What if there was a secret password that could teach you how to get your way and all you had to do was use it? Well, such a thing would be pretty magical... and probably illegal in at least a handful of countries, to be honest.
But there are words and phrases that seem to have a knack for creating opportunities where there were none before. It might not be the “Open Sesame!” answer to all of your problems, but it might actually help influence people when you’re asking for help or to make decisions.
The phrase that happens to be the most persuasive, however, is a little surprising, as it suggests that the people it’s directed toward will not help out. Just what exactly is this magic phrase that seems to have the power to sway people’s minds?
“I know you’ll probably refuse, but...”
Starting sentences off with this phrase when you’re looking for the other person to either pitch in money, effort, or time seems to have a strangely magnetic pull for them to do what you actually want them to do.
A scientist stopped just over 640 people on the streets of France to ask for their help in donating to an organization that helps children. In half of the instances that he stopped people, he began his statement with, “You are probably interested in organizations for children with health problems. I wonder if you could help us by making a donation,” while the other 50 percent of people were given a bit of a variation on this statement by adding in the magical phrase listed above. “You are probably interested in organizations for children with health problems. You will probably refuse, but I wonder if you could help us by making a donation?”
In the first group, only 25 percent of those who were asked actually donated anything. The second group, whose decision was influenced, had 39 percent of those involved making donations. Not only was their donor pool higher than the first group, but they also donated a bit more, bringing their average donations close to that of the first group, whose average was higher since there were fewer donors.
Scientists believe that phrases like this end up “tapping” into parts of our psychology. Since people all prefer to exercise their own free will, having someone suggest that they will not participate makes them that much more eager to do so, if only to prove that it was their own decision.
Realistically, it’s probably just because people are stubborn and like to have their own way, but either way, it does prove that there are, in fact, phrases that can manipulate the human ego almost as well as “Open Sesame!”
Researchers noted that other phrases that might have this effect on people were:
- “You are free to accept or refuse, but...”
- “Do as you wish, but...”
- “Do not feel obligated, but...”
These phrases basically make you feel like the other person has already figured out what you’re going to do, and therefore has removed your freedom of choice. It makes people more likely to respond to the positive, rather than just refusing, because they want their choice to be theirs and theirs alone.
So basically, it reverts us all to rebellious teenagers ready to leap at the chance to do whatever someone thinks we won’t. Whatever the reason, these phrases are scientifically tested for their ability to influence decisions, so just remember not to use your powers of persuasion for (too much) evil.