Getting Help When You Need It Most

It’s Monday the 7th and you need to get a report to your boss by next Monday, the 14th. To complicate matters, you need some information from a coworker in another department to finish the report. 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 persuade your coworker to ensure the best chance of getting their help so you can fulfill your obligation?

After more than 30 years in business my observation is that most people would shoot an email to the coworker that’s straight to the point, “Pat, I need the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday.” That’s a legitimate way to communicate your need but it will set you up for failure more often than you’d like. So how do you reword the message to set yourself up for the best chance to be persuasive?

First, don’t tell Pat what to do. Instead, you need to ask for what you want. 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 your key to success is to get others to commit to what you want. It would be easy enough to get the Pat to commit by asking for her help rather than telling her what you need.

With that in mind, your message becomes, “Pat, would you get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday?” Your request has gone from a statement to a question. Assuming Pat says yes, your odds of success just went up significantly! After all, people feel good about themselves when their words and deeds match so it’s likely Pat will try a little harder to make sure she lives up to what she committed to.

There could be a problem. You see, Pat’s busier than a one-armed paper hanger and despite being very nice, she’s might feel she’s too busy to help you by Friday. A knee jerk response might be, “I’d love to help but I’m swamped right now,” and your heart sinks.

But wait, there might be a way around this potential problem! A better request would be, “Pat, would you get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday?”

Why is asking with a shortertimeframe a better tactic? After all, on the surface it makes no rational sense if you think she might say no to Friday to ask for the information sooner. But people are often irrational and this tactic actually increases your chances of getting to yes.

The rule of reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to give back to you when you give to them first. If Pat says no to Wednesday then you’ll want to come back immediately with something like this, “I understand completely Pat, 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, they’re very likely to concede too which means you might just hear yes to your second request.

We’re not done just yet because there’s one more strategy you could employ; use the word “because.” You’ll recall from my post several months ago, Because, Because, Bec-oz, when you use say “because” and give a reason people tend to comply in an automatic, almost mindless fashion. Here’s how a master persuader would approach this request:

“Pat, would you 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!” It’s also in a question format which engages consistency, upping the odds that Pat will follow through. And, should Pat say no, you have an opportunity to engage reciprocity by making a concession and falling back to Friday.

Could Pat still say no to Friday if she said no to Wednesday first? Sure. But consider the person who regularly makes requests as I’ve just laid out vs. someone who always tells people what to do with no forethought as to timing or reason. Who do you think will be successful more often? Certainly, the savvy persuader. That translates into more work accomplished on time and probably under budget. The savvy persuader is most likely the person who’s in line for a raise or promotion because work is about results. And now you too can get better results because you know the keys to making successful requests.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director at State Auto Insurance. His course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.


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