The One Word That Could Persuade People (In Almost Any Situation)

It is estimated that the English language has over one million familiar and frequently used words. We may not be using all of these words but when a child hits the age of four, he already has a fair mastery of the language itself.

Would you believe it if I told you that there is one word that could spell the difference between a successful interaction and a really bad one? Would you take the opportunity if I were to reveal that one word that could make people say yes even if they would experience inconvenience if they did say yes to you?

Do you like standing in line for something? I sure don’t – because often it’s a massive time waster and we are almost always running out of time when it comes to all of the stuff that we need to do.

The regular career person would never say that he enjoys standing in line for anything. People would always want stay ahead in a line so they could finish what they came there to do more quickly. With this in mind, what do you think would be that one thing that could make the person in front of a line give his spot to you?

Now, one of the things that we have to remember as influencers is that persuasion or influence are rarely complicated matters. You don’t need a PhD or a degree in rocket science to understand how persuasion or influence works. What you do need to learn are the subtle changes that you have to make during an interaction that would make your communication more effective. Genuine master influencers don’t talk like Martians.

We don’t use any magical jargon so that people would simply agree with us. What we do know are the specific triggers that encourage very specific responses in people. One of the most effective triggers (according to current studies) is the word because. Before you let out your collective “what?!” let me share with you the results of a study led by researcher Ellen Langer.

Ellen Langer wanted to find out if the word “because” would actually make any difference if someone wanted to get ahead in a line to a Xerox machine. The constant variable in this study was the fact that every that stood in line at the Xerox machine was in a hurry and that everyone wanted to finish quickly.

Langer wanted to know how people would react to a complete stranger who walked up to the head of the line so that he could get ahead of everybody else. Normally, people would say no to someone who was obviously cutting ahead of the line for his own sake. But was it possible to bypass the normal defensive response to such behavior by adding an extra word to a statement?

To test Langer’s hypothesis, the stranger that they requested to perform the live experiment for them was asked to approach different individuals who was at the head of the line to the Xerox with two different statements. The first statement was “Excuse me, I have to photocopy 5 pages here.

May I go ahead and use the copying machine?” while the second statement was “May I use the copying machine because I have to make several copies of this document?” Of course, the two different statements were used separately in different situations, with different people involved.

It is interesting to note that the reason stated by the complete stranger was a bit nonsensical because everyone who lining up to use the Xerox machine all had to make copies of documents that they were holding. The complete stranger who had to walk up to the head of the line was simply stating a common fact that he had to use the machine to make copies of his own documents.

If you look at the situation from a broader perspective, the move of the complete stranger did not make sense at all because what was the point of telling the person at the head of the line that he had to make copies, too? There was no special reasoning or excuses involved in the experiment.

One would think that in order for this technique to work, one had to think of a really good reason to cut ahead of everybody else. Reasons like “my boss will kill me in 5 minutes if I don’t get this to the meeting on time” would seem more appropriate.

Langer didn’t want to complicate things too much so the reason that was given was direct and very plain – the complete stranger just wanted to make copies, that was all.

The person who was ahead in the line could either comply with the stranger’s request or he could blatantly refuse – it was wholly up to the respondent. If the unwitting respondent said no, the stranger would probably just get in line like everybody else.

After the live experiment, Langer discovered that there was a 94% compliance rate when the stranger used the word “because” in his statement. Only 60% of the individuals who received the first test statement complied with the request. This shows that no matter how logical we may think people are, in reality, logical or rational can be bent or diverted by a single word.

This is the beauty of covert persuasion and influence; it doesn’t take much to get people to say yes to you. In fact, all you need most of the time is the right words and using these special triggers at the right moment. Timing is essential if you want to persuade people.

For example, Langer’s experiment probably would not have worked well if the stranger asked someone from the middle of the line to give up his spot. The request had to be given in such a way that was needed was already within reach and the subject had the choice to either give in to the request or not. A quick decision had to be made because there were other people standing in line.