Getting help when you need it most can be the difference between success and failure, between being productive or unproductive. Over time it may make the difference between a good raise and a poor one, between being promoted or overlooked.
Let’s say it’s Monday the 4th and you need to get a report to your boss by next Monday, the 11th. Your philosophy is “If it’s got to be it’s up to me,” but in this case you need some info from a coworker in another department to get the job done. This is important because your report, after being reviewed by your boss, will be incorporated into the CEO’s quarterly board report. How are you going to get help when you need it most? How you make your request to your coworker might make all the difference.
With more than 30 years in the business world my bet is most people would fire off an email that’s straight to the point, “John, I need the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday.” Unfortunately, that approach is doomed to fail quite often. How can you start recreating your communication to ensure success?
Let’s start with this; instead of telling, try asking. 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 the other person to commit to what you need. To do this simply ask for help rather than telling. Your message would change to, “John, 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 John says yes, your odds of success just went up significantly. After all, people feel good about themselves when their words and deeds match so John will probably try a little harder to make sure he lives up to what he committed to.
But what if John is a busy guy and despite being very nice he feels he’s too swamped to help you? His knee jerk response might be, “I’d love to help but I’m just too busy right now.” — and your heart sinks. Good news; there might be a way around this potential problem! You’d be better off asking, “John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday?”
Why is asking with a small buffer a better tactic? The rule of reciprocity alerts us to the reality that people feel obligated to give back to those who give first. If John says no to Wednesday then you’d want to come back immediately with something like this, “I understand completely, 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, the other person is very likely to concede a little in response. This means you might get a yes to your second request.
There’s one more strategy you can employ; using the word “because.” You’ll recall from previous blog posts, when you use the word “because” and give a reason it’s almost like an automatic trigger for people to comply. Here’s how a master at persuasion would approach this situation:
“John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday because I need them for the board report?”
Using “because” gives you the best chance of getting the help you need and mentioning the board report adds weight to your request. This request is in a question format which engages consistency, upping the odds that John will follow through when he does agree to help. But, should he say no, you have an opportunity to engage reciprocity by making a concession when you fall back to Friday.
Could John still say no to Friday? Sure. But think about the person who regularly asks for help as I’ve laid out vs. someone else who just tells people what to do with no strategic thought about timing or reason. Who do you think will be successful more often? The savvy communicator and that savvy translates into getting more work accomplished on time and very likely under budget. Someone who uses this approach is probably in line for a raise or promotion because work is about achieving results. Now you can be that person because you know the keys to getting help when you need it most.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 135,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.