The Magic Word to Get What You Want


Quick test: you are about to ask someone for a favor or to give you something. What’s the magic word?

Without hesitation any child can tell you that it’s please. But in fact there is another magic word. Consider this study reported in Robert Cialdini‘s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (p. 4). People standing in line were asked in three different ways whether or not the person asking the question could cut in line. Here is the question, followed by the response rate in each case.

Response Rates Depending on Phrasing
Question Response
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” 94% yes
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” 60% yes
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I need to make some copies?” 93% yes

Frankly, I find it sort of surprising that 94% of the people said yes to because I’m in a rush which is barely a reason (“I’m in a rush because my plane leaves in one hour and I need to get this copied before I get to the airport” is a reason). But the amazing thing is that there’s such a huge difference between not giving a “because” at all and adding a “because” clause that adds no information whatsoever (obviously the person wanted to make copies, that’s what a copy machine does).

It occurred to me that I should subtitle pages “Please read this because I wrote it” as in “The Magic Word (please read this because I wrote it).”

So “please” might be nice and all that, but “because” is the magic word. This isn’t to say you can’t combine them: Please link to this article, because then I’ll have more links.

Honestly, I actually would appreciate it if you linked to this article, because I’m egocentric and I like links ;-)

I’m also sort of sarcastic, but please set that aside, because I’m asking you to ;-)

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