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Managing People: Getting Help - 2

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

Apologies for not including this last time. I have been a little distracted by studying for various exams included the seven hour "General Securities Registered Representative" exam (FINRA Series 7). Just need to get through what is called the "Uniform Combined State Law Exam" (FINRA Series 66) next week, which when added to the PA State Insurance Licensing exam I did a few weeks back, means I am done, for now, and I can start working as a Financial Advisor here in the US.

Last time I started reviewing the question of asking for help and considering why 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 but in reality, many are all too willing to help. So, why do people consistently underestimate the likelihood of receiving help?

Researchers from Stanford Graduate School of Business found it's because those asking for help fail to get inside the head of the potential helper. The critical factor, say the researchers is that those who are approached for a favor are under social pressure to be benevolent. Just saying no can make them look very bad, to themselves or others. People don't want to look bad, even to themselves and so quite often they will provide the requested help.

Two further studies demonstrated this dynamic. When given various scenarios, participants responded differently depending on whether they were in the role of a potential helper or the one who needed the help. Those asking for help thought they were more likely to be turned down than those offering aid. Even more importantly, askers said they thought it would be much easier for others to refuse their request than did potential helpers.

"That's really the mechanism explaining the effect," says one of the researchers Flynn. "People's underestimation of others' willingness to comply is driven by their failure to diagnose these feelings of social obligation on the part of others."

One study found that those asking for help incorrectly believed it was more likely they would receive help if they were indirect about it, communicating their request with a look, rather than a direct question. In contrast, people in the position of offering assistance said they were much more likely to help if asked point blank. "That really puts the obligation on them, and makes it very awkward for them to refuse," says Lake, another researcher from Stanford.

Explains why all those organizations have spent so much money on training people to do all that cold calling. They obviously get enough positive responses to make the exercise worthwhile.

This would explain also some other results. In another study, participants incorrectly calculated that they would get more people to answer a questionnaire if they simply handed them a flyer with the request, instead of asking them outright. This was the case whether they were asking people to fill out short, one-page questionnaires, or more burdensome, 10-page questionnaires. Consequently, sending something through the mail is less effective than calling people up and asking them over the telephone, even though it risks annoying the consumer.

It seems that the lesson is that you should pay more attention to how your request is being made than to the size of your request, in other words it is not what you say but rather how you say it.

There is another twist. The researchers also found that people overestimate how likely it is that others will come to them for help, i.e. they think people will ask them for help far more than people seem willing to ask for help. What this means is that not only are people not asking for help when in fact they could get it, but they're not encouraging others to come to them for help when in fact they're willing to offer it.

So, if you have an open-door policy in your office, it may not actually be effective unless you actively encourage people to use it.

For those who want to read more, the original article is:

"If You Need Help, Just Ask: Understanding Compliance with Direct Requests for Help," Francis J. Flynn and VanessaK.B.Lake, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, July, 2008.


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