When your success depends on others, you need to know how to ask for help so that they’ll say, “Yes.”
Recently, I told someone I would help, but my agreement didn’t come easily. Here’s the story.
Last Monday, I watched a blue Pontiac Vibe park in front of my house. A man I did not know got out and marched up our driveway, carrying the largest accordion-style portfolio I had ever seen.
“You expecting anyone to stop by?” I asked Marie. She was not.
I met the guy at the door. He told me he was a researcher working on the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study. Our house number had been randomly selected. He wanted me to do a quick screening interview to find out if Marie and/or I would be qualified study participants.
With his toe in the door, I decided to let him in. It was cold that evening, and I was acutely aware of all the heat leaving my house. Once he was inside, Marie came around the corner and asked to see his ID. I probably should have thought to ask that before inviting him in.
He told us his visit was explained in a letter we recently received. Since we hadn’t received the letter, we cut his visit short and sent him on his way. He said he’d check back in a couple days. I kidded him that I might not let him in. He responded that if I didn’t, I’d receive a visit from someone else. Wow, the study designers built some aggressiveness into this one.
Success on attempt two
Five days later the letter arrived. It explained the process and included a $2 bill as a “thank you for reading this letter and the enclosed brochure.” According to the letter, 200,000 addresses were selected. I couldn’t help but wonder what percent of $400,000 got tossed without being opened.
That evening, which happened to be a Saturday, the same blue car parked in front of our house. He was back. And since I now had the letter, I decided to see what he had to say.
He used about 15 minutes to ask me questions about Marie and I, entering each response into his laptop. At the end he told me I was a qualified participant. That meant completing a questionnaire using his laptop. He wasn’t able to know whether I would get the short one (20 minutes) or long one (about an hour). He asked if I wanted to do it then or at another time. Because Marie was gone, I told him I’d do it then.
I got the long one, but still finished in 35 minutes. To close out the process, he gave me a debit card loaded with $35.
Then he made another request. He asked if I wanted to participate in the second part, providing bio samples. For urine and cheek cells, I would be paid $25. For blood, another $25. Because I had less than an hour invested so far, saying yes wasn’t that hard. I figured it couldn’t take too long. Plus I had to go to the bathroom anyway. Sort of a win-win, wouldn’t you say?
He went back outside to retrieve an even larger bag with all his supplies. The fastidious sampling process took much longer than I anticipated. Nearly another hour later, he finally finished. With $60 now on my debit card, I wished him goodnight. The blood sample was scheduled for a few days later.
Why I agreed to participate
After he left I thought about why I agreed to help. On a whim, I gave some guy I didn’t know two hours of my Saturday evening. I came up with five potential reasons:
- He had a likable manner that wasn’t pushy, but rather matter-of-fact.
- I didn’t have plans. Maybe I was bored. He gave me something to do.
- I was going to be paid. Earning money while sitting on my couch seemed like a good deal.
- I’m always interested in how people structure and conduct research studies, since my work sometimes involves running surveys for clients.
- I think tobacco use is a big problem in our country, and I wanted to help.
As I write this, I’m still not sure if one was the biggest contributing factor. They all seemed to play a role in my decision.
Why will others help you?
Think about all the times you need people to agree to your requests. You need them to come to your meeting, complete a task, provide information, or maybe even buy something.
Some people are predisposed to say yes. Many are not. If you want to gain agreement, you need to help them find a reason to say yes. It doesn’t matter if the reason makes sense to you. It only matters that it resonates with them.
The first time, the researcher assumed a letter had provided all the reasons I needed to make my decision. Since the letter hadn’t arrived, he was left with nothing.
I learned that I’m in the study for at least three years. Next year someone will stop by unannounced and uninvited, maybe even the same guy. Will I say yes? It depends on whether I find a compelling reason to do so. I hope the study designers will provide one.
Image credit: Woody Hibbard