How To Get People To Do Stuff: #1 — Use Nouns Instead Of Verbs

"I am a voter"This blog post is the first of a new series called “How To Get People To Do Stuff”. It features nuggets from the book I am writing by the same name due out in March of 2013.

I’m also starting a new format of doing video blogs. So first is the video, and then below it is the text that I talk about in the video.

Let me know what you think about the new topic series and whether you like the video format!

Here’s the research:

Walton, Gregory and Banaji, Mahzarin, Being what you say: the effect of essentialist linguistic labels on preferences, Social Cognition, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2004, pp. 193-213.

In a survey about voting, Gregory Walton at Stanford sometimes asked  “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” versus  “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?”

The first sentence was phrased so that the emphasis was on the noun, “voter”. The second sentence emphasized “to vote”. Did the wording make a difference?

11% more voted — When the the noun (be a voter) was used instead of the verb (to vote), 11% more people actually voted the following day.  Why would nouns affect behavior more than verbs?

Needing to belong — I had always learned that using direct verbs resulted in more action. But if using a noun invokes group identity, that will trump a direct verb. People have a strong need to feel that they belong. People identify themselves in terms of the groups they belong to and this sense of group can deeply affect their behavior. You can stimulate group identity just by the way you have people talk about themselves or the way you phrase a question. For example, research shows that if people say “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot” it will affect how strong their preference is for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb.

When you are trying to get people to do stuff try using nouns rather than verbs. Invoke a sense of belonging to a group and it is much more likely that people will comply with your request.

What do you think? Have you tried nouns instead of verbs?

7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendation: #7

Picture of an open window and a blue sky beyondThis is the 7th post in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations.

Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations

Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”

Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report

Tip #4 was Use The Word “Because” And Give A Reason

Tip #5 was  Add research or statistics to bolster your recommendations

Tip #6 was Point out the consequences of the Status Quo

Now for the last Tip #7. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #7 — Tie your recommendations to the viewpoint of others. We all view the world from our own particular vantage point, or window. And we sometimes forget that other people are looking at the world from their own window. I know it sounds obvious to say that what you think is important might not be important to other people, but I think we often forget the differences among viewpoint.If you want people to act, then you are going to have to phrase your recommendations and requests in a way that resonates with their larger motivations and goals.

For example, let’s say that one of your recommendations you are making to the team is: “The visitors to the site don’t understand the information architecture  we are using in the navigation bar. We should change the categories of information and the labels so that it matches the visitors’ mental model.” You’ve interviewed and conducted usability studies with visitors to the site, and you know this is true. It seems obvious to you that the information architecture and navigation bar should be changed. But what is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to your team. You are thinking about the meetings you’ve had with the visitors, and you can see a better navigation bar and information architecture in your mind. Other people on the team see deadlines being missed, or a navigation bar that they designed and they think makes perfect sense.

Breakthrough the impasse by seeing out their window — In order to phrase your recommendation in a way that will be acted upon, you’ve got to see out their window and rephrase your recommendation and request. Perhaps the team leader is concerned about what his boss will think if he has to tell her that they are delaying the launch of the new website. In that case you might want to rephrase your recommendation to:  “We want to nail the information architecture before we release the new website. If we aren’t sure the architecture matches the visitors’ mental model, then we’ll have to change the navigation bar later, and that will take a lot of resources. I’ve done some user research and if we make some changes now, we’ll save xx hours of re-programming time later.”

Knowing others’ point of view isn’t easy:

a) you may not know their motivations and goals

b) you may think you know their motivations and goals, but you are likely to be incorrect

c) there are multiple people, and they may have different motivations and goals

d) the people involved may not even know their own motivations and goals

So how can you make sure you are tying your recommendations and requests in with their goals and motivations?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Take your time. Don’t rush into presenting your recommendations. Take some time to talk to team members so you get a feel of what is driving them.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Validate your assumptions about the team members goals and motivations.
  • Pick one influential person on the team and talk to them so you at least know what is important to that person.
  • Imagine you are that person and look through that window. Then reframe and rephrase your recommendations to speak to that point of view.

