It’s Optional, Except It’s Not: You’ve Been Voluntold
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It’s Optional, Except It’s Not: You’ve Been Voluntold

If you’ve ever had your hand raised for you, we can help

Fri, Apr 28, 2023 8:15amGrey Clock 3 min

Come to my meeting. Plan my bachelorette party. Help with this project that’s totally not in your job description.


We’ve all been there, trying to persuade people to do things they don’t have to do, and probably don’t want to either. Or, we’re staring down a painful request ourselves.

“Inside, you’re questioning, like, how did I get here?” says Matt Brattin, a software company executive based in Fresno, Calif.

Over the years, he has been talked into everything from taking notes at meetings that had nothing to do with his job to donning a giant gnome costume at an employee event in the Texas summer heat. (He was working for Travelocity—whose mascot was a gnome—at the time.)

“Is this a thing I even have an option to say no to?” he wondered.

Definitely. It’s time to learn the delicate art of ‘voluntelling’: persuading people to help, or, if you’re the one always being voluntold, getting out of it.

The power of silence

Scoring the answer you want starts with asking the right questions, says Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

You want to pose queries that guide the person down a path that inevitably ends at the destination of your choosing. Aren’t you excited about so-and-so’s new baby? (Yes!) Shouldn’t we have a shower for her? (Of course!) Can you help me plan it?

Make sure to pause frequently as you encourage the person toward your conclusion, says Prof. Berger, the author of a book about the magic words we can use to persuade others. A moment of silence is a cue for the other person to shake their head yes or mutter “uh huh.”

“They are implicitly starting to agree with what you’re saying,” he says. “You’ve given them that space.”

Best to also give the person choices. Would he rather be in charge of finding a venue, or coordinating the food? We all want to feel like we have autonomy, Prof. Berger says. Confronted with specific options, we’re more likely to focus on the possibilities we’ve been given, not declining altogether.

Skip the apologies

Don’t be tentative or apologetic with your request, says Bob Bordone, who coaches executives on negotiation. Saying sorry gives the person an easy window to say no.

“I’d be super grateful if you could help us out with this,” Mr. Bordone recommends saying.

Tap in to the other person’s perspective to make the offer one that they want to say yes to. What’s important to them? What do they care about?

When Wassia Kamon, a finance professional in the Atlanta area, noticed the supply-chain team at a former job was putting wrong data into her accounting system, she knew confronting the team’s leader with accusations and demands wouldn’t get her anywhere. The group didn’t report to her, and the executive had years more experience than she did.

Instead, she explained she wanted the departments to work better together, and help the company run more smoothly. After the pair held a group meeting with both departments, the supply-chain workers stopped making mistakes, and Ms. Kamon’s relationship with the executive got more cordial, not less.

“How can we form little alliances?” she asks herself.

Add some peer pressure

You can build additional momentum by winning support from people who are close to the person you’re ultimately trying to convince, says Allison Shapira, the chief executive of Global Public Speaking, a firm that trains managers to communicate persuasively. Think about who the person you need the yes from trusts. Get them on board first.

“Now all she’s doing is joining her colleagues in this, as opposed to standing out,” Ms. Shapira says.

Giving a specific deadline can also help, making the request feel less nebulous and open-ended.

If you suspect the person is going to be resistant, you can briefly acknowledge the road blocks or pressures she’s facing. You know she has another project on her plate, or that staffing is tight. Then quickly pivot back to potential solutions. Ms. Shapira recommends asking questions like, “What would make it easier for your team to attend this meeting?”

Say no with conviction

Sometimes, we’re on the other side, our hand raised for us.

Even when we feel we’ve already been roped into something, we still have the power to decline, says Vanessa Patrick, a marketing professor at University of Houston and author of a coming book about the science of saying no.

Avoid making excuses, she advises. At some point in the future, the excuse won’t be applicable. Instead, tie your no to your identity, using the word “don’t.” I don’t lend money to family members. I don’t volunteer in my kid’s classroom during the workday.

Research from Prof. Patrick and a colleague finds that using “don’t” instead of “can’t” increases the chances the person will respect your no, and adds to your resolve.

Worried about sounding harsh? Buffer the direct language with nonverbal cues, such as smiling, leaning forward, using your body language to communicate warmth, she says.

If you’re still tempted to go along with the demand, buy yourself some time by saying it’s your policy to take 24 hours to consider requests. Remind yourself of the opportunity cost. What will you miss out on if you begrudgingly agree to do this?

After all, convincing others to say yes is a valuable skill. But so is saying no when the moment calls for it.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Appliance technicians blame a push toward computerisation and an increase in the quantity of components inside a machine

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Our refrigerators, washing machines and ovens can do more than ever, from producing symmetrical ice cubes to remotely preheating on your commute home. The downside to all these snazzy features is that the appliances are more prone to breaking.

