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March 31, 2009


Minor verbal cues can vastly improve your powers of persuasion. Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, in her much-cited "copy machine studies," found that when one of her researchers approached someone at a photocopier and asked "May I use the copy machine?" they were allowed to skip ahead about 60 percent of the time. But those who asked "May I use the copy machine, because I'm in a rush?" received access nearly 95 percent of the time. Do you think that citing a convincing reason for their hurry made the difference? Well, when Langer had the interrupter ask "May I use the copy machine because I need to make some copies?" the results were similar. Again, nearly 95 percent of the subjects stepped aside.
The key was not the reason, but the use of the word "because." People hearing the word "because" in connection with a minor favor automatically performed the favor.

This doesn't mean that "because" is your magic ticket to favors, however. When Langer sent interrupters with armfuls of copies, people stopped and judged the reason behind the request. In this case, saying "because I have to make some copies" had no effect. Only when a plausible reason was given would others consider stepping aside.

Some other handy conjunctions:

When making a correction, altering a request, or giving constructive criticism, replace "but" with "and." Let's say you're schmoozing for a job in publishing, and someone mentions a friend in a field completely unrelated to what you want to do. It would be abrupt-sounding (not to mention ungrateful) to say:

"Thank you so much for your help but do you know anyone in publishing?"

But try saying:

"Thank you so much for your help, and do you know anyone in publishing?"

The thanks flows directly into your next request, and softens the fact that you're asking for something new.


Filed Under: Networking