“Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation.”
— Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It… Every Time.
I want to share a tool I recently learned, because I think it could help you be a better leader.
Harvard Professor Ellen Langer studied the power of because. She found that ending a request with a “because…” increased compliance with the request from 60% to more than 90%. You can read a short summary of the study here.
When you think about it, it makes sense. Would you rather hear, “Don’t park your car there,” or “Don’t park your car there, because it is a no parking zone and you will probably get a ticket”?
In the first scenario when I don’t hear a “because,” I am inclined to tell myself a story. My internal explanation might be, “What a jerk. That person is trying to boss me around by telling me where I can’t park.”
Since hearing about this research, I have noticed I don’t naturally include a “because” when I am trying to be efficient, especially when I am in a position of authority. When I am trying to make the best use of my time and others’, I sometimes make a request without providing background information. This is even more common when I have a power advantage, such as with a staff member, or with my kids!
I decided to try adding in “because” more often. Instead of “Please print 10 copies of the attached by 3:00 today,” I now add, “because I’m meeting with John’s team at 4:00.” It takes very little extra time, and invites the requested one to support me in my end goal, rather than just performing a task.
One of our coaching clients was frustrated by an “insubordinate” staff member. When we explored how he makes requests to this employee, we noticed no “because.” His perspective was, “If I have to give an explanation, that takes extra time and takes away from my authority.”
We asked, “How’s that working for you?”
After a few choice words, our client admitted his method is not actually very efficient. He decided to experiment with adding in a “because.”
How about you? Do you include a “because” in your requests? You might want to, because it will likely give you better results.