How to ask for a favor (according to science).
Life is easier when people do us an occasional favor. Of course, when others are unwilling to grant our requests, things can get difficult! If you often find that people are reluctant to do you a small favor like pay your cable bill or bake you a series of seasonally thematic cakes, you’re in luck!
We threw this together in, like, 20 minutes. No big deal.
Long ago, psychologists figured out a way to make people more likely to comply with everyday, small requests. The key is to give a reason when you ask for a favor.
In one study, researchers found that people waiting in line to use a copying machine were more likely to let them cut ahead if they said the following: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” By combining their request with a reason, the researchers found that 94% of the people that were asked allowed them to skip ahead in line. The researchers also tried asking for a favor with no reason: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” In this case, only 60% permitted them to cut ahead.
This is pretty interesting, but here’s the kicker: the researchers tried one more version of their request: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” The researchers discovered two amazing findings. First, 0.0% of the people waiting in line attempted to punch them in the face. Second, 93% allowed them to skip ahead!
Note: A fistfight broke out minutes later.
Why would so many people comply with such a ridiculous request? The answer is simple: the word because. By merely appearing to have a reason to cut in line, the researchers found that people were more likely to grant them a favor. Whether or not they had a valid reason (“because I’m in a rush”) or a nonsensical one (“because I have to make some copies”), nearly all of the people allowed them to go ahead.
The applications of this research are endless! Below are just a few of the requests we’ve made to complete strangers. Each time we were met with nothing short of enthusiastic compliance!
Excuse me, I’m a little hungry. May I eat the rest of your meatballs because I like to eat meatballs?
Excuse me, I’ve grown weary of my cell phone. May I have yours because I would prefer to text for free?
Excuse me, I’ve misplaced my shoes. May I borrow your kicks because I’m ashamed of my mismatched socks?