Bait your hook with worms if you want to catch fish

“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms.” (Dale Carnegie)

Have you ever tried to get someone to do something that you wanted them to do, but they didn’t want to do? If you have, you know it is near impossible. If a person sets their mind against doing this or that thing, no amount of cajoling on our part can make them budge. Oh, if we are the boss we might get them to comply for a while, but when our backs are turned the story changes. At best we get malicious compliance, but never anything close to a full effort.

Sometimes we try to get people to do things because we are sure it is in their best interest, after all, it is in our best interest, how can it not be in theirs? We might try to paint a picture for them that is quite rosy, and completely misses what is important to them.

The fact is that people will generally only do those things they really want to do. If we want people to do the things we want and need them to do, then we have to appeal to them in such a way that they see it as something they want to do, something that will benefit them.

To be clear, I am not talking about some manipulative, Machiavellian way of getting people to respond. That is quickly seen for the phony approach that it is. I am talking about truly appealing to what the other person wants, and arousing in them an eager want. How do we do this? There is only one way, and that is to get to know the person, and understand what their motivations and desires might be. Only then can we appeal to them in such a way, and give them reasons that genuinely fit those ideas and desires.

When I was a Boy Scout leader, one of the things we did on an annual basis was review and re-learn First Aid skills. We did this for a number of reasons, including that there were new boys, that we would increase our knowledge each time, and that we wanted to make sure that the correct responses were so ingrained in our minds that they became automatic at the time they were needed. I was blessed to have very bright young men in my Troop. Each year they would pass the drills and tests of First Aid with flying colors. And, as they progressed in age, it became increasingly difficult for me to get them to want to go through the studying and exercises. Their rationale was that they had learned this last year, and still knew it. I knew that there was great benefit to keeping those skills sharp through repetition, but they did not.

After some thought I sat down with the more senior boys in the troop. I told them a story about a boy that had been in my troop some years before. This boy was now a man, and working for a large company. One day he and his friends were out on a boat. None of them were wearing life vests, because the lake was calm and they weren’t going fast. Something happened to jar the boat, and one of his friends fell overboard. When he didn’t immediately surface, the other young men in the boat were frightened and near panic, but not my former Scout. Without thinking too much, he jumped into the water and started pushing his way down. His lungs were hurting as he reached the bottom, and just as he was about to need to surface for air, he found his friend sitting on the bottom unconscious.

He grabbed his friend under the arms and started kicking for the surface. Once there, his other friends helped them both into the boat. He gave his friend a few, quick rescue breaths, and soon his friend started breathing on his own. They took him immediately to the hospital, but thankfully he was ok, save for the knock on the head he got when he fell overboard.

When I talked to this former Scout he told me that without the intense, and repeated training we’d had with him, he would not have known what to do. If he’d had to refer to a manual, or stop to try to recall the next steps, his friend would likely have drowned. It was because it was second nature to him that he knew how to react, and in fact saved his friend’s life.

After telling this story I asked the boys to look around and ask themselves who they would want to be the one to save them? Were they confident that any of the boys in the Troop would know just what to do without hesitation? After that story, it was not hard to get the boys to learn and drill on safety and First Aid.

The reason I was successful was that I had aroused in those boys an eager want. I talked in terms of their own self-interest. Not in a way to manipulate them, but to get them to honestly see the value in the activity I proposed, a value that was true and meaningful to them.

The lesson for us is that if we want other people to do things, we must seek a way to make it meaningful to them. We must talk in terms of their interests, and help them see that what we are suggesting is, in fact, the best for them to do.

We can apply this principle to all walks of our lives. From our dealings at work, to our dealings with our friends and family, when we want someone to do something, we must first find out what they want, and appeal to that motive.

Now, there is something subtle, but important to consider here. As we are considering what the other person truly wants, it might not be exactly what we want. It might be that they have a better way, or a higher purpose in mind. Because we are being genuine and honest, we will keep ourselves open to that possibility and even adjust ourselves and our desires.

Dale Carnegie knew that you can’t catch fish with strawberries and cream. He also knew that it didn’t matter much what he wanted to liked when it came to having someone else do a particular thing. The only thing that mattered to the other person was what they wanted and liked.

Principle #3 – Arouse in the other person an eager want.

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