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Psychologist Ellen Langer and her team from Harvard conducted a study and discovered the effects of language pertaining to requests. In particular, the study found that using the word ‘because’, in addition to reasoning, justifies requests and increases compliance of others.1
The study involved measuring the effects of three requests on cutting the line for the copying machine. As soon as a subject had reached the xerox machine and had placed their materials down to be copied, the researcher would approach the subject and make their request to use the xerox machine first. Langer and her team studied the effects of the following requests on different subjects.
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copying machine?”
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copying machine because I’m in a rush?”
- “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copying machine because I have to make copies?”
Which request do you think would be most effective in getting the subjects to allow the researcher to use the xerox before them?
According to the study:
The subjects complied to the first request 60% of the time;
The subjects complied to the second request 94% of the time;
The subjects complied to the third request 93% of the time.
The results of this study have profound implications regarding our communication ability, and in particular, our use of persuasive language to achieve compliance from others. You would think that using a trivial reason such as ‘because I have to make copies’ would be ineffective considering everybody in line was there to make copies. The researchers showed that using the word because and providing a reason (however nonsensical) was evidently quite persuasive.
The lesson is simple, in any situation when you request a favour, or want to convince someone to your cause, just use the word ‘because’ in addition to a reason. Evident from the third request, even a trivial reason combined with the word ‘because’ is quite effective for compliance and will work if you need to come up with a reason quick. In order to increase the likelihood of compliance from an individual, offer a logical reason.
1 Ellen J. Langer, Arthur Blank, and Benzion Chanowitz, “The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of ‘Placebic’ Information in Interpersonal Interaction,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36, no. 6 (June 1978): 635–642.