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Managing People: Getting Help

Click here to buy - A How To Book of SMSF's by Tony Negline
Lester Wills

There is often a dispute between genders about asking for help. In fact many people are reluctant to ask for help no matter what. The thought of asking someone for help or a favour, be it a colleague, friend, or stranger is something many are simply uncomfortable with. They believe they are imposing or tend to assume the person will say no, which could lead to embarrassment and/or humiliation. However, it seems that nothing could be further from the truth.

New research from Stanford Graduate School of Business has verified the old adage, "Ask and you shall receive." A series of studies revealed that people tend to grossly underestimate how likely others are to agree to requests for assistance.

According to Frank Flynn, associate professor of organizational behavior, their research should encourage people to ask for help and not assume that others are disinclined to comply. He found that pe found thateople are more willing to help than most think, and that can be important to know when you're trying to get the resources you need to get a job done, or even when you're trying to solicit funds.

Flynn and Vanessa Lake, a Columbia psychology PhD student, have had feedback to that effect on their paper, published in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. They recall the story of a colleague had just finished reading a draft of the paper but who was running late to a dinner appointment. He was in the subway and realized he should call ahead but didn't have a cell phone. Normally he would not have done anything but would have waited until he arrived, late at his dinner appointment. However he later revealed that the paper gave him courage to ask a stranger to borrow his phone and to his surprise, the person quickly obliged!

I actually tested this idea out recently. I was at a railway station in Pennsylvania on my way to New York. I did not have a cell (read mobile) phone and the pay phone did not work. There was another couple on the platform so I decided to ask if I could use his cell phone to call my daughter as I needed to get a message to her. He readily agreed and would not even let me pay him for the call. Incidentally, what he gave me to use was a very cool looking Apple iPhone, but that's another story

In the first two studies, participants were instructed to ask favors of people in campus settings after estimating how many people they thought would comply with their requests. Participants asked to borrow strangers' cell phones in order to make calls back to the experimenter, solicited individuals to fill out questionnaires, and asked students to help them find the campus gym, a favor that required obliging students to walk with a participant for at least two blocks in the direction of the gym (and usually in a totally different direction to what they were originally walking in).

The researchers found that participants consistently overestimated by 50% the number of people they'd have to ask to get a certain number to agree with each request. "Participants were initially horrified at the prospect of going out and asking people for such things," says Lake. "But they'd bound back in to the lab afterward with big smiles, saying, 'I can't believe how nice people were!'"

The results were replicated even more dramatically in a real-world scenario involving volunteers for Team in Training, a division of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. These volunteers, who receive training for endurance sports events in exchange for fundraising for the society, were asked to estimate the number of people they thought they would have to solicit to reach their fundraising goal, as well as the average donation they expected.

Once again, volunteers predicted they would have to approach 50% more people than were actually needed. Moreover, they underestimated the average donation they'd receive. According to Flynn people seem to miscalculate how willing others are to say yes to direct requests, even in a conservative case like this where they're open to soliciting others and the request is significant.

I can remember when my daughter was working for an organization that raised money for charities. She was trained and then sent out with a team to stop people on the street and seek donations. Only they did not just ask for one off donations, they sought long term commitments asking people to set up bank direct debits. I was amazed at just how many people agreed and the incredible amounts people committed to on a regular basis. She literally raised thousands every week!

So, why do people consistently underestimate the likelihood of receiving help? That will be the basis of part 2 in this series.

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