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One Easy Way to Get What You Want More Often

If you want to ask someone for something just don’t ask for it.

Add a reason why you should get it.

Now, this might not be big news to you.

When you where a kid, you probably used this technique to convince your parents that you should get that new, cool toy with arguments like: “but this videogame will teach me English and it improves my reflexes”. Compared to another other popular argument from the past – “But everyone at school already have this new robot” (or nowadays I suppose it’s a Pokemon-variation) – this one still works well.

In 1978 social psychologist Ellen Langer took this little hack down to the libraries to try it out. She asked the people in the line to the copymachine if she could go ahead of them. She said: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”

The results were pretty good. 60% of the people said ok.

Then she tried the same line again, but added a not-really-that-great reason. She asked: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?

The results were much better. Nearly all (93%), of the people in the lines said yes. Langer later discovered that this finding did not apply to all situations, but wrote that in most cases it actually did.

Now, why did almost all people say yes? That reason wasn’t that good, Langer didn´t really add any new information to the request.

In his awesome book Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini mentions this little experiment and explores how human behaviour is far from always based on some kind of logical thought.

Instead Cialdini suggests that we – like a lot of animals – have many pre-programmed responses. For instance, if someone gives us something, we are for instance pre-programmed to react by wanting to give something back to them. This is called The Law of Reciprocity.

Why do we have these responses? One big reason is because our minds almost automatically want to find the path of least resistance. A short-cut. Automatically reacting by wanting to give something back is in most cases a simple way to build and maintain good relationships without much thought. Something companies have used most likely for centuries by giving out small, free gifts to get you to respond by being more willing to sign up for their service or buy their product.

Giving a reason when you ask for something is another of those pre-programmed responses. As soon as you have a reason, people are compelled almost automatically to respond more favourably.

Of course, now that you know and are conscious of these facts it will be harder for tele-marketers and salesmen to use this tip or The Law of Reciprocity to their advantage.

You can naturally use this little tip as you wish. But instead of using it just to get what you want it is often more useful in the long run to mix it up a bit. When possible try giving a reason and creating solution that is win-win for both you and the person you are asking.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pat

    Reason is indeed a great tool. I’ve tried reasoning with people and most of it worked out. We just need to find the right reasons to go with..

  • Aha, another fan of Cialdini’s book! My whole blog is devoted to it. Yes, the word “because” is magical, isn’t it? Now you’ve hooked me in, and I’m going to have to look at the rest of your blog 🙂


    Paul Hancox

    P.S: If you have a moment, perhaps you could pop over to my blog and post a comment, because I’d really appreciate it! 😉

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