‘Because’ is the secret to compliance

“Because I said so.” That ever-present phrase from my youth. My dad, probably like his dad before him and his dad before him, had used those four words many times to elicit action. Whether it was to clean my room, take out the trash, or stop antagonizing my little sister, those words always seemed to follow. And as much as I despised hearing them from my pops, Bobby Ross (and trust me, if you knew him, you know), I couldn’t resist his requests any longer.

Bobby RossAs I aged from a young toddler to a defiant teen, to a “know it all” young adult, and eventually a mature young adult without kids, I longed for the moment when I could finally tell my own children, “Because I said so.” It was like a rite of passage, a coming-of-age milestone.

Finally, that day arrived when our son was old enough to receive his grand, fit-for-a-prince instruction: clean his room. And when he responded with the perfect question, “Why?” I knew the time had come. Just like all those times I had practiced, I executed and enunciated every single syllable with crystal clarity and unwavering confidence: “Because I said so.”

I did it! I had made the final transition to becoming my dad. And while I still couldn’t see the resemblance everyone claimed I had to him, I proudly possessed his golden phrase: “Because I said so.”

Now, I bet you’re probably reading this and wondering, “Why am I still reading this?” Well, let me tell you, my friend, there’s a reason “Because you need to know this.”

“Know what?” you ask.

“Because!” I confidently respond.

“What?!?” you exclaim.

“Because. The power of the word because.”

You see, “because” is one of the most powerfully persuasive words in our vocabulary, yet most people don’t truly understand why. Our brains are wired to react to certain triggers and act automatically. It’s what helps us avoid getting stuck in the minutiae of every decision, preventing us from falling into the dreaded “analysis paralysis” trap, like debating the perfect shade of white for our living room walls.

“Because” seems to bypass our decision-making process by presenting the words that follow it as a legitimate reason, even when it may not be.

By now your are probably eager for details, let me spill the beans. I’ll give you the scoop on Ellen Langer’s 1970s experiment, where she tested the persuasive power of “because.” Here’s how she set it up: She went to a college where students were always waiting in line to photocopy documents. She then had subjects request to “cut” the line using three different phrases:

  1. (Request only) “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  2. (Request with a legitimate reason) “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
  3. (Request with a fake reason) “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I need to make some copies?”

Now, picture yourself standing in line. How would you have responded to these questions?

Chances are you’re telling yourself you wouldn’t have let them cut in line. And I’m pretty sure if we surveyed the students before the experiment, they would have said the same thing. However, the data tells a different story.

“Alright, what happened?” you ask.

When it was a simple request without any additional reason, people let the requester skip the line 60% of the time. But when a legitimate reason, or even a fake reason, followed the request, people allowed the requester to skip the line 94% and 93% of the time, respectively.

It’s hard to believe that people who were already waiting in line to make their own copies would be moved to compliance to wait even longer just because someone said, “I need to make some copies.”

Langer’s study seems to suggest that “because” is the persuasive trigger that can gain compliance with our requests.

So, why not give “because” a try when you’re marketing to clients, persuading customers, or even trying to convince your spouse on where to go to dinner? Trust me on this one, because I said so!

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