Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Help Me Please and You Will Like Me Better

Formal theories in communication are generally obscured from the realm of everyday knowledge. The vast majority of people regardless of education level have never heard of the Communication Monograph, Cialdini or of Leakey. Nor do they care. But what we do care about is the practice of the communication theories. Among my favorites is the Rule of Reciprocity. On its face it looks simple enough. I do something nice for you and you then become obligated to do something nice for me. This “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours” practice is a standout in keeping our society moving along. It rules in Washington, DC, it allows Girl Scouts to sell their cookies by the gabillions to parents’ coworkers and it may have been the reason you were successful in your last sexual encounter. Since the beginning of time we know that reciprocity works. Do a favor for someone and chances are good that they are going to do something in return. But what if ASKING FOR FAVORS could produce just as desirable a result as doing them. Now this is something to talk about. For all of you sheepish do-gooders who never find the right moment to ask anyone for anything, listen up. No one appreciates your independence. Exactly the opposite. It makes you untouchable, aloof, overly cautious and downright unfriendly. Forget that “I can do it myself” attitude and snuggle up to needy. A successful and well liked dependant masters the phrases, “may I,” “will you,” “could you” coupled with one of the following:
“borrow,” “watch,” “use,” “go,” “lend,” “have,” etc.

You are at the airport sitting in a crowded boarding area and you see a young woman scanning the nearby crowd. After just a moment or two and after looking right past you, her eyes land on the man sitting right next to you. She leans forward and politely and quietly says to the man, “Would you mind watching my bag while I go to the restroom?” Two things happen simultaneously. The man sitting next to you is flattered by the request, feels like the young woman has paid him a compliment and now feels in some way indebted to the young woman. At the same time you are wondering, “What’s wrong with me, why don’t I get to watch the nice girl’s suitcase?”

When one person asks another for a favor it shows that the “favor asker” trusts the favor doer. I give you money and ask you to run to Starbucks for me. I singled you out, I gave you my money, I trust you to return with what I asked for and my change. You ask your father-in-law to borrow his snow blower. Instead of being aggravated that you can’t go buy your own snow blower he feels that you have confidence in his choice of equipment; that you are comfortable enough with the relationship to borrow things and now you also owe him a favor which is where the obligation from the reciprocity theory comes in.

Why engage this rule of persuasion? If you are trying to be a better communicator then drawing on any established theory can move you along toward being more likable, more persuasive, more understood or empower you in any way toward a better life. It’s a no brainer.
Try it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

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1 comment:

Joe Z. said...

TZ: She would ask me not the man next to me. your dad