Everything I know about making smart requests I learned from my children. Okay, maybe not everything, but their requests certainly pack a refusal-proof punch. Case in point:
My kids: Mom, can we go to the park?
Me: I am kind of busy right now, maybe later.
Kids: *sad and deflated* Can I at least have a candy bar, then?
Me: *weighed down by guilt* Okay, but just one.
Now, I am not claiming that they are doing it on purpose, but there’s a reason this request style works so well. Yes, it's backed by research. It even has its own name.
The Three Techniques
This is what social psychologists call Door in the Face technique, which is one of the three techniques I am sharing today to help you move past the first no to an eventual yes.
Door in the Face (DITF)
This request begins with the expectation that it will be turned down like a metaphorical door slammed in your face. Then that request is followed immediately by a second, more realistic request, which in comparison seems quite reasonable.
Initial request: Can I take the next week off?
Second request: Can I take Monday off and work from home on Tuesday?
In a study conducted to test this technique, participants were given an initial outrageous request--to volunteer as a Big Brother or Big Sister at a detention center for two hours per week for two years--which no one accepted. But when followed by a smaller request--to chaperone a group of kids to the zoo--the compliance rate went up by 50 percent. That's how powerful this technique can be.
Foot in the Door (FITD)
Here's how it works: You ask for a small favor that typically requires minimal involvement and crank it up to something bigger right after the person accepts your initial request. There have been numerous experiments to test the efficacy of this technique, and it has proven to be extremely effective in gaining compliance.
There is another psychological principle at play here known as Cognitive Dissonance. That simply means that because a person complied with the initial requests, in his or her mind, he or she has become the kind of person who will do this sort of thing and wants to try to maintain this image.
Initial Request: Can you lend me your car jack?
Second request: Can you lend me your car?
See how it works?
In his groundbreaking book Influence, Robert Cialdini explains how easily automatic response patterns can be triggered, even with invalid signals. In an experiment conducted by social psychologists Langer, Chenoweth, and Blank, researchers approached people standing in line to use a photocopier with one of the following requests:
May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?
May I use the Xerox machine?
May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?
Here's what compliance to each request looked like:
The researchers concluded that when you give someone a reason when making a request, the compliance goes up, even if that reason is not very good. Here's why: The word “because” triggers an automatic reaction in the human brain that signals the request is justified.
One caveat: This only really works for smaller requests, so don’t expect to get a month-long paid vacation approved because you want to take a month off.
Let us know if you've used any of these techniques and how they turned out for you.
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