A relative of mine had been trying unsuccessfully to get a letter from a doctor. The letter was important for part of an insurance settlement, but the doctor was always busy or gone and the letter just never seemed to get written. I offered to help, so I called and talked to one of the nurses. She was sympathetic and said she would try to help, but the doctor was, after all, a doctor and it was really up to him. I thanked her and got off the phone.
My wife pointed out that when she worked as a nurse, food was often a very big motivator. An hour or so later, my assistant had located a bakery nearby and ordered them a batch of cookies along with a note thanking them for their help.
The next day, the nurse called to say that the letter was on its way. They said the cookies were completely unnecessary, but so very much appreciated.
A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.
I’m not suggesting you try to bribe people to get things done, but don’t overlook the power of sending a simple gift to help make your request stand out. If someone deals with 100 people every day, who do you think they will help first, the person who sends candy or the person who yells at them on the phone?
Here are some things we considered in selecting an appropriate gift to send in the above situation:
- Something that was shared. When a box of cookies show up in an office, they are going to be shared and people will ask where they came from. If the doctor comes by and says “where did these cookies come from”…. you get the idea.
- Something that would smell. Fresh cookies will generally attract people by smell alone. This helped give us maximum exposure in the office. A box of chocolates might not have been as noticeable.
- Peer pressure. By sending the cookies, we basically let the entire office know that we were waiting for a letter from the doctor. This put a bit more pressure on him to write the letter and make sure it didn’t get put off for a few more weeks.
Gifts aren’t appropriate in every situation. If you are going to court over a traffic ticket, I wouldn’t recommend bringing a cake for judge. Still, there are many situaitons where a gift can help oil the social gears and help you accomplish your tasks with much less friction.
As an added point: Your relative wanted the doctor to spend his (her?) time composing a letter that would benefit her – but the doctor wasn’t being in any way compensated for that time. Perhaps the doctor was pleased that your relative (or you) finally thought his time was worth something.
A recent survey revealed that nearly 50% of primary care physicians are considering leaving the profession because of the excess burden of uncompensated paperwork. (http://www.efluxmedia.com/news_Many_Physicians_Would_Quit_29324.html) Perhaps instead of feeling peevish that the doctor was taking a few days or even weeks to get around to giving her a free service, your relative might express some gratitude that doctors haven’t started billing by the minute like lawyers and other professionals do?
Interesting comment above…maybe make an appointment?
On the topic of giving gifts, that is right out of Sales 101. A typical response when given something is to reciprocate.
I have been charged for such letters before now. If the doctor is sensible, and values his time he would put a standard cost in place for letters like this.
I like your approach here though Mark, a good way to break through the inertia.
Michael Sliwinski says
One of the gifts we give is the Productive! Magazine where one of your articles also got published!
Please check the first issue and your article in it:
I’d appreciate if you introduced your readers to the magazine and feel free to show off and highlight your participation in this project.
It’s a free “getting things done” gift to anyone! (free pdf download)
Mark Shead says
@Sarah – Well considering that getting this letter was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, I’m sure they would have been happy to pay any fee the doctor wanted to charge. It wasn’t a matter of him charging to much, it was a matter of getting it done in the first place.