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Who Will Listen to You?

Who will listen to you may be a question you are asking: the answer? More than you think

Written by: Vanessa Bohns (Are you the author?)

When you want to convince another person to do something, voice a suggestion at work, or have a strong opinion you’d like to express, there are many factors to consider: What is the best way to phrase your request or persuasive case? What influence tactics should you use? Should you do it over email, or pick up the phone?

Before you can decide on any of that, however, the first question is: Who are you trying to influence? Who is likely to be more receptive to your position or appeal—and who less so?

Importantly, thinking a particular person, or type of person, will be less amenable to your suggestions could cause you to hold back from attempting to influence them at all. Or you may end up using less effective influence tactics—either giving up too soon or pushing too hard—in response to expecting strong pushback.

Luckily, recent research on people’s perceptions of how receptive different influence targets are likely to be to requests and appeals suggests that more people are likely to listen to you than you think—which means your sphere of influence may be even larger than you believe it to be. While you may assume your influence is limited largely to close others and those younger or more junior to you, it turns out that both strangers and people senior to you are also likely to find you persuasive—more so than you may realize.

Should You Ask a Friend or a Stranger for Help?

A common consideration when you need someone to do something for you is whether to ask someone you know well, or someone you don’t know well—or even at all. In many cases, you may feel more comfortable asking a friend than a stranger to, say, sponsor you in your charitable fundraising efforts, or help with a task you could use an extra hand on.

However, in recent research Sebastian Deri, Daniel Stein, and I conducted, we found that while people tend to think our friends will be much more likely to agree to do things for us than strangers, strangers are surprisingly willing to comply with our requests—almost as much as our friends are.

In a series of studies, we had a total of 310 participants approach almost one thousand people with a simple request for a favor (either to complete a survey or count the number of beans in a jar). In each of our three studies, half of our participants were randomly assigned to make this request of people they knew well; the other half were told to make this request of someone they didn’t know, i.e., a stranger.

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