In 1978, Professor of Psychology at Harvard Ellen Langer published a research study about a single word that she believed would influence how other people respond to our requests. The magic word: because. Longer had people who were waiting in line to use a copy machine on a college campus request to cut in front of others in line. This was pre iPhone and iPad days so people were using the shit out of fax/ copy machines and they were both a hot commodity and a pain in the ass to get to. When asking simply “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?” the focus group only allowed the requesting party to cut in line 60% of the time. By simply adding the word “because” and asking instead, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” compliance skyrocketed to 93%. Using this one simple word increased compliance by 33%. This remained true even though the reason was not a legit one, “Because I have to make copies?! We all do dipshit that’s why we are waiting to use the machine!” is what you think you would say, chances are you would comply and allow them to use it anyways. The study is pretty remarkable and though its been out for almost 30 years you rarely see people using this to get their way in everyday life. It is literally so simple that the majority of people who know about it don’t even try it. People will comply simply because you gave them a reason. To give you an idea I was waiting in line at Chipotle and figured I would give this a shot. It was a weekend at lunchtime and they were slammed. There were about 20 people in line and the employees looked like they were ready to clock out and go home. I looked at the guy in front of me and said “Hey man, do you think I could cut in front of you because this line is pretty long?” Sure as shit, he let me in front of him. Due to my first success I figured I would try my luck again. I ordered my delicious bowl of goodness and when I got to the cash register I asked, “Do you think this one can be on the house, because the line was pretty long?” sure thing I got free lunch, because I asked. This concept typically only works when asking for a small favor or trying to provide a small nudge. When the participants in the study upped the ante to 20 pages, compliance only increased when the party asking to cut used a legitimate excuse as to why they need to cut ahead in line.
We use it because we want to increase our influence, but how do we use it in everyday life? It’s pretty simple, just add it to any request you are already going to make. You will be amazed at how often things turn out in your favor and all you have to do is slip an extra word in there.
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