Psychology

Need A Favor? Skip Email, Ask IRL

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Think twice before you send that email asking your colleague for a favor. Making the request in person has a whopping 70 percent success rate.

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Quick! Stop Typing

Picture this: You need someone to take care of your cats while you go out of town for two weeks, but you're nervous to ask your friends for such a big favor. Before you type out that meticulously crafted email to your entire social network, consider asking just one person, face to face, instead. The idea of potential real-life awkwardness might make you squirm, but studies suggest this straightforward form of contact usually pays off. And when you do opt for email, most people overestimate the persuasiveness of their written words. It's called the underestimation-of-compliance effect.

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Just Say No? It's Not So Easy

Two 2016 experiments by psychological scientists M. Mahdi Roghanizada and Vanessa Bohns found that people underestimate the effectiveness of requests made in person. Why are face-to-face inquiries so much more successful? According to both scientists, "targets feel awkward and uncomfortable saying 'no,' both because of what it might insinuate about the requester, and because it feels bad to let someone down." In the first study, participants asked strangers for favors either face-to-face or over email. The email requesters estimated that they would convinced 5/10 of the strangers. The results? Only 10 percent of people who were asked via email said yes, while 70 percent of the people who were asked in person complied.

In their second study, the strangers had already agreed to answer a questionnaire for a dollar. The requesters asked the strangers if they would do an additional task for free. Again, the face-to-face requests proved to be much more successful. And again, the email requesters were overconfident in their powers of persuasion. Why is that? Both studies suggest that this error in judgment results from "requesters' failure to appreciate the awkwardness of saying 'no' to a request." As the scientists point out, these discoveries are important in our new world of technological communication. So the next time you need someone to cover your shift, put the keyboard down and let your mouth do the talking.

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