More Lessons in Persuasion: Using "the Power of Because"

Last Updated Jul 7, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

The Takeaway: Last week we drew on Yes! to blog about how business leaders could employ the principle of "social proof" to their advantage, and this week tips from the book are popping up in the blogosphere again -- this time on the blog of economist Tyler Cowen. Cowen relates an experiment carried out by behavioral scientist Ellen Langer and her colleagues, which involved someone trying to cut in line to use a photo copier. Langer set up three scenarios:
  1. A stranger approaches someone waiting in line to use a photocopier and simply asks: "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?" Sixty percent of people agreed to allow the stranger to cut in line when faced with this direct request.
  2. Next, a stranger made the same request but added a reason: "May I use the Xerox machine, because I'm in a rush?" Nearly everyone (94 percent) agreed.
  3. Finally, the stranger approached and gave a totally senseless reason for the request, but still employed the word 'because': "May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?" Despite the inanity of the reason, 93 percent of people still complied with the request.
The conclusion: if you want to persuade someone to buy a product or complete some task, give them a reason. Of course, a good reason is best, but even if you think your reason is less than compelling, this research suggests that listeners are more likely to comply than if you had given no reason at all.

The Question: Any real-life examples of the power of because?

(Image of stationary thief attempting to cash in on the power of because by solidstate, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

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