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Addition by Subtraction: Getting to ‘NO’

It’s always been my experience that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. According to the authors of “Breaking the Glass Ceiling with ‘No’: Gender Differences in Doing Favors,” research takes it even further and strongly suggests that if you want a favor done, ask a woman.

Two recently completed studies were presented at a business conference. In one study, 47 business school students were asked to recall agreeing to do an on the job favor when their preference was to decline the request.

Despite the fact that they felt worn out and already overtaxed, the female participants were five times more likely to oblige and do the favor than their male counterparts. What is a likely explanation? Perhaps they agreed because they were also twice as likely to have been worried about the consequences of declining the request.

A second study involving altruistic behavior in small groups underscored similar results. Female undergraduates were 50% more likely to comply with an implied request for a favor than were male students. The researchers suggest that these behaviors, the willingness of women to do favors in the workplace may lead to being overburdened with low-skill tasks.

Were men more strategic in declining to perform certain types of favors or were women more likely to be asked in the first place? While the study did not identify these specifics, think about your own experience in the workplace.

  1. How did you respond?

  2. Were you more likely to comply as a rule or based on the circumstances around the request?

  3. Will the results of this study make you more aware of your behavior in the future?

However comfortable you assumed you were with choice and change, it may morph into overwhelming anxiety that was never anticipated. This makes it the ideal time to engage the support of a career coach with experience in helping professionals achieve better, faster, results. At KICKSTART Your Transition we offer a broad range of services to fit your needs


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