Need to Ask for a Favor? Don't Hide Behind Email.

A recent study found that you'll have better luck in person.

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Need to Ask for a Favor? Don't Hide Behind Email.
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Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
3 min read

For some people, they never feel more at home then when they are striking up a conversation with a stranger. Just friends you haven’t met yet, right? But for many, especially introverts -- even the outgoing ones -- a networking experience can range anywhere from draining to terrifying.

But according to a new study from Cornell University and the University of Waterloo in Canada, when you’re making a request, you’ll actually fare better in person than over email. Because even if you approach it with the best of intentions, it’s a lot easier for someone to say no with the digital divide between you.

“Requesters likely do not recognize the effect of these limitations of email,” wrote researchers Vanessa K. Bohns and M. Mahdi Roghanizad. “Anchored on the intimate knowledge they have of their own trustworthiness and circumstances, we theorize requesters will struggle to envision what their targets see: a suspicious email from a stranger that generates little empathy.”

Related: How to Hack a First Impression

Bohns and Roghanizad tested this theory with two experiments. In the first experiment, the researchers tasked 495 university students to ask 10 strangers if they would fill out a personality test, and they were randomly assigned to either do this in person or via email. The in-person contingent recruited people to complete the questionnaire on campus, and the email group was given a random list of 10 student emails.

The researchers found that ultimately the participants underestimated the success rate of the in-person requests, and on the flip side, overestimated the response to the emailed requests.

“Notably, requesters recognized it would be more difficult for targets to say 'no' face to face than over email,” Bohns and Roghanizad wrote. “Requesters fail to appreciate the implicit trust granted in face-to-face interactions, but not over email, which leads to increased empathy towards the requester, and ultimately higher rates of compliance.”

Related: Networking and Need A Favor? Follow These 5 Steps to Get a Response.

In the second experiment, 480 people participated and again were split into email and face-to-face groups. Ultimately, the researchers found that not only did the targets trust the face-to-face requesters more than the email requesters, they also felt more empathy for them.

So while emailing someone cold is always an option and can work, it seems that there is no substitute for in-person interaction, especially if you want the other person to feel invested in you.

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