Take the guesswork out of your holiday shopping by getting your friends and family members to send you a wish list. Easy, right? Unless your loved ones are of the “Oh, surprise me!” variety. In that case, use one of these 11 tricks (and some handy apps) to convince your friends to cough up their gift preferences.
1. Lead by Example
Encourage your friend to share his or her wish list by first breaking the ice yourself—use a resource such as WantsThis to send your own wish list (it makes a cool custom URL in the format of YourName.wantsthis.com) and ask her to do the same. Business and team-building researchers recommend leaders exhibit the behavior they would like to see in order to elicit similar behavior from their peers. The psychological principle of conformity also holds that people are likely to change their actions in order to go along with the group (just look at any group of teenagers).
2. Do Them a Favor
Before making your big ask, set the stage by doing a small favor for your friend. Leading up to the holidays, keep an ear out for ways to make life easier for your friend or loved one—if your roommate gets home tired after work, offer to do the dishes; if your significant other mentions an errand he or she needs to run, offer to do it instead. The psychological rule of reciprocity states that people are inclined to do things for those who have done things for them. People feel uncomfortable when things are out of balance. So tilt the scale in your favor, then ask your friends to do you a favor by sending you their wish lists.
3. Make Them Do You a Favor
It may seem counterintuitive, but the Ben Franklin Effect suggests that people who do favors for you will come to like you more. The story goes as follows: Benjamin Franklin won the favor of a rival Pennsylvania legislator who didn’t much care for him by asking the legislator to lend him a rare book. When the man did, Franklin thanked him profusely. According to Franklin, upon their next meeting, the prickly legislator spoke to him “with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions.” This caused Franklin to conclude, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” So display your graciousness, and then ask for that wish list.
4. Use Reverse Psychology
Your parents have been using it on you for years: They get you to come home for the holidays by saying they’d have more fun if you were gone anyway (of course, you book your flight just to prove them wrong). Now give them a taste of their own medicine by asking them not to send you a wish list. Reactance theory says that people who sense their control is being taken away from them will grab it back by going against express requests, even if doing so may seem against their best interests. Use this in your favor! (And dropping a few hints that you’re eyeing those matching reindeer sweaters as gifts probably wouldn’t hurt.)
5. Promise They’ll Get What They Want (Instead of that Reindeer Sweater)
Human beings are generally risk-averse creatures—meaning we are more motivated by bad outcomes than good ones and will therefore do whatever we can to limit risk. So assure the people on your list that they will get exactly what they want (and nothing they don’t) if they send you their wish list. Even better, they can use the website GoGivit to rate your gift ideas, thereby eliminating any duds.
6. Ask In An Email or Text Message
A 2012 study from the University of Michigan suggests, “[P]eople are more likely to disclose sensitive information via text messages than in voice interviews.” So when you want direct answers, take to your keypad. Your family is more likely to be honest about their desires, and less likely to give you a line about “loving anything you give them,” if they see the request in print. And while you’re at it, send them a link to WishyBox, any easy-to-use wish list manager.
7. Imitate Them
Ever hear that imitation is the highest form of flattery? Turns out it’s true. People are more likely to trust those who seem familiar (i.e. more like themselves). Therefore, should you decide to ask for your friends’ wish lists in person, casually and subtlety mimic their gestures and vocal tones (the subtlety here is key; if you go overboard, this could backfire). Research has found that mirroring, as this practice is called, is incredibly persuasive.
8. Butter Them Up
Speaking of flattery, layer it on thick. Compliments are an incredibly effective way of getting what you want. Even, it seems, when the motives behind the compliments are transparent. While you may know your employee is telling you your hair looks great in order to ask for the day off, you’re still more likely to feel a subconscious self-esteem boost from the flattery and give your coworker what he wants. So, our smartest and prettiest friend, tack some superlatives onto your wish list request.
9. Ask When They’re Tired
When people are tired, their mental energy levels lag along with their physical energy levels—which, oddly enough, can work to your advantage. If you saddle someone with a request when he’s tired, he’ll probably tell you he’ll “do it tomorrow.” In doing so, he puts himself in your debt. And, as we’ve previously discussed, no one likes being in another’s debt—making it more likely your friend will respond to your wish list request the next morning. Make doing so even easier for him by signing up for Whimventory, a quick and convenient tool that allows you to build your wish lists as you surf the Web.
10. Offer a Reward
Positive reinforcement is a tried-and-true psychological motivator. If the perfect gift isn’t appealing enough for the people on your list, offer to sweeten the deal. The website Wish operates on the same principle: The more wish lists you create and the more you buy through the site, the more rewards (in the form of gift certificates) you rack up. It’s a win-win-win.
11. Ask For More Than You Want
Aiming high is a basic tenet of negotiation. Start by asking for more than you want—say, an itemized list of the exact items your loved ones want for the holidays, including links and prices. This way, when your target says no way, you can come back with a more reasonable request. Already feeling guilty about slamming the door the first time, your friend will be more than happy to share their wish list, especially if you invite them to do so through a user-friendly, private app such as Giftster.
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