This concludes the 7 part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Let me know which ones you try and how it works out.


7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendation: #6

Newton's First Law Of Motion
Newton's First Law of Motion

This is the 6th post in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations.

Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations

Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”

Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report

Tip #4 was Use The Word “Because” And Give A Reason

Tip #5 was  Add research or statistics to bolster your recommendations

Now for Tip #6. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #6: Point out the consequences of the Status Quo — When you are asking people to listen to and follow your recommendations you are essentially asking them to change their course. They were perhaps standing still, or even if they were moving, they were rolling along on one track. Now you are asking them to get going on a different track. Change is not easy.

Inertia is powerful — As Newton’s first law of motion says, it can be hard to get people moving once they’ve stopped.

Movement in a particular direction is powerful too — Physics also teaches us that once a body is in motion in one direction it will keep going that way unless something hits it and gets it going in another direction. In order to get people to move in a diferent direction, or move at all, you have to jolt them out of their curent state. There are a few options about how you do this:

Show them the consequences of staying still. If they don’t do anything differently, what is the result? You’d think people would have thought this through, but often they haven’t. For example, let’s say that a product is hard to learn and so there are many calls to the help desk after it is released. You’ve pointed this out, but people are still not willing to make the changes you are recommending. You’ve already shown them how you can make the product easier to use. Instead,  focus on what happens if they keep the product the way it is. Calculate how many calls to the help desk that really means in a month. Calculate the % turn over each month, or the new people coming on board. Show that there will be an xx% increase in calls over a 1 year period. Make it concrete.

Make use of a catastrophe. It’s unfortunate, but true, that sometimes it takes a catastrophe to get people to change course. If a catastrophe happens, make use of it. That is the time to speak up. One of my clients had been trying to get an online form improved, but no one was willing to spend the time and money to fix it. She worked at a large insurance company that owned commercial property. The form was for appraisers. They would go online and fill out an appraisal form. That appraisal form would be used to compute the selling price of a large commercial building. Because the form was hard to use, the appraisers sometimes entered incorrect information that led to a property being appraised at an incorrect value. Someone would later review the appraisals, realize that there was an error, and the mistake would be corrected. But one day an appraiser filled out the form incorrectly and the building sold the next day before anyone noticed or fixed the error. The company lost several million dollars overnight. It was a catastrophe, and my client seized the opportunity. She said, “NOW we are going to fix this form!” Inertia was gone.

What do you think? Have you been using any of these techniques to overcome inertia or change course?


7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #3

person holding a huge stack of reportsThis is the 3nd in a series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations. And Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”. Now for Tip #3. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #3: Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report. If you hand someone a printed report with your data and recommendations, or, send them an email with a document attached, it is very likely that your recommendations will not get implemented. A very well written report, being read by someone who wanted to make changes in the first place, MIGHT compel someone to action, but it is highly unlikely. Most of the time you are:

  • asking people to change their opinion and beliefs
  • asking people to take action
  • asking more than one person to change and act

This is a tall order for a word document or powerpoint “report” to accomplish just by sending a document and having people read it. Instead you want to present the recommendations. The most engaging and persuasive way to present your recommendation is in person. If you can’t do it in person then at least be on the phone. The critical elements are:

  • The team needs to be able to hear your voice, and preferably see your face. This is best in “real time” (i.e., not a video or audio recording).
  • You need to be able to see their reactions including facial expressions and body language so you can “read” the situation and know what to do next.
  • If you are in “real time” then you can clear up any misunderstandings. It’s very easy for people to misunderstand a recommendation they are reading in a report.
  • If you are in “real time” then you can discuss a particular recommendation, explain, show an example, and even negotiate.

How many times have you received a report, flipped through the first few pages, and then put it aside? If you want to be sure that people are really listening and considering your recommendations you have to present them.

