Why Ask Nicely? Because it Works So Much Better

Suppose it’s Monday the 22nd and you need to get a report to your boss by next Monday, the 29th. Life’s never easy and in your case, in order to get the report done, you need some stats from a coworker in another department. This is big because your report, after being reviewed by the boss, will be incorporated into the CEO’s quarterly board report. How are you going to make your request to that coworker to ensure the best chance of getting what you need in time to fulfill your obligation?

After nearly 25 years in the working world my observation is that most people will shoot an email off to the coworker that’s basic and to the point, “Harold, I need the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday.” That’s completely legitimate but doomed to fail quite often. So how do we start recreating the message to ensure success?

First of all, don’t tell, ask. The principle of consistency tells us people are far more likely to do something that’s in line with something they’ve previously said or done, so a key to success is to get them to commit. It would be easy enough to get the coworker to commit by asking him for help rather than telling him. So our message changes to, “Harold, can you get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday?” Your request has gone from a statement to a question. If Harold says “Yes” your odds of success just went up significantly. After all, people feel good about themselves when their words and deeds match so Harold will probably try a little harder to make sure he lives up to what he committed to.

But wait, Harold’s a busy guy and despite being a nice guy, he feels he’s too busy to help out. A knee jerk response might be, “Alice, I’d love to help but I’m just too busy right now” — and your heart sinks. Not so fast, there might be a way around this potential problem! A better request would have been, “Harold, can you get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday?”

Why is asking with a small buffer a better tactic? The rule of reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to give to us when we give first. If Harold says no to Wednesday then you’d want to come back immediately with something like this, “I understand completely Harold, it’s never been busier around here. Could you possibly get the numbers by Friday?” Studies show when you make a second request, offering a concession immediately after someone says no, they’re very likely to concede too which means you might just hear “yes” to that second request.

We’re not done just yet because there’s one more strategy you could employ, the word “because.” You’ll recall from my post several weeks ago, Because I said so!, when you use the word “because” it’s almost like an automatic trigger and people tend to comply with requests when we give them a reason. So here’s how the master persuader approaches this request:
“Harold, can you get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday because I need them for the board report?”

This approach uses “because,” which gives the best chance of hearing “Yes!” It’s also in a question format which engages consistency, upping the odds that Harold will follow through. And, should Harold say no, you have an opportunity to engage reciprocity by making a concession and falling back to Friday.

Could Harold still say no to Friday? Sure. But think about the person who regularly makes requests as I’ve just laid out vs. John Doe who always tells people what he needs with no forethought to timing or reason. Who do you think will be successful more often? Certainly the savvy communicator. That translates into more work accomplished on time and probably under budget. That’s most likely the person who’s in line for a raise or promotion because work is about results. Now you can have results because you know the keys to making successful requests.

Brian’s been in the insurance industry for almost 25 years. He’s a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter and a Competent Toastmaster. His passion is in the area of ethical influence & persuasion. He’s one of only two dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world. His mission is Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!” This article originally appeared in his Influence PEOPLE blog