Ellen Langer is a social psychologist and a professor in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. She has been described as the “mother of mindfulness” – a term she coined in her book Mindfulness (1989). She has written extensively on the illusion of control, aging, stress, decision-making and health.
In the 1970s she conducted a famous experiment in the psychology of persuasion. It involved people in an office who were queuing to use a photocopier. She got an actor to run to the front of the line and try to be allowed to jump the queue. The actor tried different excuses. Initially he said, ‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier?’ His request was granted 60% of the time. However, his success increased to 94% when he dashed up and said the same thing but added, ‘..because I am in a rush.’
Next the actor said something a little different, ‘Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the photocopier because I need some copies.’ His success rate was 93%. This is despite the fact that ‘because I need copies’ is obvious if you want to use the copier. Langer deduced that it was the word because that caused the different response and not what came after it. It seems that people are more likely to agree to do something if you give them a because…
The lesson is that you will be much more persuasive if you give people a reason (almost any reason) to comply with your request. So do not just say to your teenager, ‘Please tidy your room.’ Say something like, ‘Please tidy your room because then we will be able to find things.’
If you want to increase your influence use the word because – because it works!
(With acknowledgement to Business Genius by James Bannerman)