People eager to have their request approved often make the mistake of asking for too much at the start. Asking for less initially often leads to a better result.
Let’s say you want management to approve a costly new training program. Rather than ask for the full amount, try asking management to approve a pilot program, at a lower cost. Asking for it on a trial basis means less of a financial commitment for management and, therefore, less daunting of a request. The approach not only will increase the likelihood that you will win approval; it also will make it more likely that you will get another positive response in the future if you ask for the full version of the program.
That is because of the human behavior principle of consistency. We feel a need to be consistent in our behavior, because in our culture, consistency is a highly regarded quality. Those whose behavior is inconsistent are viewed as irresponsible, inconsiderate, disorganized, and self-centered. So we want to be consistent in two ways: 1) we want our actions to match our commitments, and 2) we want to act in a manner that is consistent with how we acted in a similar situation previously. If someone said yes to your request once before, it is more likely he or she will say yes again — even if your request is more expensive.
By reducing the size of your initial request, thereby making it easier for your boss to say yes, your boss is then more likely to say yes again when you go back and ask for approval of the full training program (assuming the pilot was successful).
Asking for less is an influence tactic that also can work when asking someone for a donation. Psychologists Robert Cialdini and David Schroeder, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, told of an experiment in which they sent two groups of solicitors door to door asking for donations for the American Cancer Society. One group simply asked people, “Would you be willing to give a donation?” But the second group followed up that question immediately with, “Even a penny would help.”
By inserting that second sentence, the fundraiser reduced the size of the request, making it easier for the person to say yes and also making it more difficult to say no out of fear of feeling guilty about being cheap. “When confronted with a minor request, a target person is hard put to argue for an inability to comply,” the psychologists said.
Asking for less in your persuasive writing can help get your foot in the door and could yield greater benefit later.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of “Perfect Phrases for Business” (McGraw-Hill) and is a contributing author of the new book “Focus on Them,” about managerial communication.