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

Human beings aren’t robots or mind readers

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 because in our heads, it seems way less scary than taking a more direct approach. Most likely following our ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s upbringings, we fear confrontation and view asking for what we want as some kind of an imposition upon humanity. We keep our desires a secret, and try to make them occur via some terribly unassertive and often obnoxious behavior of our own. That’s called low self- worth, kids!

The thought-process in our heads goes like this: “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:

  1. Posting a photo of yourself and hoping it will make someone you’re interested in get in touch with you.
  2. Doing something nice for someone because you want them to do nice things back. (I had a friend who used to give me little presents and then make me feel guilty when she didn’t receive any in return. We’re not friends anymore.)
  3. Overworking at your job in hope that the higher-ups will notice how much you’ve “gone above and beyond” and give you a promotion and raise.
  4. Saying aloud, and within earshot, “Wow, that movie looks great, I’d sure like to go see it!” Then go see it, Susan, what do you need me for?
  5. Tweeting/TikToking/Instagramming when you’re lonely or bored and need attention.
  6. “Dropping hints” of any kind, to anyone.

None of this bullshit works. All it does is result in disappointment.

Here’s how you get really 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. And yet we never do this. We’re much more afraid of rejection than of the person 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.

What we don’t realize is that all those little disappointments add up, 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. What’s so scary about “no,” anyway? Why have we internalized it so much that hearing the word causes an 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.

Sometimes I wonder if our fear of the word 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 you. “Yes” and “no” are equally possible outcomes. Desiring one and fearing the other isn’t serving us. A bit more balance is required if we’re going to be responsible human beings and in certain situations, way less immature.

So go forth. Stop posting selfies and just ask someone out. Stop overworking and talk honestly to your boss about your value. 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.

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store