Tag Archives: power words

Why? Because I Said So

The English language is packed with words but only a select handful of them are considered “power words,” or words that have more influence over people than others.  One of the simplest yet most effective of these power words (according to the highly influential and aptly named book “Influence,” by Robert Cialdini) is the word “because.”

Say you have  a business report that needs to be copied ASAP but there’s a line in front of the copy machine.  If you were to go up to your co-workers and ask, “May I use the copy machine first?  I have an important business report that needs to be copied,” your co-workers may resist your polite query or just shrug you off without a second thought.  But if you were to tweak the phrase by adding the word “because,” you can greatly increase your odds of convincing your co-workers letting you cut in line.  Such as by asking, “I have a business report that needs to be copied, can I go first because I’m in a rush?”

You may not be convinced this works, and that’s okay–I felt the same way when I read this example in Cialdini’s book.  But there is a study and statistics that back the claim which can also be found in “Influence.”

When the participant in this scenario asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the Xerox machine?” 60 percent of people let the participant cut in line.  However, when the query was changed to “I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” 94 percent of people let the participant cut.  The word “because” influenced them to give into the participant’s request, even though the reason (being in a rush) isn’t that strong of a reason–everyone is in a rush at an office.

Further, when the question was changed to “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?” 93 percent of people let the participant cut in line–even if the reason wasn’t much of a reason at all.  Everyone uses the Xerox machine to make copies, making this a reason that should go without saying or a “non-reason,” to put it another way.

Cialdini says we are much more likely to get someone to do us favors simply by providing them with a reason–regardless of how good the reason is.  People just like knowing there is a method behind the madness and they aren’t being asked to do something just for the sake of doing it.  Of course, this may not work ALL THE TIME but it can tip the scales in your favor when asking someone to do something for you or to let you do something that may slightly inconvenience them.

You can read more about the power of “because” in this article by the Huffington Post, which includes four other power words that hold influence over people.  Use this knowledge to see how advertisements, salespeople, politicians and other people try to sway you into buying products or doing things for them so you can become more aware of their influence.  And it should go without saying that if you intend on using these power words for yourself, do so responsibly and ethically.