Make Requests Like a Persuasion Expert

Persuasion is all about moving people to
action. Aristotle defined it as “the art of getting someone to do something
they would not ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” The bottom line when it comes
to persuasion is getting someone to do something. How we communicate can make
all the difference between a “Yes” or “No” response.
Most of the time people are directive, telling
instead of asking, when they want something. For example:
Clean your room.
Fax me the authorization form.
Get me the sales numbers.
Each request is direct and to the point. The
communication may be clear but unfortunately people don’t like to be told what
to do. And none of the statements above requires a response, which means the recipient
of the message might hear what’s being said but think to himself or herself,
“No” without ever having to say it.
Each of us makes requests of people daily, and
the science of influence tells us with certainty there are better ways to structure
our communication if we want to hear “Yes” more often. If you want to make a
request like a persuasion expert follow this simple formula:
R = W + T + B + R + D
Request = What + Timeframe
+ Because + Reason + Downside
Here’s an example using the formula: Would you
get me the authorization form by this afternoon because without it I can’t
proceed any further on your claim, which will delay your payment by several
more days?
A number of persuasive techniques are used in
the example above so let’s dissect each part.
“Would you” – Adding these two words turns the
statement into a question and engages the principle of consistency. A question like this
demands a response and once someone says “Yes,” the likelihood they’ll do what
you want has gone up significantly.
“by this afternoon” – These three words ensure
you’ll get what you want within a timeframe that’s acceptable to you instead of
being left to chance. If someone says they can’t get it within the allotted
time you can engage reciprocity. Immediately upon
hearing no, if you put out a new timeframe (i.e., How about by tomorrow afternoon?)
your odds of hearing “Yes” have just gone up because most people are willing to
meet us part way after we’ve first conceded a little bit.
“because” – One study showed a 50% increase in
“yes” responses when a request was tagged with “because” and a reason was given.
This even worked when the reason was bogus! We’re conditioned from childhood to
almost mindlessly do what we’re told when “because” is used. Do you remember
your parents ever saying, “Because I said so!” in response to your asking
why you had to do something? We’ve all been there and maybe you’ve used that
phrase yourself.
“I can’t proceed any
further on your claim, which will delay your payment” – This invokes the principle of scarcity. People are much more
motivated by the thought of losing something as opposed to gaining the same
thing. In this instance the person knows they won’t be paid until they’ve done
what’s being asked. This is much more effective than saying, “As soon as I get
it I’ll proceed on the claim and you’ll get paid.”
Once more compare the
two requests for the same thing:
Fax me the
authorization form.
Would you get me the
authorization form by this afternoon because without it I can’t proceed any
further on your claim, which will delay your payment?
Next time you need something from someone or
you need them to do something remember to structure your request by asking
instead of telling. Let them know what you want and when you need it by. Tag
your request with “because” and a legitimate reason. Finally, let them know
what happens if they don’t do what’s asked…the downside. Follow this simple
approach and you’re sure to hear “Yes” more often.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer


Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
2 replies
  1. Anthony McLean
    Anthony McLean says:

    Interesting article Brian. From my experience in law enforcement and interview techniques may I offer one slight tweak. In the ask by using "Can" we are turning this into a question but the problem with "Can" and "Could" is they are both polite but are also both requesting permission. If someone says yes to a "Can you" question are they actively committing to the request or simply acknowledging that they can do something even though they may not. By changing this to a "Will you" it turns the question from a permission question into an active response question, i.e. their response actively commits them to a course of behaviour thus engaging the principle of consistency. With all things I suggest people test and measure and this is one simple approach to see if the altering of a seemingly small element, i.e. the first word will lead to different and greater behavioural change. Thanks for the post!

  2. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    Excellent point. I went back and updated the post to include "would you" instead of "can you" so future readers will have the best approach. Thanks for the suggestion.


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