Persuasion is a skill which we use more often than we think we do. We use it to encourage our friends to go to a specific brunch place. We use it to convince our trainer to not make us do burpees, and to try to persuade our boss that we need a raise since the avocado prices are soaring. But one word actually makes our case more convincing, and it isn’t “please”. Research shows that the word “because” makes a world of a difference when trying to get someone to believe your plea.
Harvard Professor, Ellen Langer performed a study in 1978 where individuals were asked to cut in-front of the line at the copy machine and recite one of three questions to see individuals’ reactions (Langer, 1978).
- Making a request: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?”
- Bad reason: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
- Good reason: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
When posing the first question, 60 percent of individuals allowed the individual to cut the line. When framing the question with a bad reason, there was a 93 percent compliance rate, and the good question had a compliance rate of 94 percent!
Hearing the word “because” followed by a reason resulted in listeners to automatically accept. The researcher considered this to be a “short-cut”, as when individuals hear the word “because” they automatically accepted the request, no matter how legitimate the reason was.
It is also important to note that in this situations, the stakes are low. If someone jumped in front of me in-line at the copy machine to make 5 copies, I wouldn’t mind as I usually make much more than 5. This experiment was then repeated again with 20 copies rather than 5. When the experiment was repeated, the reason “because I’m in a rush” was the only acceptable reason.
When someone needs to do a small and quick favour, no matter the reasoning — people typically accept. Although when the time of the task increases, individuals are expecting a legitimate reason to skip the line. It is interesting to note the increase in compliance when a reason, in general, is given. This information can inform people how to use persuasive strategies more effectively in our daily lives. Because you never know who you are going to need to convince.
Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635–642.