How to get what you want. The power of ‘because’

Ever wondered the most effective way to ask someone for a favour?

Well, thanks to the research of Professor Ellen Langer of Harvard University. I can tell you just how to do it!

The copy machine study:

Professor Langer devised an experiment which determines how people react when asked for small or large favours, when given no reason, a placebic reason and a real reason.

The experiment took place in a library, where her subjects would wait for someone to approach the photocopier, and just before they started using it, the subject would ask if they could jump in front and use the machine first.

Half the subjects were aware of the hypothesis of the study and half were not.

The subjects would be copying either 5 or 20 pages. This determined a small or large favour.

The three phrases each subject used were as follows:

1. Request only. “Excuse me, I have 5 (20) pages.

May I use the xerox machine?”

2. Placebic information. “Excuse me, I have 5 (20)

pages. May I use the xerox machine because I have

to make copies?”

3. Real information. “Excuse me, I have 5 (20)

pages. May I use the xerox machine because I’m in a


The results marked a landmark change in how we understood human behaviour.

For the small favour (5 pages), the ‘request only’ yielded a 60% success rate!

Literally just asking for a favour and giving no reason resulted in getting what they wanted 60% of the time!

When the subjects used a real reason, this jumped up to 94%!

Saying ‘because I’m in a rush’ meant that 94% of people granted a small favour.

However, perhaps the most interesting result was when the subject gave a placebic, almost nonsensical reason.

The subject still had the small favour granted 93% of the time!

This showed that when asking for a small favour the validity of the reason has very little bearing on whether you will be granted the favour or not.

Essentially just saying ‘can you do this for me, BECAUSE….’ Jumps the acceptance rate up from 60% to 93%.

Now, the big favour. 20 pages.

When asking the larger favour, the results were as follows:

No reason – 24%

Placebic reason – 24%

Real reason – 42%

This shows that when asking for a larger favour, simply giving a valid reason can double your chances of getting what you want.

Why is this study so important to sales, marketing and business in general?

Well, every day you need to ask things of people:

You ask clients to do business with you, ask suppliers for better prices on materials, ask customers to pay you, ask fellow decorators for advice.

There are thousands of things you will need to ask over the course of your career.

So now think how much more successful you could be if you did the following:

When asking a small favour, simply use the word ‘because’ to increase your chances from 60% to 93%.

Remember the reason you give is basically insignificant. You essentially just need to say ‘because’

When asking for a large favour, if you remember to include a valid reason and you will DOUBLE your chances of getting a positive result.

Final point…

All this is very useful in sales, marketing and growing your business.

However, don’t forget, the most important thing you can do is to actually ask in the first place!

As they say: ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’

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