This summer while on vacation, I had the pleasure of reading Robert Cialdini’s excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which I can’t recommend highly enough. In the opening chapter, “The Weapons of Influence,” Cialdini discussed an interesting psychology experiment that reminded me of a recent post Amy Beth wrote about her vacation. She talked about the importance of explaining why people should comply with your requests, but Cialdini’s explanation helped me understand the value of that practice even better.
The experiment went like this: Experimenters approached people waiting in line for a copy machine. In the first round of the experiment, they asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” Ninety-four percent of people granted their request when it was coupled with an explanation (“I’m in a rush”).
In the second round, they eliminated the reason and simply asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” In those cases, only 60% of people let them cut in line, a significant drop.
In the third and final round of the experiment, they asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have copies?” They reinserted the trigger word “Because,” but instead of following it with a legitimate reason, they said something pointless and obvious. Of course they have copies; why else would they want to use the copy machine? Logic would tell us that this method wouldn’t be any more effective that the second request, but surprisingly, 93% of people said “Yes.”
The experiment indicates that we have an automatic response to the word “Because.” We assume that it will be followed by a genuine reason, and—apparently—we often go along with requests just because it’s there.
I don’t condone manipulating people with nonsensical or worthless reasons, but I agree with Amy Beth that following up a request or suggestion to customers, employees or co-workers with authentic reasons is a great practice.
A few days after I returned from my vacation, I visited my mom at a local hospital, where she was recovering from a successful knee surgery. As I rode in the elevator and read the above sign, I thought “Hey, they must have read Cialdini’s book too!” I don’t know if that’s really the case, but regardless, I suspect that their explanation for why their elevator doors close so slowly probably is very effective for calming anxious hospital visitors who wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to patience.
In what situations have you found that offering a reason has been effective?
[Image Source: Catherine Ahern]