This is the 4th in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations. Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”. Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report. Now for Tip #4. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?
Tip #4: Use the word “Because”, and give a reason. Have you heard of the “Because” study? In 1978 three researchers (see reference below), conducted a research study. Ellen Langer, Arthur Blank and Benzion Chanowitz used a busy copy machine at on a college campus (remember that this is in the 1970’s — there weren’t computers and printers. People did a lot more copying back then). The researchers tried out three different, carefully worded requests to break in line:
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?”
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
Here are the results:
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine?” [60% compliance]
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”[93% compliance]
- “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” [94% compliance]
Using the word “because” and giving a reason resulted in significantly more compliance. This was true even when the reason was not very compelling (“because I have to make copies). The researchers hypothesize that people go on “automatic” behavior or “mindlessness” as a form of a heuristic, or short-cut. And hearing the word “because” followed by a reason (no matter how lame the reason is), causes us to comply.
(Two interesting side notes here — if the request was large (copying 20 pages rather than 5), then only the real reason, “I’m in a rush” resulted in compliance. And Elizabeth Langer, who was one of the researchers in this study as a grad student, later went on to study mindlessness and mindfulness in her career, becoming famous for her research on reversing the effects of aging with mindfulness — See the book Counterclockwise).
What this all boils down to is this: When the stakes are low people will engage in automatic behavior. If you want a team to implement your recommendations, then a) make as small a request/recommendation as you can, and b) use the word because and give a reason as to why you want the change to be implemented.
What do you think? Have you tried this technique?
And if you want to read the original research:
Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.