In 1977 psychologist Ellen Langer conducted what is now known as the Copy Machine Study.
In it, researchers would cut in front of someone standing in line to use a photocopying machine, and then turn to the bystander and ask one of three questions:
- Version 1 (request only): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
- Version 2 (request with a real reason): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
- Version 3 (request with a fake reason): “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
The idea was to test whether having a reason behind a request increased compliance, even if the reason wasn’t valid, like in Version 3.
- Version 1: 60 percent of people let the researcher skip the line.
- Version 2: 94 percent of people let the researcher skip ahead in line.
- Version 3: 93 percent of people let the researcher skip ahead in line.
My hero Robert Cialdini summarised this accordingly: “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”
Basically, if you’re going to ask for someone, say WHY you’re asking for it with the word BECAUSE.
(Of course, many of us will already know the power of ‘why’ because of Simon Sinek’s famous TEDTalk and book, Start with Why. )