How To Get People To Do What You Want Them To Do

It’s human behavior, not binary code. Get to the point.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I know you’re busy, so let’s start strong. There’s nothing you can do that will “make” someone do what you want them to do. I’m very sorry, but I see no benefit to you if I lie and say that your passive behaviors will magically result in the outcome you’re too scared to ask for. It’s 2021 babes, I’ve neither the patience nor the marbles left in my head to coddle fools.

As humans, we have a bad habit of thinking we can do something that will somehow prompt someone else to take the action that we want. We do this passive drivel shit because in our heads it seems way less scary than taking a more direct approach. We fear confrontation, and somehow (most likely following our 1970s/80s/90s upbringings), we’ve come to view asking for what we want as some kind of an imposition upon humanity. That’s called low self worth, kids! We keep our desires a secret, and try to make them occur via some terribly unassertive and often obnoxious behavior of our own.

The thought process in our heads reads thusly: “Maybe if I do X, they’ll do Y.”

But since we are human beings, and not binary code, X does not always equal Y, because the person responsible for Y has no idea what the hell you’re after. Because you never asked. Human beings are neither computers nor mind readers, and quite frankly once we evolve to full-robot I’d like to peace out. Further, when the person responsible for Y does know what X was meant to prompt them to do, they’re pretty likely to be super annoyed you didn’t just say what it was that you wanted and therefore are less likely to deliver.

To offer clarity, this misguided, hope-laced behavior can look like any of the following, though this is certainly not an exhaustive list:

None of this bullshit works. All it does is result in disappointment. But because it was so low effort you figured it was worth a shot, and you’ll figure the same thing right before you do it again. Did you really think your low effort action was going to result in precisely the thing you wanted? Does that really make sense?

Here’s how you get someone to do what you want them to do: Ask. That’s it. Just ask. If you want someone to do something, ask them to do it.

Great Scott, it’s so simple, it just might work! But we never do this, because we’re afraid they’ll say no. We’re afraid of people saying no, and afraid of rejection, much more than we’ll ever be afraid of them simply not noticing the thing that we did to get them to do the thing that we wanted them to do. We choose the safer route, even though it’s less likely to lead to the desired outcome. That’s how scared we are of being clear, honest, and direct. But what we don’t realize is that all those little disappointments add up every time we do something hoping someone else will do something back, and they are so much more negatively impactful on us than simply hearing the word “no.”

It’s important for us to hear the word “no,” not just because we don’t need to all be spoiled rotten humans, but also so that we can see that “no” doesn’t mean the end of the world. We are so afraid of “no” y’all. But what’s so scary about it? Why have we internalized “no” so much that we attach hearing it to the immediate devaluation of our self worth? It’s just no! It is 100% possible to hear it, accept it, and move on with your day, but if all we’re doing is engaging in passive behaviors that we think we’ll evoke the behavior we want in others (that won’t work BTW), we’ll never get the chance to practice hearing “no” and being okay with it. Sometimes I wonder if our fear of the word “no” makes us afraid to say it to others, too. But “no” is awesome, “no” is valid, and engaging in passive behaviors because we’re scared of asking questions and hearing no is a waste of our goddamned time on earth.

Sometimes people just don’t want to do things. That is allowed. Sometimes people aren’t interested in doing things for you specifically. That is allowed, too. Understanding this is a much faster route to self worth and autonomy than continuing to engage in passive behaviors hoping they’ll lead to the magical outcomes you’ve got in your head. Other people are never in control of what you need and want, nor are they responsible for fulfilling your needs or wants. That’s your job.

Another fun option: They might say yes! Yay for directness and clarity! If you need or want something from someone else, the fastest way to get it is actually just asking. Or you can keep doing this passive little dance of yours and see how that all works out. Up to you.

In the end, sometimes people won’t do what you want them to do, or even what you need them to do. And that needs to be okay with us. Yes and no are equally possible outcomes. Desiring one and fearing the other isn’t serving us as human beings. A bit more balance is required if we’re going to be responsible human beings an in certain situations, way less annoying.

So go forth. Stop posting selfies and just ask someone out. Stop overworking and talk honestly to your boss. Stop being the one who does everything for everyone in the hopes that one day everyone will do something for you. Acknowledge what you need, ask for what you want. Face the fear of rejection, and know that no amount of “no” can make you less worthy as a human being. Maybe all it means is they’re not the right human being for you.

If you made it this far, and you enjoyed this essay, I would like you to clap for it. Or don’t. I’m okay with either.


Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. You can read all her Medium essays here.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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