How the Word “Because” Could Change Your Life

by JT McGee

Success comes with getting what you want, and putting up with the things other people want. It’s a careful balance of stepping on toes, and avoiding the stampedes of requests when they come.

A 1978 study reveals how people can more easily receive exactly what they wish. The word “because” has power like you wouldn’t believe.

Excuses Sell

Excuses are just manipulative reasons.

A psychologist set out to see which words make people tick. In a local library, Ellen Langer asked a simple favor of people waiting in line to use the Xerox machine. (For those my age, a Xerox machine is a copier.)

She tested two different statements and questions:

  1. “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  2. “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

Now both of these statements contain some kind of qualifier. The reference to the number of pages tells the people in line that Mrs. Langer will not significantly slow their progress. However, it was the word “because” that made the difference in the two statements.

People want a reason to allow us to do what we wish. The first statement was effective only 60 percent of the time. While that beats even money, it doesn’t even come close to the statement that contained the word “because.” The second statement and question was 94 percent effective, meaning 94 out of 100 times she was allowed to skip the line when she used this particular wording.

It Gets Even Better

Langer actually tested three different statements and questions. Her third test was “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”

Some 93 percent of people responded favorably to this request. Notice how Langer simply stated the obvious; the additional clause in the question (“because I have to make some copies”) is entirely redundant. Of course anyone who uses a Xerox machine does so to make copies.

It is only because Langer used the word “because” that more people were willing to help her out. To recap:

  1. “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” was 60 percent effective.
  2. “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” was 94 percent effective.
  3. “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” was 93 percent effective.

Use this to your advantage

I’m accepting this study as truth that you are more likely to get what you want if you use the word “because.” This should be tremendously valuable to know in any range of situations.

Salaries –“ I would like a starting salary of $50,000 per year because…”

Garage sales – “I’ll pay $10 for this because…”

Bank fees – “I would like you to waive my late payment fee because…”

At any point the other party has some kind of latitude to make a decision, using the word “because” puts the power in your hands. So use it wisely – and start getting exactly what you want. Who knew getting what you want is only a single word away?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

A Blinkin September 4, 2012 at 18:46

I guess this makes sense. Most people’s reaction is going to be “why?” It’s kinda like bringing up the objection before someone objects. Very effective..

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JT McGee September 5, 2012 at 08:02

That plays a part. I grabbed this from a book, Influence, which says it’s also related to giving before you receive. A reason is just as good as a gift insofar as influencing someone else’s decisions.

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