Tag Archives: Francis Flynn

Ask for What You Want: You Have More Influence Than You Think

Most people underestimate the likelihood that requests for help will be granted, particularly after experiencing previous refusals, according to Stanford’s Daniel Newark and Francis Flynn with Vanessa Lake Bohns of University of Waterloo.

Francis Flynn

Help-seekers were more likely to believe that a previous refusal would be followed by another refusal to a similar request. 
However, help-seekers underestimated the compliance rate of potential helpers who had previously refused assistance.
This suggests that most people agree with a subsequent request, often to reduce discomfort of rejecting others’ overtures for help.

Vanessa Bohns

Vanessa Bohns

Participants estimated they would need to ask 10 people to have three agree to lend their mobile phones for brief calls.
In fact, these volunteers needed to ask only six people for help, 40% fewer than expected.
Most people have a pessimistic bias about the likelihood that others will provide assistance, they concluded.

Volunteers requested two favors of strangers:  Complete a brief survey and take a letter to a nearby post office.
Help seekers predicted that people who refused the first request to complete the survey would be less likely to take the letter to the post office.

More people agreed to the second request than to the first request, showing that after people refused a request, they were more likely to agree the second time.
Requestors tended to “anchor” on the first refusal, and hesitate to make a second request.
However, this finding suggests that requestors have a greater chance of success after initial refusal, and that this is the time to muster resilience and persistence.

Requestors and potential help-seekers analyzed requests using different criteria: Requestors focused on the magnitude of the “ask,” whereas potential helpers considered the inconvenience costs of saying “yes” compare with the interpersonal and self-image costs of saying “no.”

Requestors benefit from expanding the pool of those they ask, not just those who reliably and consistently agree.
These individuals are typically overburdened by requests, and those who are more selective in their assistance are underutilized and may be willing to assist.

Potential helpers underestimated help-seekers’ discomfort and embarrassment in asking for assistance, in previous studies by the team.
This may result in less willingness to help underutilized formal support programs.
The most effective way to increase help-seeking is to encourage helpers to focus on reducing help-seekers’ subjective discomfort in asking rather than advocating the practical benefits of asking for help.

Mahdi Roghanizad

Mahdi Roghanizad

Bohns extended this focus on the impact of interpersonal discomfort in deciding whether to commit an unethical act in research with University of Waterloo colleagues Mahdi Roghanizad and Amy Xu.

People who observed the unethical act but didn’t participate (“instigators”) underestimated their influence over those who committed the asocial acts.

Volunteers enlisted people they didn’t know to tell a small untruth or to commit a small act of vandalism after predicting the ease of enlisting others in these acts.
In related investigations, online participants responded to hypothetical vignettes about buying alcohol for children, and taking office supplies home for personal use.

Bystanders underestimated their impact on others when they suggested engaging in unethical acts.
Further, interpersonal discomfort caused participants to commit the asocial act to avoid conflict.

These results suggest that most people inaccurately estimate their influence, particularly in situations that can evoke interpersonal discomfort.
At the same time, Bohns and Flynn reported that employees’ systematically underestimate their influence over others in the workplace.
Most employees expect their efforts to be futile.

This pessimistic bias can limit employees’ willingness to:

  • Lead business transformation initiatives,
  • Recognize personal contributions to others’ performance issues,
  • Voice concerns about unethical workplace practices.

This underestimation bias may be mitigated by five variables:

  • Comparative judgments,
  • Objectifying an influence target,
  • Actual degree of personal influence compared to perceived influence,
  • Means of influence, ranging across incentives, suggestions, reinforcements, punishments,
  • Organizational culture. 

These findings suggest asking for what you want, even after rejection.
In addition, you have more influence over others than you expect.

-*How do you assess your likelihood of getting what you want when you ask?

-*How likely are others to influence you by evoking social discomfort to increase your compliance?

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Work with Experts – But Don’t Compete – to Improve Performance

Francis Flynn

Francis Flynn

People can improve performance on tasks ranging across:

Emily Amanatullah

Emily Amanatullah

when performing individually but alongside an outstanding performer, according to Stanford’s Francis Flynn and University of Texas, Austin’s Emily Amanatullah.

They attributed performance enhancement to increased mental focus and physical effort, motivated by:

Robert Zajonc

Robert Zajonc

  • Social facilitation due to the expert role model’s mere presence, described more than 50 years ago by Robert Zajonc, then of University of Michigan
  • Social comparison” with “skillful coactors,” demonstrated by University of North Carolina’s John Seta.

    John Seta

    John Seta

However, performance declined when people competed directly with a strong performer, Flynn and Amanatullah reported.
They concluded that “high status coactors” enable people to “psych up” performance when not competing, but become “psyched out” when challenging the expert, based on their analysis of Masters golf tournament statistics over five years.

Ray Reagans

Ray Reagans

High status co-actors can achieve their influential position through demonstrated skill or their greater awareness of status dynamics due to better ability to “self-monitor,” found Flynn and Amanatullah with Ray E. Reagans of Carnegie Mellon and Daniel R. Ames of Columbia University.

Daniel R Ames

Daniel R Ames

People with greater self-monitoring ability tend to more effective in managing their “exchange relationships,” and generally establish a reputation as a generous “exchange partner.”

As a result, they are typically more likely than low self-monitors to be sought out for help and to refrain from asking others for help.

Co-action,” organizational status differences and interpersonal “exchange” all occur in organizations when employees work independently but in near proximity with others, and when people collaborate toward shared goals.

These finding suggest that working near expert colleagues can enable improve performance among co-workers, but competition for salary increases, promotions, access to special training, and other perks can undermine individual achievement by provoking anxiety.

Flynn and Amanatullah recommended that organizations and employees can showcase desired skillful performance by role models, while enabling employees to earn rewards and incentives through individual efforts rather than competition.
This recommendation may be impossible to implement in hierarchical organizations that identify “high potential” employees and differentiate performance through “stack ranking.”

-*How do you avoid the “psych out” effect of competing with highly skilled performers?

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