The most powerful words are always the simplest. For instance, the most powerful word in leadership is “believe.” That is a word we all know, yet we rarely use it with our team. You can read more about that powerful word here.
In his best-selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (I have read it three times now and highly recommend it), social psychologist Robert Cialdini tells us about the power of this word. In it, he shares a study by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer that shows the almost irrational effect the word “because” has on the hearer:
A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do. Langer demonstrated this unsurprising fact by asking a small favor of people waiting in line to use a library copying machine: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush? The effectiveness of this request-plus-reason was nearly total: Ninety-four percent of those asked let her skip ahead of them in line.
Compare this success rate to the results when she made the request only: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine? Under those circumstances, only 60 percent of those asked complied. At first glance, it appears that the crucial difference between the two requests was the additional information provided by the words, “because I’m in a rush.”
But a third type of request tried by Langer showed that this was not the case. It seems that it was not the whole series of words, but the first one, “because,” that made the difference. Instead of including a real reason for compliance, Langer’s third type of request used the word “because” and then, adding nothing new, merely restated the obvious: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies? The result was that once again nearly all (93 percent) agreed, even though no real reason, no new information, was added to justify their compliance.
Did you catch that? “Because I have to make copies?” Are you kidding me? That is the power of this word.
As a leader (at work, at home, or anywhere) you can use this word to your advantage.
Here are four common leadership situations and how “because” can help you be more persuasive and effective.
Delivering Corrective Feedback
Compare these two statements and determine which is more effective:
“Joe, you need to watch your language in meetings,”
“Joe, your language is causing disruption in meetings because others find it offensive. Please watch it going forward.”
Explaining why the behavior needs to be corrected (the because) causes the recipient of the feedback to see the damage caused.
Teaching / Training
“We always answer the phones within three rings.”
“We always answer the phones within three rings because we have found that the close rate on calls answered in three rings is 15% higher than those answered on the fourth ring or later.”
That is persuasive. Doing so because the boss says so is one thing. Doing so because you could make 15% more money is more effective.
“We’re going to have a great quarter, team!”
“We’re going to have a great quarter because we have the best sales team in the industry, our customer service is rated A+, and our programmers knocked it out of the park last month.”
Using “because” to make the case for positive statements is incredibly powerful. It’s great to believe in people, but it’s more impactful to tell them why you believe in them.
“I have to work so much this month.”
“I have to work so much this month because we’re growing so fast. What a great problem to have!”
“Because” gives you a reason for all that work. Even when you are talking to yourself, it has an amazing effect.
What other ways can you use the word “because” to be more persuasive and have a bigger impact?