Behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story
The Little Match Girl

Why it’s better to ask in person


“Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes.” Tarjei Vesaas.

When we need to ask a favour of someone it’s so easy to just send an email and wait for a response. It can save us the embarrassment of face-to-face pleading but, unfortunately, we can’t expect the same results.

Two studies I recently read show that most people think that emails will be just as effective as asking face-to-face.

In the first study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 participants were told they would have to ask 10 strangers, either in person or via email, to complete a survey for no pay. The people in both groups said that they expected one in two strangers to agree, and both were wildly wrong. Whilst more than 70% of people approached in person complied, among those who received emails, only 2% responded.

In another study, people were recruited to complete a paid survey via email or in person. Before they began the paid survey, they were offered the chance to complete a second unpaid one. Canvassers again underestimated how many people asked personally would comply, and overestimated the response they expected from the email requests to complete the unpaid survey.

The emailers had an overinflated idea of how much people trusted them and how much empathy they garnered. In order to get a better response, the researchers suggest including more personal information in the emails to facilitate building initial trust.

What about asking a friend or colleague a favour? Face-to-face is still the best, preliminary data suggests. Consider if a friend comes to you and asks a favour in person. It means that either they are in serious need or they respect you enough to pay a visit.

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