Engineering 101

If You Need Help At Work, Don’t Hide Behind Email Or Text

It surprises me, but people ask for important things via email or text when at work. However, a new Cornell University research says that asking in person for help maximizes one’s chance of getting a “yes.” Can’t ask in person? Then opt for video or a phone call, rather than email or a text.

The research group’s “Should I Ask Over Zoom, Phone or In-Person? Communication Channel and Predicted vs. Actual Compliance,” published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, was co-authored by Vanessa Bohns, associate professor in Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, and M. Mahdi Roghanizad, assistant professor at Ryerson University.

Researchers conducted experiments with 490 people and 1,490 respondents to their requests for help proofreading a half-page of text. In one exercise, help-seekers asked five friends over varied channels to see which ones elicited the most compliance with requests. They compared the results with what help-seekers predicted would be the most effective channels. The results did not mesh. Most people underestimated the in-person advantage.

“We tend to think people will weigh the costs and benefits and make a measured decision about whether to agree to something, saying ‘yes’ only if they really want to,” Bohns said. “But in fact, people agree to all sorts of things, even things they’d rather not do, because they feel bad saying ‘no’ in the moment.”

It seems that many miss out on receiving help because they ask in suboptimal ways. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

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