365 Ways To Persuade & Motivate: #2 Use The Word “Because”

picture of people waiting in lineIn the first blog post of this new “365” series I cited new research on eye contact. But sometimes I think it’s important to go back to “foundational” (i.e. old!) research. So #2 in the series comes from research conducted in 1978.  Ellen Langer (Professor of Psychology at Harvard) published a research study about the power of the word “because”.

Langer had people request to break in on a line of people waiting to use a busy copy machine  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, so there were often lines waiting to use a copy machine). The researchers had the people use three different, carefully worded requests to break in line:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?”
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Did the wording effect whether people let them break in line? Here are the results:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?” [60% compliance]
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”[93% compliance]
  3. “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.

They also repeated the experiment for a request to copy 20 pages rather than five. In that case, only the  “because I’m in a rush” reason resulted in compliance.

So what does this all mean?:

When the stakes are low people will engage in automatic behavior.  If your request is small then follow the request with the word “because” and give any reason.

If the stakes are high, then there is a little more resistance, but still not too much. Use the word “because” and try to come up with at least a slightly more compelling reason.

What do you think? Has this worked for you?

Here’s the research citation:

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.

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

365 Ways To Persuade & Motivate: #1 Direct Eye Contact Is Not Always Best

Photo of Presidents Clinton and Ford looking at each other

We’ve all been told how important it is to make eye contact when interacting with other people. Direct eye contact makes you seem trustworthy, confident, and interested in the topic you are discussing, right? All those things are true BUT new research shows that direct eye contact can lessen the effectiveness of your message in one critical situation:

Frances Chen researched people listening and watching videos of other people talking about controversial social and/or political topics. Participants watched videos with speakers discussing topics with a strong viewpoint that was opposite to what the participants believed. Some participants were asked to watch the speaker’s eyes, and others were asked to watch the speaker’s mouth. Participants who watched the speaker’s eyes were LESS likely to change their opinion on the topic than the participants who watched the speaker’s mouth.

Why would this be true? Chen’s hypothesis is that direct eye contact can be seen as threatening.

Implications?:

  • If you are talking to people who agree with you, and trying to get them fired up to take action, then use direct eye contact.
  • But If you are talking to people who don’t agree with you, then you may want to minimize the amount of direct eye contact you have.
  • If you are making a video and you believe that people will agree with you, then look right into the camera lense.
  • If you are making a video and you think people don’t agree with you, then look off to the side instead of into the camera.

What do you think? Have you experienced this difference between eye contact and whether you agree with the person speaking?

Here’s the research citation:

Chen, F.S., Minson, J.A., Schöne, M., & Heinrichs, M. (in press). In the eye of the beholder: Eye contact increases resistance to persuasion. Psychological Science.

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

How To Get People To Do Stuff #6: Hot drinks, soft pillows & heavy objects

Do you think you’d make different decisions if you were holding something heavy in your hand than holding nothing? Or if you were holding a cup of hot coffee instead of a cold drink? Sounds unlikely, but it’s true: Here’s a video about “haptic sensations.” Or, if you prefer, you can read the summary text after the video.

Joshua Ackerman and John Bargh (2010) conducted research where they had candidates for job interviews hand in their resume one of three ways. One candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper. Another candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper, but had it clipped to a light clipboard. A third candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper, but had it clipped to a heavy clipboard. Then they had interviewers rate which candidates were the best for the job. The interviewers gave higher ratings to candidates whose resume they were reading while the interviewer was holding a heavy clipboard.

Holding a heavy object while looking at a resume makes a job candidate appear more important. In fact, any idea you’re considering while holding something heavy (for instance, a book) you will deem to be more important. The metaphor of an idea being “weighty” has a physical corollary.

There are two terms that are used for this. Sometimes it’s called “haptic sensation” and sometimes you will find it referred to as “embodied cognition.”  We are very influenced by the meaning that our sense of touch perceives.

You may be surprised to find out all the ways that these haptic sensations affect our perceptions and judgments. Besides the effect for a heavy object, people also react to these other haptic sensations:

•      When people touch a rough object during a social interaction, for instance, if they’re sitting on a chair with coarse wool upholstery, they rate the interaction more difficult than if they touch a soft object.

•      When people touch a hard object, they rate a negotiation as more rigid than if they touch a soft object.

•      When people hold a warm cup (for example, a warm cup of coffee), they judge the person they’re interacting with to have a warmer personality than if they’re holding a cup of cold liquid.

You can use these haptic sensations to get people to do stuff. If you want people to have easier interactions with others, then you might want to have soft furniture, not hard chairs, in your conference room, and use a soft fabric covering for them rather than a scratchy tweed. If you have an important client coming to your office, and you want her to feel warmly about you, get her a cup of hot coffee or tea in a mug that will transmit the heat before you start.

Ackerman, Joshua M., Christopher Nocera, and John Bargh. 2010. “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments and decisions.” Science. 328 (5986): 1712-1715. DOI: 10.1126/science.1189993

How To Get People To Do Stuff Book Tour

bookcover

To celebrate my new book, I’m going on a book tour! I will be touring the US and Europe and speaking on the new book How to Get People to Do Stuff.

If you’d like me to come speak/lead a discussion or have a Q&A in your city or for your group, let me know. These sessions are FREE. You need to provide the location and room. I do a one-hour session. Before and after the session books are available for purchase and I am available to sign them.

I’m putting together the schedule of locations now, so if you are interested you should let me know. Preference is given to groups who can publicize the event,can accommodate a large audience (i.e., 300 people), and fit into my travel schedule and map!

If you are interested contact me at susan@theteamw.com