re married and you think your spouse is doing something you don’t like, the right method of making it happen is not to come to your spouse and say “Let me tell you what you’re doing wrong. Let me tell you what I want to have happen.” You may be factually correct, but that’s not the best way to get things out of people.

Wow! For those of us who have spent a tremendous amount of effort learning to create the right software, this is a tremendous blow. But it’s absolutely true. Except for those who closet themselves off and write programs no bigger than feasible for a single person, it’s of utmost importance that we learn to work with other people.

If you want to get from other people what you want, you have first got to convince them that you really care about them. You’ve got to build relationships. And the next lesson, unless you’re really smooth, which is like one in a million of us, unless you’re really smooth, the only way you get somebody to believe that you care, is to actually care. Most of us are just not good enough to make people think we care when we’re just faking it.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? If you care about getting your way, you’ve got to learn to care about other people.

2 Replies to “How to get people to do what you want”

  1. George, thank you for mentioning my interview with David Maister. He’s been influential in my management career as well. On The Cranky Middle Manager Show we have spoken to over a hundred of the smartest people in the Management field including David Allen, Marshall Goldsmith, David Maister (of course) and many others. Come check us out at

    By the way, my last name is Turmel, but my inlaws continue to misspell it after 16 years so I don’t take it personally any more. Keep up the good work and don’t let the weasels get you down.

    Wayne Turmel
    The Cranky Middle Manager Podcast

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