There’s a queue at the photocopier. They all have to wait. Yet everyone, almost every time, agreed to a queue jumper.

So what had Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer stumbled upon that soon became the first in a set of principles that leaders learn when it comes to influencing others?
To start with, Langer simply had the researcher asking “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the photocopier?”. The result to this simple request is staggering: 60% said yes. It appears that a fair degree of a success comes simply from having the confidence to ask, and the ability to ask politely.

It was the next question that had everyone, almost every time, agreeing to the queue jumper. Turning it up a notch, Langer then had the researcher ask “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the photocopier because I’m in a rush?”. 94% of the time, the entire queue said “yes”. It appears that when given a reason, and asked politely, people are very likely to comply.

But it is actually Langer’s third and final question that is the eye opener. Langer’s research team were wondering how much of the increase in success was due to the actual reason given. They had the researcher ask “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the photocopier because I have to make some copies?”. The result was that 93% of the time the entire queue said “yes. The elegance of this question is that it looks as if it is giving a reason, but it actually isn’t, yet the results dropped by only 1%!

So why say why?

How often do we not ask for fear of being turned down?

How often do we ask without seeming to give a reason?

What would it be worth to you, if you could influence others to make better decisions?

If you enjoyed this article you might be interested in the original research, which was published in the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, and also in his latest book who in Aug 2014 released a new book “The small BIG” which reinforced his findings that people don’t make decisions as rationally as you may think.

You may also be interested in red10’s 2-day Influencing Skills workshop, which uses a blend of group exercises, individual role play and video playbacks to help candidates learn and practice a range of research-based influencing strategies and approaches.