The next time you ask a person to do something, try using the word “because,” and watch what happens.
We all know people are more likely to do what we request when we give them a reason.
“Why” is one of the first words we learn as infants. We come into this world wondering why, and we keep the word in service for a lifetime.
When we are on the receiving end of a request or direction, we naturally want to know why.
Yet, when making a request, it is too easy to overlook the importance of providing it.
Many leaders tell people “what” they want and “how” they want it, but “why” is often neglected.
When you do give a reason, the way you make your request will often determine its effectiveness.
That is because some words are triggers. They can flip the switch on automatic responses in us. “Because” is such a trigger.
Back in 1978, when people did not have computers, the Internet, or printers, long lines frequently formed in businesses and libraries of people wanting to use a copying machine.
Usually, it was a Xerox brand.
Back then, a group of researchers led by Ellen Langer* set up a study where people used three differently worded requests to ask to break in line for the copier.
First, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I’m in a rush?” In 94-percent of the cases, the person was allowed to cut into the line.
Second, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine?” That wording resulted in a 60-percent favorable response; giving a reason for the request made a difference.
Third, “Excuse me. May I use the copy machine because I have to make copies?” In this case, the compliance was 93-percent.
Notice, the third request gave no additional information after the word “because”; yet, the result was only one percent lower than when a valid reason was given in the first appeal.
The word “because” is a trigger.
Triggers form when behavior is repeated across time so that a group of brain cells, called neurons, fire together. They thereby wire together into what we call a mental map.
It is like what happens when you stop for a red traffic light. The light is a trigger; stopping is the result.
In the English language, when we hear “because” followed by even trivial information, the probability goes up that we will comply.
How do you apply this?
State your request, use the word “because,” and give your reason.
Even when the request is significant and the consequences are massive, you increase the odds the other person will say, “Yes!”
Be safe and courageous,
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*Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful actions: The role of “placebic” information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 635-642.