The Science of Getting People to Say 'Yes'

In both the business environment and in personal life it is essential to know how to get what you want -- and get people to say yes to your requests. But, how do you approach people so that they are more likely to agree to your proposal, sales pitch or ideas?

Two researchers, Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser, conducted an experiment to find out how to get people to do something they would not normally do. The researchers went door to door in a small neighborhood asking people to put signs outside of their home to "Drive Carefully."  Only 20 percent of people said yes when asked to put up a large sign. However, researchers found that they could get 76 percent of the residents to say yes if they asked them to first put up a smaller three-inch sign.

This study is the perfect example of how starting with a small request will help you get a ‘yes’ to bigger request later. Many of the residents said yes to the second request because they had already also entered into an agreement with the researchers. When you ask someone to buy something from you, believe in your idea or say yes to you, you have to establish a certain level of trust. The smaller sign showed the homeowners that if they put up a small sign, the researchers would not abuse them. When you are working with clients a small yes can help show your client that they can trust you.

This technique, also called the 'yes ladder' or the 'foot in the door' method, is extremely important for anyone in the business world. Let's review the steps of this technique:

  1. What is your big ask?
    The most important first step is to determine about what your big ask is. If you are a salesman it is probably getting the client to purchase your product, if you are an employee it might be asking for a raise. Identify your big ask.

  2. Work backward
    Once you have identified your big ask, work backward, thinking of two to three smaller asks. If you are a salesman this can be getting someone on your email list, or having them take home a demo. If you are an employee wanting a raise perhaps you want to ask for an extra benefit or a title change before a salary bump.

  3. Plan your first yes approach
    Your first yes might be even more important than your big ask. Plan your approach for your first yes as if it was just as important as your ultimate goal. Lay out all of the reasons your target should say yes to your first ask. Often times your target will be so overwhelmed by your preparation and energy for your easy ask, they will be much happier to say yes.

  4. Encourage trust
    Once your target has given you your first yes -- don't let them down! Make sure they are happy with your first promise and encourage them to engage in the young relationships so they are more likely to want to mature it.

The yes ladder is fundamentally a trust building exercise. If you can get people to trust you, your product and your brand they will be more likely to say yes to you again and again.

Citations:

Jonathan L Freedman and Scott C Fraser. “Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 4(2), 195-202.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards specializes in social and emotional intelligence research and development. The focus of her company is to combine human behavior research and tech trends.

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