John Doorbar

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A Fascinating Experiment

Why you should use the magical word “because”

On a recent seminar with a successful German publishing company not far from where I live we were discussing intercultural persuasion skills. We mentioned a fascinating experiment by Dr Ellen Langer from the 1970s.

Here is what happened.

IMAGINE THE SCENARIO

A colleague of yours is using a photocopier in the company where you work.

Then you ask three different people to go to the copier and basically try to push in! Rather rude.

You ask the first person to say, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?”

You ask the second person to say, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”

You ask the third person to say, “May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

A KEY QUESTION

Did the wording they used have an effect on the results? Let’s look at the results.

  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?” resulted in 60% Compliance (Agreement)

  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” resulted in 93% Compliance (Agreement)

  • “May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” resulted in 94% Compliance (Agreement)

MORE AGREEMENT

Using the word “because” and giving a reason resulted in significantly more agreement.

This was true even when the reason was not a very strong one (“because I have to make copies”).

WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

Scientists suggest that people go on “automatic” behavior or “mindlessness” as a form of a short-cut. Just hearing the word “because” makes us agree. (And it does not matter how “bad” the excuse is)

AND WITH MORE COPIES?

They also repeated the experiment asking to copy 20 pages rather than five.

In that case, only the “because I’m in a rush” reason resulted in agreement.

SO WHAT?

When the stakes are low, people will demonstrate automatic behaviour. If your request is small then follow the request with the word “because” and give any reason.

HIGHER STAKES?

If the stakes are high, then there is a little more resistance, but still not too much. So in this case you can still use the word “because” and try to come up with at least a slightly stronger reason.

Vocabulary

  • Higher stakes – hohe Einsätze spielen

  • Resistance - Widerstand

  • Any – beliebig

  • Compliance – Zustimmung

  • Xerox – Kopiergerät

Ricarda Kiel