The Power of Persuasion

My husband likes to point out that when I am about to ask him something I know he won’t like to do, I always preface the request with, “Will you do me a favor?” As in: “Will you do me a favor…will you clean the litterbox?”

My spouse theorizes that I’d be more persuasive if I just cut to the chase and do away with the niceties. But I’m – ahem – pleased to say that research supports my tendency to choose my words carefully.

As noted in a recent Science of Us article, evidence suggests that when it comes to getting others to do what we want, our chances for success improve based on the words we use.

For example, a 2008 study involved having a group of college students ask strangers to complete a small task (filling out a survey). Per the article:

“Some students were told to frame their question straightforwardly: ‘Would you fill out a questionnaire?’ Others were told to first ask, ‘Can you do me a favor?’ and then ask that same question. In the straightforward condition, 57 percent of the passersby complied; [compared to] 84 percent of those [who had offered the] favor condition.” 

Essentially, asking nicely helped.

There’s an even more important point to this study, one that reflects an issue we counsel our clients on often: you are more persuasive than you think.

We often fail to ask our audience to do what we want them to do just because we – wrongly! – assume we will turn them off by doing so. Infusing confidence and kindness in the ask can make an enormous impact in your ability to land more yes responses.

So the next time you’re prepping for an ask to the Board, penning a letter to your donors, or even thinking of how to maximize that coveted informational interview you’ve secured, don’t forget to make your ask clearly, concisely and kindly.  Chances are you’ll be pleased with your powers of persuasion.

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