Why? “Because,” I Say …
Some may want to believe otherwise, but most of our daily activity is conducted on autopilot scripts. There is a simple reason for this. If viewed from the sheer amount of mental horsepower required to evaluate and analyze every decision, having an automatic script to run will save us considerable time and effort.
For example, a morning auto-script might be, wake up, get out of bed, brush your teeth, pour yourself a cup of coffee and start breakfast. Each of these activities requires several minor tasks to be accomplished, but unless you are a two-year-old, you probably don’t even remember the steps it takes to brush your teeth and only realize it’s done when it’s done. In other words, the task is automatic. It is the same with the other 100 things that it took to get to the breakfast table and finally to your desk at work!
The presence and effect of auto scripts that replace long-form analytical thinking was a central premise tested in an experiment by Ellen Langer and her colleagues Arthur Blank and Benzion Chanowitz at the City University of New York.
The researchers conducted the experiment at a public coin-operated photocopier in one of the University’s libraries. One hundred twenty people were intercepted at the machine just before depositing their coins to start photocopying. The experimenter would then say one of three random statements requesting a favour:
- Request Only – “Excuse me, I have 5 (20) pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
- Placebic Information – “Excuse me, I have 5 (20) pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
- Real Information – “Excuse me, I have 5 (20) pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
After the request was made, the experimenter, regardless of whether the subject complied, left the area but monitored how many photocopies the subject made.
Here are some background points. The Placebic Information request does not contain any real additional information from the Request Only condition. It is inert. Also, the experimenter could use either 5 or 20 pages as the numeric amount of the request. If the subject had more pages to copy than the experimenter’s number, the requested favour was considered small. If the subject had fewer pages to copy, the requested favour was considered large.
Or do they simply run automatic scripts?
The researchers were testing the hypothesis of whether people think about what they are doing, which Langer called being mindful. Or do they run automatic scripts? If the subjects were genuinely being mindful and thinking about the reasons for their subsequent actions, the experimenters would see a marked difference in the Real Information favour results and similar results for the Request Only and Placebic favour requests.
What were the results?
If the request was considered small:
- 60% complied with the Request Only favour
- 93% complied with the Placebic Information favour
- 94% complied with the Real Information favour
… resulting in a 55% increase …
Amazingly there was practically no difference between the Placebic Information and Real Information favour requests! Remember, the Placebic Information phrase was – “Excuse me, I have 5 (20) pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?“ The keyword that was thought to wield this kind of persuasion power was “because”, resulting in a 55% increase over the Request Only condition, and was equally as good as the Real Information condition.
What about the large requests? In those results:
- 24% complied with the Request Only favour
- 24% complied with the Placebic Information favour
- 42% complied with the Real Information favour
In the large request scenario, providing real information significantly increased the chances of compliance!
What’s the takeaway?
Your prospects are not always thinking logically or at full mental computational power. By understanding this you can structure your requests in such a way as to maximize persuasion possibility. Here are some simple ways to do this.
- First of all, ASK! Just asking alone will get you compliance sometimes, and it produces infinitely more results than not asking at all.
- Use keywords like “why” and “because.” E.g. “The reason why this needs to be done is …” or “Because that will be required to…”
- Instead of one large request, ask for a series of smaller steps to be undertaken instead. E.g. Please donate $120 vs. Please donate $10 a month for the next year.
- Always provide a real reason why your request is being made. E.g., We need to raise $225,000 by Christmas to ensure that we can carry out roof repairs on our school this Spring.
Ease the mental burden on your prospect by structuring your request in simple, easy to undertake, and understandable ways.