Study suggests asking in person to seek help at work

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A new study has found that if you need help at work, asking in person maximizes the chance of getting a ‘yes’, compared to emailing or texting.

The research has been published in the ‘Social Psychological and Personality Science Journal’. The article was co-authored by Vanessa Bohns, associate professor in Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, and M. Mahdi Roghanizad, assistant professor at Ryerson University.

“If you really need a ‘yes,’ it’s best to ask in person,” Bohns said.

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The researchers conducted experiments with 490 people and 1,490 respondents to their requests for help proofreading a half-page of text.

In one exercise, help-seekers asked five friends over varied channels to see which ones elicited the most compliance with requests. Those findings were compared with what help-seekers predicted would be the most effective channels.

The results did not mesh. Most people underestimated the in-person advantage, they found.

One explanation, Bohns said, is that “when we are the ones asking for something, we think what matters is what we are asking for, rather than how we are asking for it.”

“We tend to think people will weigh the costs and benefits and make a measured decision about whether to agree to something, saying ‘yes’ only if they really want to,” Bohns said.
“But in fact, people agree to all sorts of things, even things they’d rather not do because they feel bad saying ‘no’ at the moment,” she added.

The bottom line, the researchers said, is that people miss out on receiving help because they ask in sub-optimal ways by forgoing advantages offered by visual and audio elements.

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