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02 Nov

Be personal, and delegate more successfully

Datum: 2023-11-02 10:00
Close-up of a right hand holding a pen writing on a sheet of white paper on a desk.

We can­not pos­si­bly do absolute­ly every­thing our­selves, and we often need a hand from oth­ers to get things done. Per­haps we have more things to do than we have space, time and ener­gy for and there­fore need to del­e­gate cer­tain things, or per­haps we lack the exper­tise need­ed for doing all the ele­ments of a more exten­sive task. Thus, we ask some­one to help us and do some­thing for us.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

The task is up for some competition

But, oth­er peo­ple have oth­er things to do as well. They too have a long to-do list with tasks to pri­or­i­tize amongst. If we are depen­dent on hav­ing some­thing done for us by a par­tic­u­lar date, we need to make sure that the per­son we del­e­gate to pri­or­i­tizes our” task so that they fin­ish on time, and we can meet our dead­line as well.

Whips and carrots

You have prob­a­bly noticed how oth­ers who have del­e­gat­ed tasks to you have had one or two tricks up their sleeves to make you pri­or­i­tize their par­tic­u­lar task amongst all oth­ers. Some­one uses a harsh­er tone, some­one else flat­ters you, and a third per­son makes it sound as if it is the most impor­tant thing ever so that every­one drops what­ev­er they are doing to come to the rescue.

By hand or preprinted?

An Amer­i­can study implies that we will be bet­ter off by using a much nicer trick that is just as effi­cient as its more nasty coun­ter­parts if we want oth­ers to pri­or­i­tize doing what we want them to do. Randy Gar­ner at Sam Hous­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty in Texas sent an exten­sive sur­vey on paper to 150 ran­dom­ly select­ed pro­fes­sors. For fifty of these, he attached a preprint­ed, for­mal cov­er let­ter. For anoth­er fifty he wrote a hand-writ­ten note and sig­na­ture on the cov­er let­ter, and for the remain­ing fifty pro­fes­sors he wrote a quick mes­sage on a Post-it-note which he attached to the cov­er letter.

What hap­pened? Well, the ones who had received the yel­low Post-it answered the sur­vey to a dras­ti­cal­ly greater extent than the oth­ers: 76% of the respon­dents (yel­low Post-it) answered it com­pared to 48% (hand­writ­ten sig­na­ture on the cov­er let­ter) and 36% (cov­er let­ter with­out per­son­al sig­na­ture or hand­writ­ten note).

Being per­son­al makes the difference

Is it the yel­low note in itself that made the dif­fer­ence? Gar­ner made a few more tests, now includ­ing hand­writ­ten yel­low notes, emp­ty yel­low notes, no yel­low notes, longer sur­vey, short­er sur­vey, dif­fer­ent kinds of notes and cov­er let­ters, and so on.

He found that when the sur­vey had a per­son­al note attached to it, prefer­ably writ­ten on a clear­ly vis­i­ble yel­low note, con­sid­er­ably more peo­ple respond­ed to the ques­tion­naire. Some­how, it made the task of fill­ing out the sur­vey feel more impor­tant and doing so was thus pri­or­i­tized amongst all the respon­dents’ oth­er tasks.

Gar­ner con­clud­ed that when some­one del­e­gates a task in a per­son­al man­ner and we per­ceive it more as a request for help from one per­son to anoth­er as if we are almost being asked in con­fi­dence to do some­thing, we want to respond to this request to a greater extent than we oth­er­wise would. At clos­er thought, this reac­tion is quite nat­ur­al. If some­one per­son­al­ly asks us for help we are more prone and inclined to help than if receiv­ing a request for assis­tance from a group or hav­ing an orga­ni­za­tion more or less inform us that some­thing is expect­ed from us.

Do this

If you want to take advan­tage of Garner’s results and his inter­pre­ta­tion of these, then do the following:

When you are del­e­gat­ing a task either today or in the next few days, take a few extra moments to think about how you can per­son­al­ize the del­e­ga­tion to a greater extent than you usu­al­ly do, so that it becomes clear that you are ask­ing for a favor one per­son to another.

You need not include a Post-it, but use some­thing else that is as much you” as possible.

How and what? Well, only you can answer that.

Back on time

You see, if we are more per­son­al when address­ing oth­ers as we del­e­gate tasks and ask for help, we will to a greater extent than pre­vi­ous­ly get the assis­tance we need and on time, since what we del­e­gate now is per­ceived as hav­ing high­er pri­or­i­ty with the recip­i­ent — at least judg­ing by Garner’s study. And besides, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion between you and the oth­er per­son will be more pleas­ant, and that’s as good rea­son as any to be more friend­ly and personal.

How do you personalize?

How do you ensure that what you ask for help with gets pri­or­i­tized and done quick­ly by the one you del­e­gate to? Tell me!

(But, what tasks could you del­e­gate? I can help you fig­ure that out.)

There's more where this came from

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