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:
- It doesn’t match the environment—the sticky note takes up space and looks a bit cluttered. The brain, therefore, wants it gone.
- It gets attention first because of #1. It’s difficult to ignore.
- It’s personalized. (That’s the difference between Group 2 and Group 3 in the experiment.)
- 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.