Making People Glad To Do What You Want

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Back in 1915, America was aghast. For more than a year, the nations of Europe had been slaughtering one another on a scale never before dreamed of in all the bloody annals of mankind. Could peace be brought about? No one knew. But Woodrow Wilson was determined to try. He would send a personal representative, a peace emissary, to counsel with the war lords of Europe.

William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State, Bryan, the peace advocate, longed to go. He saw a chance to perform a great service and make his name immortal. But Wilson appointed another man, his intimate friend, Colonel House; and it was House’s thorny task to break the unwelcome news to Bryan without giving him offence.

“Bryan was distinctly disappointed when he heard I was to go to Europe as the peace emissary”, Colonel House records in his diary. “He said he had planned to do this himself…

“I replied that the President thought it would be unwise for anyone to do this officially, and that his going would attract a great deal of attention and people would wonder why he was there…”

You see the intimation? House practically tells Bryan that he is too important for the job—and Bryan is satisfied.

Colonel House, adroit, experienced in the ways of the world, was following one of the important rules of human relations: Always make the other man happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Woodrow Wilson followed that policy even when inviting William Gibbs McAdoo to become a member of his cabinet. That was the highest honour he could confer upon anyone, and yet Wilson did it in such a way as to make the other man feel doubly important. Here is the story in McAdoo’s own words: “He [Wilson] said that he was making up his cabinet and that he would be very glad if I would accept a place in it as Secretary of the Treasury. He had a delightful way of putting things; he created the impression that by accepting this great honour I would be doing him a favour.”

Unfortunately, Wilson didn’t always employ such tact. If he had, history might have been different. For example, Wilson didn’t make the Senate and the Republican Party happy about putting the United States in the League of Nations. Wilson refused to take Elihu Root or Hughes or Henry Cabot Lodge or any other prominent Republican to the peace conference with him. Instead, he took along unknown men from his own party. He snubbed the Republicans, refused to let them feel that the League was their idea as well as his, refused to let them have a finger in the pie; and, as a result of this crude handling of human relations, Wilson wrecked his own career, ruined his health, shortened his life, caused America to stay out of the League, and altered the history of the world.


The famous publishing house of Doubleday Page always followed this rule: Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest. This firm was so expert at it that O. Henry declared that Doubleday could refuse one of his stories and do it with such graciousness, such appreciation, that he felt better when Doubleday refused a story than when another publisher accepted one.

I know a man who has to refuse many invitation to speak, invitations extended by friends, invitations coming from people to whom he is obligated; and yet he does it so adroitly that the other person is at least contented with his refusal, How does he do it? Not by merely talking about the fact that he is too busy and too this and too that. No, after expressing his appreciation of the invitation and regretting his inability to accept it, he suggests a substitute ‘speaker. In other words, he doesn’t give the other person any time to feel unhappy about the refusal: He immediately gets the other person thinking of some other speaker he may obtain.

“Why don’t you get my friend, Cleveland Rodgers, the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, to speak for you?” he will suggest. “Or have you thought about trying Guy Hickok? He lived in Paris fifteen years and has a lot of astonishing stories to tell about his experiences as a European correspondent. Or why not get Livingston Longfellow? He has some grand motion pictures of hunting big game in India.”


J. A. Want, head of the J. A. Want Organization, one of the largest Hooven letter and photo-offset printing houses in New York, was faced with the necessity of changing a mechanic’s attitude and demands without arousing resentment. This mechanic’s job was to keep scores of type-writers and other hard-driven machines functioning smoothly night and day. He was always complaining that the hours were too long, that there was too much work, that he needed an assistant.

J. A. Want didn’t give him an assistant, didn’t give him shorter hours or less work, and yet he made the mechanic happy. How? This mechanic was given a private office. His name appeared on the door, and with it his title— “Manager of the Service Department.”

He was no longer a repair man to be ordered about by every Tom, Dick, and Harry. He was now the manager of a department. He had dignity, recognition, a feeling of importance. He worked happily and without complaint.

Childish? Perhaps. But that is what they said to Napoleon when he created the Legion of Honour and distributed 1,500 crosses to his soldiers and made eighteen of his generals “Marshals of France” and called his troops the “Grand Army”. Napoleon was criticized for giving “toys” to war-hardened veterans, and Napoleon replied : “Men are ruled by toys.”

This technique of giving titles and authority worked for Napoleon, and it will work for you. For example, a friend of mine, Mrs. Gent of Scarsdale, New York, whom I’ve already mentioned was troubled by boys running across and destroying her lawn. She tried criticism. She tried coaxing. Neither worked. Then she tried giving the worst sinner in the gang a title and a feeling of authority. She made him her “detective” and put him in charge of keeping all trespassers off her lawn. That solved her problem. Her “detective” built a bonfire in the backyard, heated an iron red hot, and threatened to burn any boy who stepped on the lawn.


Such is human nature. So, if you want to change people without arousing resentment or giving offence, Rule 9 is: