Discover a magic word that increases influence by more than 30%

by David Folkerson on January 25, 2015 , No comments

Decisions are tiring. It takes a lot of energy to ponder the pros and cons of the thousands of choices we make on a daily basis. Thankfully, our subconscious has developed tools to help us make all these tiresome decisions quickly and efficiently. According to studies, one of these subconscious tools is a trigger word we can take advantage of to influence the decision-making process.

Subconscious mind to the rescue

The thousands of decisions we make every day demand our attention and consume our energy. Thankfully, the human mind has the amazing potential to do some basic work at the subconscious level, to relieve some of this mental burden, and to allow your conscious mind to focus on more important tasks at hand. Take, for instance, the activity of crossing a street. If you grew up in North America, you automatically look left, then right, before you take that first step. You look in the direction of oncoming traffic, not because you take a moment to think about where the traffic will be coming from, but because your head automatically swivels to look in that direction. Instead of having to think, “Where are the cars?”, you only have to think, “Cars or no cars?” This subconscious process is even more evident if you ever travel to England, for instance, or Japan, where the cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. After a few close calls, you will quickly realize that you have to forcefully retrain your instinctive, subconscious mental process. You have to go back to “Where are the cars?” for a while, before your subconscious creates that shortcut for you again.

Leveraging a subconscious trigger

Reasonable and rational arguments lead to good decisions. Our minds have been trained to spot supporting arguments. From the earliest “because I said so moments” of our childhood, certain words stick out as the impetus for action. Action because reason. This word, “because”, has been adopted by our subconscious minds as a trigger that helps connect causality to outcome, and it is one that we can leverage to convey the existence of a good reason to the listener. All things being equal, a request containing the word “because” will, on average, be much more successful at gaining compliance, than a request without the use of this trigger word.

Harvard study

The power of the word “because” was proven during repeated social experiments by psychologist Ellen Langer from Harvard University [1]. Her experiment involved repeatedly asking students to let her cut in line to make copies at a photocopier. Each time, she phrased her request in one of only two possible ways:

“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” and “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”

The second request was 34% more successful in producing the desired outcome, versus the same request, with the exact same rational, but without the use of this magic word. Note that in both requests, Dr. Langer purposefully neglected to offer a valid reason for her special request. Her only rational was “to make some copies”.

In practice

Speaking from personal experience, this technique is best used to motivate people to snap to decisions more quickly, and with more commitment that they might otherwise have. For example, getting a large audience to engage with your presentation by counting down from five, because you need their help for a “big finish”.

Subconscious processes influence the decisions we make. The word “because” speaks to the subconscious and acts as a trigger that we can employ to help obtain compliance.

Try to use the word “because” when influencing someone to action. How much more effective is it for you?

Feature image credit: Photo by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier (edited by David Folkerson) / CC BY-SA 2.0

[1] Reference: Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

David FolkersonDiscover a magic word that increases influence by more than 30%

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