If You Need Something, Just Ask | Summary and Q&A

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March 5, 2010
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Stanford Graduate School of Business
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If You Need Something, Just Ask

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Summary

In this video, the speaker discusses the underestimation people have when it comes to others' willingness to say yes when asked for help. They provide various studies and demonstrations that support this claim. They also explore the factors that influence this underestimation, such as the size and directness of the request. The speaker also addresses the reverse situation of predicting others' help-seeking behavior and how people tend to overestimate how likely others are to ask for help.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the speaker's personal experience with asking people for things?

The speaker shares a personal story about their experience working as a social worker and considering different career paths. They recall asking executive directors of nonprofit organizations about their work and the surprising importance of being willing to ask people for things in such roles.

Q: Why does the speaker believe people underestimate others' willingness to say yes when asked for help?

The speaker suggests that people underestimate others' willingness to say yes because they focus on the costs of saying yes rather than the benefits or altruistic motivations. They also highlight the differences in perspective between the asker and the person being asked, which can affect their judgments.

Q: How do the speaker's studies demonstrate the underestimation effect?

The speaker conducts various studies where participants have to ask others for things, such as filling out questionnaires, borrowing a cell phone, or walking them to a gym. In these studies, participants consistently underestimate how likely others are to say yes to their requests.

Q: How do the size and directness of a request impact people's expectations?

The speaker manipulates the size and directness of requests in one of their studies. They find that people underestimate the likelihood of getting a positive response when they make direct requests, but overestimate it when they make indirect requests. This suggests that people focus on the perceived magnitude of their ask, while others may focus on the potential awkwardness of saying no.

Q: What advice does the speaker offer in regards to asking people who have previously said no?

The speaker suggests that people often avoid asking those who have previously said no, assuming they will refuse again. However, their studies show that these individuals may actually be more likely to say yes on subsequent requests. Therefore, the speaker advises considering a broader pool of potential help-seekers, including those who have previously refused.

Q: How do people's predictions about help-seeking behavior differ from their predictions about helping others?

The speaker explains that people tend to overestimate how likely others are to seek help from them. They provide examples of teaching assistants and MBA students who overestimate the number of people who would seek their help. This is in contrast to the underestimation of others' willingness to say yes when asked for help.

Q: What explanations do the speaker and their colleagues offer for the underestimation effect?

The speaker suggests that the underestimation effect occurs because people focus on the costs of saying yes, while others may consider the cost of saying no. They also highlight the role of social awkwardness and the different perspectives of the asker and the person being asked.

Q: How does the speaker believe their findings can be applied in practical scenarios?

The speaker suggests that understanding people's underestimation of others' willingness to say yes can be useful in various contexts, such as fundraising campaigns or support programs. They emphasize the importance of considering the way requests are made and adjusting them to minimize social awkwardness and maximize the likelihood of a positive response.

Q: How do people's estimates of how likely others are to ask for help differ from reality?

The speaker's studies show that people tend to overestimate how likely others are to ask for help. They give examples of teaching assistants and MBA students who expected more people to seek their help compared to the actual number of requests they received.

Q: What factors influence people's underestimation of others' willingness to say yes?

The speaker discusses the influence of factors such as the magnitude of the request and the directness of the ask. They show that people's expectations differ based on these factors, highlighting the importance of considering the perspective of the person being asked.

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