I recently read How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s full of insights on human behavior and provides actionable advice on every page. One of the sections I especially liked was a chapter in Part Four of the book titled “No One Likes to Take Orders”. In it, Carnegie explains just that—people don’t like being told what to do. It doesn’t matter much if the orders are given in a bossy manner or matter-of-factly. It’s the act of giving an order, not the way it’s given, that turns people off.
From my experience, an order doesn’t have to be inconvenient or unpleasant either. It can be as trivial as taking out the trash or tucking in your shirt. It can even be something you were planning to do anyway, like washing your car or calling a client. The very act of giving an order, regardless of what it is, can fuel resentment and rebellion.
To get the benefits of an order without turning people off, Carnegie advises asking questions or making suggestions. For example, instead of saying “Pass me the ball!”, “Brush your teeth” or “Do your homework” you might say “I’m open!”, or “Don’t forget to brush your teeth”, or “How’s your homework coming along?” These simple changes can go a long way.
The key is respecting other people’s judgement and making sure they have a say in what it is you want done. When you say “Pass me the ball!”, you’ve taken away all the decision-making power from your teammate. Even if he passes it to you, it was still your decision. At least that’s how he feels. Saying “I’m open”, on the other hand, merely suggests a way he could act. The decision is still his.
Another takeaway from this Carnegie chapter is that it’s a mistake to pass off irritation or rebellious behavior as character issues. Once you accept and understand people’s innate dislike for being ordered around, what once seemed like a character or motivational problem may actually be a communication problem. So, what at first appeared to be a defiant player, may in fact have been an overbearing coach.
This is not to say all bad attitudes are someone else’s fault. I’m merely suggesting that when we want someone to do something for us, it’s best practice to first look inward, and adjust what we have direct control over. There is zero downside to this approach. It takes very little time, and the worst scenario is that the situation won’t change. The potential payoff, however, is enormous. Small adjustments in how you communicate go a long way toward fostering cooperation and getting things done.