It pays to be personal

first_imgInside Influence Report, one of my favorite newsletters from the great gang at ASU, reminds us once again why it pays to be personal. Here’s the story, from Noah Goldstein:I have a friend who is a medical doctor. Nicest guy in the world. Will do, and has done, anything for anybody. So I was totally perplexed — and as a social psychologist, very interested — when I learned he was having difficulty finding someone to cover his shift on the weekend of my wedding. I asked him if he had ever volunteered to take his colleagues’ shifts, and he replied that indeed he had. Considering all he had done in the past to help them, and all that we know about the power of the norm of reciprocation, it was puzzling that he could not get a single person to volunteer to help him out during his time of need. By the time he had answered my next question, however, the solution to the mystery was clear. When I inquired how he went about asking for help, he said that he had sent out an e-mail. And it wasn’t just any of type of e-mail — it was a mass e-mail, in which all of the recipients could see all the other recipients. The problem with this strategy is that it creates what is called diffusion of responsibility. By sending out the mass e-mail in a way that made visible the large number of coworkers being asked, no one single individual felt personally responsible for helping. Instead, each recipient likely assumed that someone else on that list would agree to help. In a classic demonstration of diffusion of responsibility, social psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané staged a situation in which a student seemed to be having an epileptic seizure during a study. When a single bystander was present, that person helped approximately 85% of the time. But when five bystanders were present — all of whom were located in separate rooms, so no one could be certain if the victim was receiving help — only 31% of the bystanders helped. Fortunately for this friend, Noah Goldstein knew what to do. He told the doctor to send personal emails asking individual people specifically. It worked. The doctor attended the wedding.The more your “asks” appear to be made from you, personally and directly, to an individual, the more likely people will support you. So segment your audience. Show you know them. Speak to them like individuals. Try some one-on-one contact with your biggest supporters. Mass, impersonal, Dear Friend emails just won’t do the same job. Just ask the doctor.last_img read more