The following is a chapter from my first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. If you find it helpful, order your copy today. If you already have a copy, a review would be much appreciated.
Need Help to get Something Done?
Suppose it’s Monday the 22nd and you need to get a report to your boss by next Monday, the 29th. In order to finish the report 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?
My experience says most people will shoot an email to the coworker that’s straight to the point, “Harold, I need the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday.” That’s a legitimate way to communicate but doomed to fail more often than you’d like. So how do we start recreating the message to ensure success?
Ask, Don’t Tell
First of all, ask, don’t tell. 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. That means the key to success is getting your coworker to commit up front by answering a question. That’s not too difficult. Simply ask him for help rather than telling him what you need. Do this by changing your message to read, “Harold, would you be able to 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 better about themselves when their words and deeds match, so Harold will probably try a little harder to make sure he lives up to his commitment.
Have a Fallback
But wait, Harold’s busy and despite being a nice guy, he might feel he’s too busy to help you. A knee jerk response might be, “Pat, I’d love to help but I’m just too busy right now,” and your heart sinks. Don’t worry, there might be a way around this potential problem! A better request would have been, “Harold, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday?”
Why is asking with a shorter time frame a better approach? The rule of reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to give to us when we give first. If Harold says no to Wednesday you’ll want to come back immediately with something like this, “I understand Harold, it has never been busier around here. Would you be able to get the numbers by Thursday?” This still leaves room for another fallback opportunity if needed. Studies show when you make a second request, offering a concession immediately after someone says no, they’re very likely to concede too. That means you might just hear Yes to your second request and get what you need in a timely fashion.
We’re not done just yet because there is one more strategy you can employ – use the word “because.” You’ll recall “because” acts like an automatic trigger causing people to comply with requests more often when followed with a reason. Here’s how the master persuader approaches this:
“Harold, would you be able to 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! Stating it’s for the board report also adds some authority. Putting the request in question format engages consistency, upping the odds that Harold will follow through if he agrees up front to get you the numbers. And don’t forget, if Harold says no, you have an opportunity to engage reciprocity by making concessions as you fall back to Friday.
Could Harold still say no to Friday? Sure, but think about the person who regularly makes requests as I’ve just outlined vs. someone who always tells people what he or she needs with no mention of timing or reason. Who do you think will be successful more often? The savvy persuader will get what he or she needs far more. That will translate into more work accomplished on time and very likely under budget.
How can you Influence PEOPLE?
When you need someone to do something – ask, don’t tell to engage consistency; give them a reason using because; and allow yourself a fallback position to leverage reciprocity by way of concessions. These small changes in how you communicate will lead to bigger, better results more often.
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.
As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers (CMCT) in the world, Brian was personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to apply influence concepts at home and the office.
Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!