How To Get People To Help You

Have you ever had your breath taken away by somebody’s ungratefulness? Has anybody you’ve benefited in dozens of way ever refuse to grant you a tiny favor? Well, you were doing it wrong. You ran afoul of something that I call the “Rolf Rule”.

The “Rolf Rule” comes from a book that I read as a child, a Russian translation of an Ernest Thompson Seton’s 1911 classic “Rolf in the Woods: The Adventures of a Boy Scout With Indian Quonab and Little Dog Skookum”.

rolf in the woods russian

The book is about a boy who becomes a successful outdoorsman and hunter under the guidance of an American Indian named Quonab. I’ve read it over 20 years ago and don’t remember much of Rolf’s adventures, but this passage that explained why Quonab was willing to help Rolf out, stuck in my memory:

“The man who has wronged you will never forgive you, and he who has helped you will be forever grateful. Yes, there is nothing that draws you to a man so much as the knowledge that you have helped him.”

Indeed, the person who is most likely to help you is not the one that you’ve helped in the past, but the one that helped you. This jives very well with the famous study by Freedman and Fraser, “Compliance Without Pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique“. It is probably included in dozens of self help books, but the gist is the same: people are much more likely to comply with an outrageous request if you get them to agree to do something easy first.