Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Asking for a Favor: The Power of the Post-It Note

Kevin Hogan has penned a post for HBR about research conducted by Randy Garner at Sam Houston State University.  Garner performed a series of experiments to examine the likelihood that individuals would respond to requests for assistance with a task. Garner asked faculty members to complete a survey for him - a request often made of others when you are conducting research.   He divided the respondents into three groups.   For the first group, he attached a sticky note to the survey, asking them to complete it.   For the second group, he put the same handwritten message on the cover letter, rather than on a separate sticky note.   For the third group, Garner simply provided a typed cover letter.   They received no handwritten message at all.   What happened?  76% of the respondents completed the survey in the first group, far more than the other two groups.   Why such powerful results from a handwritten message on a sticky note?  Hogan outlines the four main reasons:

  1. It doesn’t match the environment—the sticky note takes up space and looks a bit cluttered. The brain, therefore, wants it gone.
  2. It gets attention first because of #1. It’s difficult to ignore.
  3. It’s personalized. (That’s the difference between Group 2 and Group 3 in the experiment.)
  4. Ultimately, the sticky note represents one person communicating with another important person—almost as if it is a favor or special request, which makes the recipient feel important.
What's the lesson here?  In an era of predominantly electronic communication, the power of a personal note should not be underestimated.  Moreover, it's important to put yourselves in the shoes receiving your request.  Ask yourself: How will they feel when they receive this request for assistance?  By stepping in your shoes, you can craft a more effective and persuasive appeal for help. 


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