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Leaders are extremely adept at getting people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

Two researchers—Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser decided to test out how exactly to get people to do something. They went door to door in a small neighborhood and asked people if they would put a large sign on their front lawn that said: “Drive Carefully.” Only 20% of people said that they would put the sign up in their yard. I was actually surprised a full 20% said yes, but it was still a small percent. Then, they asked people if they would put a smaller three-inch sign saying “Drive Carefully” in their window. Many more people said yes to this. Then, the researchers came back three weeks later and asked those same people to put the much bigger sign in their yard. This time, 76% of the people said they would put the larger sign on their lawn.

What does this study tell us? A LOT. It is the perfect example of how asking for a small request first will help you get a ‘yes’ to a bigger request later. Why does this work? People who first put the small sign up began to feel helpful. They also went into a mental as well as a physical agreement with the researchers to drive safely. In fact, these people most likely felt like very good citizens for putting the sign-up. Therefore, when researchers returned and asked for the larger sign, they had very few barriers to break. The homeowners had already been in agreement with the researchers, had already thought of themselves as helpful citizens and they had already changed the look of their house by adding a message. Making it bigger would take very little mental change, and this is why 76% said yes the second time.

Try for yourself
Leaders never start with the big ask. They know that they have to get small buy-ins first. Try for yourself by not going for the big ask right up front. Get the small yes and earn the big one.


Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People