Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer carried out a study demonstrating the power of language - adding one word to a simple request increased compliance rates by 33%.
Langer wanted to demonstrate how changing the structure of a sentence can influence others more effectively. The situation involved a waiting line to use a copy machine, and the researcher acting as someone who needed to cut the line. She tested two requests with slightly different wordings each time.
1. Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?
2. Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?
Was telling people she was in a rush responsible for the persuasion, or was it something else? Let’s see what happened when Langer tested a third request:
3. Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?
What’s going on here? Everyone in line had to make copies – that’s not an appropriate reason in this context. What Langer showed us is that a valid reason isn’t always necessary because the word “because” is a powerful trigger. There was a 93% chance you agreed with that statement.
Have a small request? Test it out for yourself.