Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Just ask!

I’m not one to formally make a complaint to a company if their product doesn’t meet my standards (It feels rude and awkward). However, recently, I bought a particular makeup product, which costs £20. I have used this product numerous times and it lasts at least 5/6 weeks, so its good value for money. Anyway, a few weeks ago, after having only used the product for about 5 days, it suddenly ran out much to my dismay.

Rather than making a complaint to the company, I just complained about how annoyed I was to my boyfriend instead, after letting £20 go to waste in a couple of days. I was reluctant to make a complaint to the company because I didn’t think anything would come from it other than an apology. Later however, I remembered that people tend to underestimate the willingness of others to help them after making a request, and thought I may as well email the company to see what happens.

I emailed the company telling them that I have bought the product numerous times, but that this time it didn’t meet my expectations. I then asked them if there was something they could do about this

To my surprise, they not only sent me one free replacement product, but TWO! Just from remembering about the power of asking, I was able to get two brand new free products.. and my day was made. 

It turns out that just asking is a powerful phenomenon. Flynn & Lake (2008) instructed participants to simply ask strangers whether they could fill out a questionnaire for them. Before making their requests, half of the participants predicted the likelihood that those they approached would comply (and the other half made no prediction). As the results under “Study 1” in Figure 1 show, participants hugely overestimated the number of people that they had to approach in order to complete the task- in fact, they estimated that they would have had to ask twice the number of people that they actually did.

This study shows how much people underestimate others willingness to comply with a direct request for help, just as I initially wasn’t going to make a complaint to the product company because I didn’t think anything would come of it. However, people are often more than willing to comply to a request or a subtle question in my case, which I’m glad I remembered otherwise I would probably be poorer right now after buying a new product!

Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.

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