Project Leader’s Principles of Persuasion and Influence – Request Magnitude Sequence

by Nancy Lea Hyer and Karen Brown

Have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to this one?  “Good morning, Sam.  Thank you for meeting with me. I’d like to talk to you about getting some of your engineering resources for the Kaibab project I am leading.”

Plight of the Project Leader

If you are like most project leaders, you do not directly control the resources you need for your project. Instead, you must influence others to provide those resources. Persuasion refers to a variety of tools we use to influence others.  Here is one the most powerful persuasion principles, something called “request magnitude sequence.”

Request magnitude sequence says the sequence in which we make requests of different magnitudes impacts the responses we get. People who receive big requests first are more likely to say yes to a subsequent small request.  To illustrate with a home example, one of our children, home from college on spring break made the following request:  “Hey Mommy, may I backpack around Europe for a month this summer with my new boyfriend?”  Being a rather (no, really) protective mom, I said, “Absolutely not.”  The child, well-schooled in request magnitude sequence, next asked, “Well, then can I go to the Bonaroo Music Festival in Tennessee for three days with a group of my high-school friends?”  Going to a music festival for three days, with a group of well-known friends, driving distance from home did not seem nearly as expensive, risky or time consuming compared with travel in Europe for a month with an unknown boyfriend. Naturally, being not nearly as smart as the child, the parental unit said “sure.”

Let’s put this in a project management context:  Suppose you can easily meet your project schedule if you have four engineers available full time for 6 months. However, if you extend the project schedule a bit, and worked some extra hours yourself, you could probably get by with two engineers full time for six months.  Research is very clear that you should make the largest request first: for four engineers for six months.  You might get it! And, if you get a NO, your follow-up request for 2 engineers seems small in comparison.

So, practice request magnitude sequence, and make your largest project requests first.

For more information on request magnitude sequence and other principles of persuasion see:

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence. Science and practice. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Goldstein, N., Martin, S. and R.B. Cialdini (2008). Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. New York: Free Press.