You may not be aware of how your mom and dad conditioned you to simply comply with other people’s requests but I’m here to tell you they did. Unknowingly, all mom and dad did was use a single word, the same word their parents probably used on them, and you were set up to be more compliant. What word am I talking about? “Because!”
While “because” makes you “fall in line,” it can actually help you get to the front of the line. A behavioral scientist named Ellen Langer conducted a study in which people standing in line at a copier machine were approached by a stranger who asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” Nearly two out of three people (60%) generously allowed the person to go in front of them. Later the person conducting the experiment approached the copier line and asked unsuspecting people, “May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush.” Hearing she was in a rush, nearly everyone, 94%, told the experimenter she could get in front of them.
Of course if someone is in a rush we might be more generous but the question is this – was it due to being “in a rush” or could it have been something else that caused those people to say “Yes”? Back at it one more time the experimenter asked, “May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?” You’d think people might have denied that request saying, or at least thinking, “We’re all in line to make copies so wait your turn like everybody else!” After all, her was reason irrelevant…and still, 93% of the people let her go ahead! There was virtually no difference in response between a valid and bogus reason when “because” was used.
The social psychologists think we don’t pay attention the reason given because we are so conditioned by the word “because” that we hardly pay attention what comes next. Again, think about your parents when you questioned them about why you had to do something. I’ll bet quite often you heard (and might say to your kids), “Because I said so!”
So how does this understanding impact you? Two ways come to mind. First, it can help you protect yourself. Don’t mindlessly comply with a request without giving thought to the reason you’re being asked to do something. If you don’t you may just find yourself doing something you wished you would not have done.
The second way you can use “because” is to be more persuasive. When my daughter Abigail was younger she used to ask me (she’s a teenager now and doesn’t seem to ask as much any more) what I did at work. I’d share things I thought she’d find interesting and things I felt would really help her some day. Once during a conversation I shared the copier study and told her, “Abigail, whenever you ask someone to do something, always say ‘because’ and give them a reason. If you do that more people will say ‘Yes’ to you.”
Here’s the really cool thing. Some time ago, long after that conversation, Abigail and I were w
atching American Idol and the latest American Idol CD was about to hit stores. Ryan Seacrest was promoting the CD outside a music store where there was a long line. Smart producers were using consensus to get you to believe everyone wanted to buy the new Idol CD. As Ryan would talk about the CD he would try to make his way into the line but each time people motioned him farther back. Eventually he was at the very end of the line with a disappointed look on his face. Out of nowhere Abigail blurts out, “He should have said ‘because.’” I looked surprised and replied, “What?” She said, “Dad, don’t you remember the copier story?”
Wow! I have no clue why some stories stick with kids and other stories don’t but I was sure glad that one stuck because it’s a life skill that will serve her well. It will serve you well too, if you look for ways to use your new understanding of “because.” You know how I know, because the science tells me so…and you can believe that reason!
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Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”