5 Ways to Gain Compliance to Your Requests

“If you don’t get everything you want, think of the things you don’t get that you don’t want.” – Oscar Wilde

People don’t like to be told what to do.  When we have requests that we would like to make of other people, the slightest hint of control or force is generally met with defensiveness and resistance.  Fortunately, there are ways to effectively communicate with others about what you would like them to do without creating resentment or hostility.

Generally speaking, people are more likely to do what you want them to do when they believe that they are part of the process. People want to feel like they are actively involved, rather than being controlled by someone else.  Enter social situations with a sense of respect for the other person’s needs and wishes, rather than entering the situation dominated by your own needs and wishes. Control is easily sniffed out by others and it typically shuts down the possibility for harmonious and effective interpersonal exchanges.

Techniques to Gain Compliance

In a recent blog post on Psychology Today, Dr. Jack Schafer discusses specific techniques designed to help people gain compliance to their requests while simultaneously maintaining good relationships with others.  Simply put, he says: “The trick is to get people to do what you want them to do because they want to, not because they have to.”

(1) The Magic Word

As simple it sounds, people generally respond more favorably to requests when they are asked nicely.  In this case, try out the magic word that most of us learned when we were young: “please.”  Begin to appropriately (i.e., not every single question you ask other people) preface your requests with this magic word.  The underlying message behind saying “please” when you make requests is that you are being considerate and respectful of the other person.  “Please” tends to soften commands that may otherwise come across as harsh or abrasive.  It also gives people the feeling that they have the option to say “no.”

(2) You’re Welcome

Most people have the natural response of “you’re welcome” when someone thanks them.  One way to make this phenomenon more powerful is to follow up “you’re welcome” with “I know you would do the same for me.”  This simple, yet powerful, statement enlists a sense of psychological reciprocity in the other person.  The idea is that when people are given something tangible (e.g., a gift) or intangible (e.g., a compliment), they feel obligated to return the favor.  In this way, reciprocity increases the likelihood of that person complying to your future requests.

Example:  In Season 6, Episode 9 of the NBC tv show “The Office,” Dwight uses this concept of psychological reciprocity very explicitly… with hilarious results.

(3) Embedded Commands

This is another way of “softening the blow” of requests or demands on others.  When you need or wish to ask something of another person, it is helpful to lessen the emotional impact of your request while maintaining directness. They key to effectively using embedded commands is to surround the direct command by softeners.


Command:  “Fund my project.”

Embedded Command:  “After reading my proposal, the only conclusion that I think you can come to is to fund my project.”

(4) Presumptive

As you construct your request, frame it with the presumption that the other person has already completed the task.  The idea behind this strategy is that it gives the illusion that a commitment has already been made to complete the task.  Many people will accept an implied commitment and feel a subsequent obligation to complete a task.  Since you may run the risk of coming across as bribing the other person, use your judgment to decide when this strategy is appropriate.

When you reward someone for their behavior, it increases the possibility of that behavior being repeated in the future.  The most effective way to reward behavior is to reward it intermittently (i.e., dispersed throughout the task), rather than only at the task’s completion.  Keep in mind that “rewards” don’t have to mean money or fanfare.  A “reward” can be as simple as thanking someone for their time or pointing out what a good job they are doing.


You:  “After we close this deal, where do you want to have dinner?”

Client:  “I know of a nice restaurant nearby.”

(5) Sense of Wonder

Make the choice to introduce a sense of wonder to your request.  People generally want to feel needed and useful.  Allow the other person to feel involved in your request by making reference to the usefulness of their skills and abilities.  If you need the help of another person, approach them from a position of wondering what they might think or do, given their knowledge and expertise.  Someone who is an expert in their field will likely have trouble declining a request to demonstrate their mastery of a topic.  Through creating this sense of wonder, the other person feels that they are offering their help/services, rather than being asked for help/advice.


You:  “I’m working on this project and am having some difficulties.  I’m wondering how you might handle it differently, given your knowledge of …?”

It is an undeniable fact of life that we often have requests that we either need or want to make of other people.  The same goes for requests that other people need or want to make of us.  Begin to try out some of these techniques designed to increase the likelihood of compliance to requests.  Recognize the importance of being direct about your needs and wishes while still respecting the other person and maintaining harmony within the relationship.  It is possible to get what you want and need without alienating others.

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Schafer, J. (2011, September 8). Get anyone to do anything [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/let-their-words-do-the-talking/201109/get-anyone-do-anything

Featured image: Follow Ewe by law_keven / CC BY-SA 2.0

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