It’s natural to feel awkward when asking for favors. The fear of face-to-face rejection (not to mention the inconvenience of setting up a meeting) causes many of us to make our requests over email. But new research reported in Harvard Business Review suggests that a lack of personal connection can end up costing us what we want.
For the new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers Mahdi Roghanizad and Vanessa K. Bohns instructed 45 participants to each ask 10 strangers to fill out a survey. Half of the volunteers sent their requests over email while the other half found people to ask in person. Both groups used the exact same wording when reaching out to strangers.
The experiment showed that the face-to-face requests were 34 times more likely to garner positive responses than cold emails alone. The results vastly differed from the participants' expectations: Both groups guessed their methods would be equally effective, saying they'd find success about half the time. As Bohns writes for Harvard Business Review:
“In our studies, participants were highly attuned to their own trustworthiness and the legitimacy of the action they were asking others to take when they sent their emails. Anchored on this information, they failed to anticipate what the recipients of their emails were likely to see: an untrustworthy email asking them to click on a suspicious link.”
The researchers didn’t explore how the results would have changed had the participants contacted acquaintances—like coworkers—instead of total strangers. You’d think email interactions would fare better as long as recipients can place a face to the address, but this isn’t always the case. One study published in 2016 showed that both friends and strangers have trouble interpreting the tone of emails. So if you need a favor from someone who works in your office, getting up from your desk to ask in person is sometimes worth the effort.
[h/t Harvard Business Review]