Thursday, February 11, 2010

“Because” is a Magic Word

The humble word “because” has magical powers of persuasion.

When you need people to agree to your request, always back up your request with a reason, and add the word “because” before stating your reason.

A few years ago, I was in Heathrow Airport to catch a flight to Paris. A lady colleague and I had arrived early at the airport. The check in was smooth and without a hitch. With our documents in order and luggage checked in, we were free to relax.

With two hours to kill, we walked to the airport hotel lounge nearby to chill. The hours passed pleasantly. When it was close to boarding time, we strolled casually back to the departure hall.

At the departure hall, we were horrified to see a long snaking queue of at least 1,000 people waiting in line ahead of us for security clearance. It immediately dawned on us that we would definitely miss our flight, if we waited in line for the security clearance.

A desperate situation, called for desperate action.

We dashed down the line, telling the people in line: “Please let us through, because we are going to miss our flight”. We repeated the plea more than a dozen times till we reached the front of the queue.

We repeated our plea to the security officers: “Please let us through, because we are going to miss our flight”. They checked our carry on bags briskly, and let us through promptly.

Once passed security, I told my colleague that I will dash ahead to the boarding area about 500 metres away to hold the aircraft. Taking off her high heels, she ran after me barefooted.

When we reached the boarding area, all the other passengers were already in the plane and we were the last ones to get on the aircraft.

My colleague and I had unknowingly used the “power of because”.

We made it in the nick of time, because we used the word “because”.

Unknown to us at the time, the “magic of because” was already well-documented by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer. In 1989, Langer conducted an experiment where she asked collaborators to jump the queue in a line of people waiting to use a well patronised photocopy machine.

Langer tested three different ways of making the same request.

In the first situation, the collaborators asked: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”

They got an OK, 60% of the time.

In the second situation, the collaborators asked: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

They got an OK, 94% of the time.

In the third situation, the collaborators asked: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”

Even though the reason provided sounded unconvincing, amazingly, they got an OK nearly the same number of times as in the second situation. 93% said OK.

By providing a reason  —  and by simply using the magic word “because”  —  Langer dramatically improved the compliance rate. More surprising is the fact that, in the case of situation three, it didn’t matter what specific reason was given. Surely making copies is the most unconvincing reason to cut in the copying line!

The magic word “because” apparently triggered an automatic response in the people in the queue.

So the next time you need to make a request, remember to use the “because” pattern. Follow the three parts to the “because” pattern, and you will greatly increase your powers of persuasion.

The first part is a command. Often it is a subtle command (conversational postulate), couched as a polite request: “May I use the Xerox machine…….”

The second part is the magic word “because”.

The third part is your reason: “I have to make copies”.

If you use this pattern the other’s unconscious mind simply hears the word “because” and is programmed to understand that there is a reason. After the magic word “because” any reason seems to do.

Of course, a good reason is the best, but even if you think your reason is hardly compelling, Langer’s research suggests that people are more likely to oblige than if you had not given them any reason at all.

Give it a try, because you will have fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment