The Simple Change That Makes it 34 Times More Likely You’ll Get a Yes

When you have a big ask, you aim to make it easy for the other person—be it your boss, co-worker, or networking contact—to say yes.

And so, you think through contingencies, prepare answers to likely questions, and pay close attention to how you word your email.

If that’s your go-to strategy, research by Professors Vanessa Bohns and Mahdi Roghanizad could be a game-changer for you. They led a study in which people had to ask strangers to take a survey. Half asked them over email and half asked in person.

As Bohns writes in an article for Harvard Business Review:

…participants who made requests over email felt essentially just as confident about the effectiveness of their requests as those who made their requests face-to-face, even though face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than emailed ones.

Why? Bohns notes that while the person asking often feels more comfortable doing it from behind a computer screen—people receiving the request respond positively to trustworthy body language.

Now, before you renounce email for a work routine centered around face-time, it’s helpful to remember the participants in this study were dealing with strangers. Which means, you don’t need to bump up the number of in-person meetings with the co-worker you sit next to.

However, you probably have people at your office or in your network, who—while you know them—you’re not particularly close with. And it’s with those people that this advice could make a big difference. Need help from someone who you only see in the elevator or at the company holiday party? Want to ask someone you went to college with a decade ago for an in at their company?

These are times when it’d be worthwhile to discuss in person.

As ironic as it is, you’ll often need to send an email to set up that in-person meeting. So, be literal about time (“Do you have [30 minutes] to discuss…”), flexible about place (“I could meet by your office”), and transparent about why you’re reaching out (“I’d like to discuss how our departments can work together on [project]/ I want to learn more about your work at company), which’ll make it that much more likely your conversation will happen. And if you need even more guidance, we have a networking email template to ask for a meeting.

Yes, email’s literally at your fingertips. But, the next time you need someone to say yes, consider if it’s the best way to go about it, or if it’d be better to set up a chat.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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