Study: Need Something Done? Skip the Email, Ask Face-to-Face

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Apr 12, 2017
Confused Woman

A recent study has found that you're more likely to get someone to do something if you ask them in person rather than through email, according to the Harvard Business Review. Specifically, you're 34 times more likely to get a "yes" if you ask someone face-to-face than if you make the exact same request over email. The study, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, asked 45 participants to ask 10 strangers each to complete a basic survey, half of whom by email and the other half in-person. The script for the request was exactly the same in both instances. What the researchers found was that people were much more likely to agree to fill out the survey when asked offline than on. This is despite subjects guessing that email would actually be slightly more effective: those charged with face-to-face asks felt five out of 10 responses would be positive, while those who reached out via email thought 5.5 out of 10 would agree. 

When attempting to replicate the results in a second study, researchers found that nonverbal cues made a critical difference for those asking people face-to-face, conveying legitimacy and trustworthiness. In contrast, while those sending emails felt they were trustworthy, they failed to anticipate how the recipients would take the request: as an email asking them to click a suspicious link, something that generally tends to raise alarm bells. 

"Analyses of several theorized mechanisms for this finding suggest that requesters, anchored on their own perspectives, fail to appreciate the suspicion, and resulting lack of empathy, with which targets view email requests from strangers. Given the prevalence of email and text-based communication, this is an extremely important moderator of the underestimation-of-compliance effect," said the study abstract. 

The study authors suggested, perhaps, that offices should try relying less on email and text-based communication and more on in-person dialogue. While certainly more convenient, electronic communications don't seem to move as many people to action. 

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