The Startup
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The Startup

A Freaking Cool Way To Get Stuff Done And Have People Follow Your Instructions

Image Credit: Pixabay

This little lesson is freaking cool and will help you a lot.

What I’m going to tell you is about a hack called ‘positioning.’

It’s the beautiful art of getting people to do what you want without lying, manipulating or forcing them to listen to you. The power of this practice was something I was previously oblivious too.

Then, last week one of my direct reports asked me a question:

“How do I get people to send back the checklist and sign their contract?”

I wanted to help him. I was good at this.
That’s when I remembered positioning.

These are some examples of where I used ‘POSITIONING’ recently:

  • I told people to save my new number in their phone instead of just giving them my phone number.
  • I told people when I wanted the contract back instead of just giving them the contract.
  • I told my team I had their back instead of them having to guess whether that was the case.
  • I told my boss what would happen if I didn’t do activities I loved doing so they knew what would make me quit.


It’s about phrasing a conversation with someone in a way that makes them understand exactly what they have to do and by when.

Let me give you an example:

Conversation 1: “Hey Bob I’ve just sent you a contract I need you to sign. Send it back to me. Thanks mate.”

Conversation 2: “Hey Bob, it’s great to have you on board. I’m going to send you a contract. I need you to have a read through which should take you about ten minutes.

Then, I need you to sign it and email it back to me no later than the close of business today. This deadline is critical as we have the team briefed and ready to start work tomorrow to hit the goal you’ve asked us to work towards by the end of next month.

Is there anything about this process that doesn’t make sense or would prevent you from having that contract back to me by close of business?

Conversation 1 is destined for failure. It’s brief, unclear and open to the curse of busyness, plus excuses to the power of one hundred divided by procrastination.

Conversation 2 is like the Statue of David. It’s beautiful from every angle and the message is clear. The assumption is that Bob has no idea what you want him to do and nothing has been left to chance. There is a process, anyone can follow it, and objections are handled at the start and not down the track.

Image Credit: Pixel Chimp

If there’s going to be a stuff up, it won’t be in a weeks time when both parties are exhausted from over-communication, overthinking and a game of email tennis that’s longer than a Wimbledon Finals match that goes for five sets.

Using positioning for amateurs like you and me.

The process is very straightforward.

  1. What is the one action you want the person to take?
  2. When is the deadline for that action to occur?
  3. What could go wrong if the action is not done by the deadline?
  4. How would you like the communication for that action to occur?
  5. How long will the action take?

Give people hints.

“You’re not getting people to follow your instructions because you’re not giving them enough hints about what success looks like”

You’re taking the lazy approach and hoping someone will guess what they should do. Guessing requires thinking and all of us can stuff that up.
Thinking opens the door for screw ups.

No one will crack the code to your mind and accidentally follow your instructions in the exact order, by the correct timeframe and do more than you asked them to do unless you give them hints.

Getting more than you asked for.

Getting someone to follow your instructions and take action is nice; getting them to go way beyond your expectations is much more rewarding. It comes down to positioning again.

I recommend telling people what you want and then dropping in a few hints about how they can wow you or do even more than the initial set of instructions is asking for.

Image Credit: TWYLAMAE

“Returning the contract by the close of business would be good. Having it back within the hour would impress me much more and allow me to add even more value. The choice is yours.”

When you position an ask like that, our natural response is to go for the latter request. We’re wired to please each other and take smart action.

Using this strategy, that’s how you can go from asking one person for help to getting an entire team to stand up and give up their time for a cause they believe in.

All you have to do is position your ask in the right way.

Positioning is the difference between people who get shit done and people that wait for the world to respond and die a thousand deaths having to play the follow-up game that typically ends in disappointment.

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