Walking home from campus today I felt slightly dreary and tired, when a friend’s surprising reply to my earlier message completely turned my mood around. He had said yes to a request of mine that I hadn’t expected him to say yes to (Despite the countless times in lecture when Prof Hills has told us about the efficacy of just asking, I was still a non-believer).
Earlier today, my frisbee club had released a spreadsheet where we could key in our names next to the number we wanted, to decide upon that as our number for the year, as well as the number that would be printed on any jerseys we bought. Having spent 2 years as number 78, I was resigned to taking the same number again, but decided to ask my friend who had number 7 (Numbers carry over every year unless the person graduates, then the number is free for whoever grabs it first) if he would be willing to exchange numbers/give up the number 7 for me.
I didn’t have very high hopes, people generally don’t give up single digit numbers so easily as they are highly coveted, and when I told my boyfriend that I had asked for the exchange, his immediate response was: “Lol he won't.” What a debbie-downer..
Yet to my surprise, my friend agreed to it! My direct request had resulted in his compliance, and I could not be happier. (I was also very happy that this random request had worked and could now be used as content for my behaviour change blogpost, haha)
From the lecture earlier in the term, we studied the Hatfield and Clark (1989) study where about 50% of the men and women in the study agreed to go on a date if they were just asked, and 75% of the men would go to bed with the female requestor if they were simply asked. This study showed the power of just asking.
So why don’t people just ask more? From my own personal experience, a huge factor is that we don’t think people will comply with our requests anyway, so we don’t bother to ask. Yet just asking has shown in effectiveness in getting others to agree to our requests. This is due to us, as help-seekers, underestimating the likelihood of others’ compliance to our direct requests. This is possibly due to us underestimating the social costs of saying no to the request such as embarrassment and awkwardness, and overestimating the instrumental costs of the request in itself (Flynn & Lake, 2008). In the Flynn and Lake study, participants had to ask strangers to complete a certain number of questionnaires for them, and they wound up estimating that they had to ask twice the number of people that they actually did, showing the underestimation of the likelihood of getting others’ to comply.
Interestingly, a 2011 study by Bohns et al. found that these social prediction errors were not universal. Sampling two groups of students, one studying in China and the other in the US, they found that there were differences in the accuracy of the social predictions by the two groups.
As seen in Fig 1, both groups showed the underestimation of compliance effect, but the Chinese students had to ask less people to get the required number, and also predicted that they would have to ask fewer people. The authors of the study attributed this to the Chinese being more attuned to the social pressures and face-saving concerns that arise from saying no that would compel the person to agree to the request. As a result of being more attuned, they should be less likely to underestimate compliance and be more accurate at predicting the compliance of others.
This was due to the differences in cultures of the two groups, with the group from New York being more individualistic and the group from China being more collectivistic. An assumption of those from individualistic cultures is that each individual is uniquely responsible for looking after his own personal needs and desires, as such, help-seekers from individualistic cultures would tend to neglect the potential helpers’ concerns of social costs and subsequently underestimate compliance. On the other hand, collectivistic individuals are expected to help others even if helping is not in line with their own personal interests. As such, it is the help-seeker’s responsibility to decide if the request is worth asking and whether it will become an unnecessary burden to a potential helper. This responsibility means that in addition to managing their own concerns, collectivistic help-seekers also have to account for the concerns of potential helpers.
Additionally, while just asking works, other persuasion tactics could help increase compliance rate by a lot more!
As seen in Table 1, in Reingen’s (1978) study, he found that while on average people donated about the same amount for the various conditions, tactics like foot-in-the-door (small-then-donation) and door-in-the-face (extreme-then-donation) achieved much higher compliance rates.
So in summary, we really should ask more, and it may be worth it to set yourself up with a foot-in-the-door/door-in-the-face situation to increase your chances of getting a yes!
Bohns, V. K., Handgraaf, M. J. J., Sun, J., Aaldering, H., Mao, C., & Logg, J. (2011). Are social prediction errors universal? Predicting compliance with a direct request across cultures. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 676-680.
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.
Hatfield, E., & Clark, R. D. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.
Reingen, P. (1978). On inducing compliance with requests. Journal of Consumer Research, 5, 96-102.