Matt Franz : Zealous For Knowledge

Read this because it will make you a more effective communicator

I can’t tell you how many times I am asked to do something that sounds ridiculous, arbitrary, or pointless, and am given no reason why I should comply. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. If you are going to ask someone for something always tell them why. The odder your request is, the more important this becomes. In fact, you don’t even need to give someone a good reason, anything will do.

Why? Because the human brain loves logic. Charlie Munger explains what he calls Reason Respecting Tendency in Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

This tendency has an obvious implication. It makes man especially prone to learn well when a would-be teacher gives correct reasons for what is taught, instead of simply laying out the desired belief ex cathedra with no reasons given. Few practices, therefore, are wiser than not only thinking through reasons before giving orders but also communicating these reasons to the recipient of the order.

Humans like logic. Our brains crave the pattern “this because of that”. If you only give someone half of the pattern their brain goes to work trying to fill in the rest. If someone’s brain has to work hard to give you what you want, you are less likely to get it.

Carl Braun understood the significance of this. Braun owned an engineering company that designed oil refineries. As Munger recounts: “If you wrote a letter or directive in the Braun Company telling somebody to do something, and you didn’t tell him why, you could get fired. In fact, you would get fired if you did it twice.”

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big also knows the power of Reason Respecting Tendency. Readers of his blog will notice that he signs off each post with something like “Buy my book because…”

His reasons aren’t always good ones. In fact Adams calls it The Fake Because. Studies show that the quality of the reason doesn’t matter. Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer was the first to discover this. Safal Niveshak explains:

She went into a library, where there was a long waiting queue in front of the photocopier, and approached the first person in the queue and asked, “Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” That would probably infuriate a lot of people because everybody was there to make copies. Naturally most people refused to oblige to Langer’s request.

In the second part of the experiment she gave a reason while making a request. “Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” This time most people gave in to her request and allowed her to go ahead. This is reasonable because if people are in a hurry, you would often let them cut into the front of the queue. But then came the interesting twist in the experiment.

In the final part of the experiment she tried another approach, this time saying, “Excuse me. I have five pages. May I go before you, because I have to make some copies?” Now that’s a lame excuse. Everybody in the queue has to make copies, but surprisingly the result in this approach was amazing. She was allowed to pass to the front of the queue in almost all cases.

In Seeking Wisdom Peter Bevlin suggests that the magic word is not “Please” but “Because”.

When people ask us for a favor we are more likely to comply if they give us a reason even if we don’t understand the reason or it is wrong. Often it isn’t the reason itself that is important, but the way the reason is phrased. Sometimes the word “because,” without a sensible reason, is all that matters. We want explanations and the word “because” imply an explanation.

Noah Kagan suggests people ask for a discount at Starbucks to practice asking for what they want in a low risk environment. Lots of people have done it and posted videos online. From these a clear pattern emerges: when they give a reason why they want a discount, the get it more times that not. “Because it’s my birthday”, “Because I’m giving it to a homeless man” and “Because it’s Friday” all worked.

Use the pattern “this because of that” because it will improve your chances of getting what you want.

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