Most persuasion advice is riddled with all of the things you ‘should’ do to get people to do what you want. It ranges from the ‘you catch more bees with honey’ philosophy of being nice and diplomatic, to a more forceful approach of making people do what you want now… ‘or else’.
You’ve probably found that being ‘too nice’ makes people take you less seriously, or that what you’re asking doesn’t matter. On the other side of the coin, being a dictator plants seeds for resentment and rebellion–a lethal combination if you want people to cooperate willingly.
While many persuasion principles hold true–like having a deadline or using authority to inspire action–there’s one 6-word phrase that seems to have been forgotten: Why haven’t you done this yet?
If all we’re doing is coaxing and cajoling people by making the prize of obeying sweeter and sweeter, we actually miss out on a precious learning opportunity. Asking the question “Why haven’t you done this yet?” gives you deep insight into what is holding people back from doing what you want, and the intelligence to create a course of action from there.
What exactly will that phrase (or a variant of it) reveal to you, and how can you use it effectively? Here are three case-studies that show how you can apply this phrase.
1. How Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism, helps his clients be more productive.
Greg’s book, Essentialism, discusses the idea of pursuing what really matters in life, and ruthlessly eliminating what doesn’t. In his work with corporate clients and executives, he recounts stories of how productivity suffers when people don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish, or why. The question that he asks is “What’s preventing you from completing this?” and he uses that to find out exactly what’s in the way and systematically remove the obstacles that prevent people from getting tasks done. This means employees are not only happier, but they’re accomplishing more than they ever could before.
This story illustrates that the way to move people in the direction of a goal is not won through means of manipulation or threatening to keep them past midnight. This 6-word question helps you see exactly why your other tactics might not have been working, saving you both time and energy from trying the next persuasion technique and simply finding out what matters to who you’re talking to.
2. How Million Dollar Consulting author, Alan Weiss, regularly closes 6-figure+ proposals.
The ‘Million Dollar Consultant’, Alan Weiss, generously shares his knowledge of how to get started and succeeding in consulting in many of his books, one of which tells of the exact questions he asks clients before he ever draws up a proposal.
And what’s the ‘million dollar’ question?
“What would prevent us from getting started on this work tomorrow?”
It’s an 11-word question that reveals the same answer as our 6-word question does. He’s trying to find out what might prevent his potential client from signing with him, perhaps an objection or fear they hadn’t yet discussed.
What’s potent about this is the consequences of not asking this question. If you don’t have the full picture, it’s easy for you to make assumptions — to assume that the client is ‘dumb’ for not wanting to work with you (when the reality is maybe they have a personal problem that would prevent them from signing the contract) — and it means that you don’t truly understand who you’re talking to. Why someone “should” do something is not enough, because it doesn’t address the mental barriers that they have about your product or service. We may think there must be something wrong with them, but the reality is there often are deeper reasons why it’s not working that range from the psychological, to their environment, to available resources.
3. How I avoid 99% of petty arguments with my partner.
The best part about this 6-word question is that it not only applies to productivity and business, but to your personal relationships.
We’ve all heard about partners who nag on each other for not taking out the trash or making the bed, but that nagging assumes that your partner doesn’t want to do it because of either a character trait (like laziness) or because of you. It’s when you take it personally, that not emptying the dishwasher turns into a heated battle.
After being a relationship for 10 years like I have, you learn which of those battles to fight and which ones to drop because they’re just not worth it. And the last thing I want to do is argue about taking out the trash. So instead of nagging on your partner for why he or she hasn’t done what you’ve asked, despite you ‘being nice’, you want to understand what is preventing him or her from doing in the first place! Maybe in your partner’s mind, the task is less important than the joy of planning a date with you. Or maybe he or she is waiting to take out the trash until the day before the garbage guy comes. Your responsibility is to put your assumptions and side and find out what’s at the heart of the matter.
What to Do Today
If you’ve been spinning your wheels with trying to figure out how to get that one person to do that ‘thing’ for you, now’s the time to practice using this question and reap the rewards.
One word of caution: This question is not meant to be asked in an angry tone like “Well, why haven’t you done it yet?” as you tap your foot with the impatience of someone who never gets their way. The question is meant to be asked in a softer tone, frustrations aside, and out of curiosity — because you actually don’t know the answer. It’ll not only make you more persuasive with half the effort, but it will improve your ability to empathize and communicate with anyone and get what you want the easy way.
Featured photo credit: Woman Standing On Red Rocks Celebrating Success via stokpic.com