Many of the recommendations you give will also need a report so that the recommendations are documented. But don’t confuse the report with your presentation. They are two different things. Here are some tips about creating a report:

  • Don’t give or send the report ahead of time. This will weaken your presentation. You can send it after your presentation as documentation.
  • Don’t even hand out the report as you start your presentation. Instead, give your presentation first, and then follow-up later with the written report. Otherwise people aren’t listening to you, they are just looking through the report. If there are things they need to look at while you are talking, examples, etc, then prepare a handout to go with your presentation, but don’t just hand them the report.
  • Finalize the report after the presentation, since things may change as you discuss your recommendations during the presentation.

What do you think? Is this the way you’ve been giving your recommendations?

7 Tips to Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #2

Red outline circle with the letter I in itThis is the 2nd in a series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your top 3 Recommendations.

Now for Tip #2. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #2: Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I” — The wording you use when you present your recommendations can have a subtle but important impact. Let’s say you are going to suggest that the information architecture be changed so that there are fewer choices to make from the home page. You could say,

“I think that there are too many items on the top level menu. I’d like to see us pare that down to a smaller number.”

Instead use one of the words above and reframe the recommendation so that it’s not actually YOU making the recommendation. It’s not about you. If you use the word “I” then it becomes your opinion rather than an expert source

Here are some phrases to use instead:

  • “You want to be sure that people don’t have too many choices to make at the top level. If you change the information architecture to have few items, then it will be easier for customers to make a decision quickly about where to go at the site.”
  • “Users will get confused if there are too many choices at the top level of the menu.”
  • “Research shows that if you offer too many choices, then people won’t choose anything. Sheena Iyengar and Barry Schwartz are two researchers who have some interesting studies on this. You want to limit the number of choices at the top level.”

In each of these examples you are not stating your opinion. If team members disagree they aren’t disagreeing with you. They are going against users, research, and customers. They will feel the need to present their own evidence if they are going to ignore or object to your recommendation. You are framing recommendations as being from a larger and more important source. It will be harder to push your idea aside this way. You will be more persuasive.

What do you think? Have you tried altering your wording this way? What was the result?

And in case you are interested in Sheena Iyengar or Barry Schwartz’s work, I have links to the books on Amazon below.




7 Tips to Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #1

Cartoon picture of a meetingHave you ever found yourself in a meeting trying to convince a team to implement your recommendations? Perhaps you are a web designer who wants the team to move ahead with your design, or you are a user experience professional who has recommended a re-design to make a product more usable.

You work hard and put your skills and knowledge to use to come up with solutions. It’s frustrating if you can’t see those ideas actually implemented.  It’s often hard for teams to come to agreement about how to fix a problem, or even to agree that there is a problem at all that needs fixing. Even if others agree with you, that’s not the same as actually taking action.

If you want your ideas to be implemented you can’t just talk about them and expect that others will automatically get excited and start implementing changes.

Over the years of my career I have faced the task of influencing a team to implement my recommendations hundreds of times. From my experience, and ideas from my mentors and colleagues, I’ve collected 7 tips to get a team to implement your recommendations.

Tip #1: Hide your top 3 recommendations — Let’s say you have 10 changes you are recommending to the team. Instead of presenting all 10, decide which 3 are the most important for the team to implement. Put those 3 LAST on the list to talk about. Start with the others. Present each of the ideas and be willing to negotiate or even “cave”. Then when you get to the 3 you think are the most important, you can stand firm on those. Don’t expressly say that those 3 are the most important. Instead say, “Hey, I’ve been willing to compromise on all of these other items, you’ve got to give me at least these 3”.

Concession at work — The reason this technique works is because of the principle of concession. In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about the principle of concession. Robert. Cialdini was the first person to identify concession as a powerful influence. In the example above we are using concession in this way:  When you ask someone for something and they don’t say yes, they make you negotiate or compromise, or they outright say no (the first 7 items on your list of 10), they actually set up an indebtedness. They now owe you. So then you ask for your last 3 items on your list and they (largely unconsciously) feel that it’s their turn to say yes.

What do you think? Have you tried this technique? Did it work for you? Did you see more of your recommendations being implemented?

Stay tuned for the rest of the 7 tips in upcoming blog posts.

For more information:

Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? by Susan Weinschenk

The Psychology of Influence by Robert Cialdini