Appliance technicians and others in the industry say there has been an increase in items in need of repair. Yelp users, for example, requested 58% more quotes from thousands of appliance repair businesses last month than they did in January 2022.

Those in the industry blame a push toward computerisation, an increase in the quantity of individual components and flimsier materials for undercutting reliability. They say even higher-end items aren’t as durable.

American households spent 43% more on home appliances in 2023 than they did in 2013, rising from an inflation-adjusted average of $390 to $558, according to Euromonitor International. Prices for the category declined 12% from the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2023, according to the Labor Department.

One reason for the discrepancy between spending and prices is a higher rate of replacement, say consumers, repair technicians and others. That’s left some people wishing they had held on to their clunky ’90s-era appliances and others bargaining with repair workers over intractable ice makers and dryers that run cold.

“We’re making things more complicated, they’re harder to fix and more expensive to fix,” says Aaron Gianni, the founder of do-it-yourself home-repair app Plunjr.

Horror stories

Sharon J. Swan spent nearly $7,000 on a Bosch gas range and smart refrigerator. She thought the appliances would last at least through whenever she decided to sell her Alexandria, Va., home and impress would-be buyers.

That was before the oven caught fire the first time she tried the broiler, leading to a 911 call and hasty return. The ice-maker in the refrigerator, meanwhile, is now broken for the third time in under two years. Bosch covered the first two fridge fixes, but she says she’s on her own for the latest repair, totalling $250, plus parts.

“I feel like I wasted my money,” says the 65-year-old consultant for trade associations.

A Bosch spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the company has been responsive to Swan’s concerns and will continue to work with her to resolve ongoing issues. “Bosch appliances are designed and manufactured to meet the highest quality standards, and they are built to last,” she said.

Kevin and Kellene Dinino wish they had held on to their white dishwasher from the ’90s that was still working great.

The sleeker $800 GE stainless steel interior dishwasher they purchased sprang a hidden leak within three years, causing more than $35,000 worth of damage to their San Diego kitchen.

Home insurance covered the claim, which included replacing the hardwood down to the subfloor and all their bottom cabinetry, but kicked the Dininos off their policy. The family also went without access to their kitchen for months.

“This was a $60 pump that was broken. What the hell happened?” says Kevin, 45, who runs a financial public-relations firm.

A GE Appliances spokeswoman said the company takes appliance issues seriously and works quickly to resolve them with consumers.

Increased complexity

Peel back the plastic on a modern refrigerator or washing machine and you’ll see a smattering of sensors and switches that its 10-year-old counterpart lacks. These extra components help ensure the appliance is using only the energy and water it needs for the job at hand, technicians say. With more parts, however, more tends to go wrong more quickly, they say.

Mansoor Soomro, a professor at Teesside University, a technical college in Middlesbrough, England, says home appliances are breaking down more often. He says that manufacturers used to rely mostly on straightforward mechanical parts (think an on/off switch that triggers a single lever). In the past decade or so, they’ve transitioned to relying more on sophisticated electrical and computerised parts (say, a touch screen that displays a dozen different sensor-controlled wash options).

When a complicated machine fails, technicians say they have a much harder time figuring out what went wrong. Even if the technician does diagnose the problem, consumers are often left with repairs that exceed half the cost of replacement, rendering the machine totalled.

“In the majority of cases, I would say buying a new one makes more economic sense than repairing it,” says Soomro, who spent seven years working at Siemens , including in the home-appliances division.

These machines are also now more likely to be made with plastic and aluminium rather than steel, Soomro says. High-efficiency motors and compressors, too, are likely to be lighter-duty, since they’re tasked with drawing less energy .

A spokeswoman for the Association for Home Appliance Manufacturers says the industry has “enhanced the safety, energy efficiency, capacity and performance of appliances while adding features and maintaining affordability and durability for purchasers.” She says data last updated in 2019 shows that the average life of an appliance has “not substantially shifted over the past two decades.”

When simpler is better

Kathryn Ryan and Kevin Sullivan needed a new sensor to fix their recently purchased $1,566 GE Unitized Spacemaker washer-dryer. GE wasn’t able to fix the sensor for months, so the couple paid a local technician $300 to get the machine working.

The repairman also offered them a suggestion: Avoid the sensor option and stick to timed dries.

“You should be able to use whatever function you please on a brand new appliance, ideally,” says Sullivan, a 32-year-old musician in Burbank, Calif.

More features might seem glamorous, Frontdoor virtual appliance tech Jim Zaccone says, but fewer is usually better.

“Consumers are wising up to the failures that are happening and going, ‘Do I really need my oven to preheat while I’m at the grocery store?’” jokes Zaccone, who has been in the appliance-repair business for 21 years.

He just replaced his own dishwasher and says he bought one with “the least bells and whistles.” He also opted for a mass-market brand with cheap and readily available parts. Most surprisingly, he chose a bottom-of-the-line model.

“Spending a lot of money on something doesn’t guarantee you more reliability,” says Zaccone.


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