“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” The Buddha
“Because I said so!” is a familiar statement – a parental proclamation we heard during childhood and probably have asserted to our own children. Representing a tactic to accomplish compliance without further argument, the request often came at the end of a frustrating conversation with a parent. Do you remember? Perhaps, you were one of the few of us who bravely persisted in trying to continue a ‘no win’ dialogue. Did you win?
A little-known fact, overshadowed by the tone and volume often used in that familiar directive, is a word proven effective in communication. In a 1978 research project, called the ‘copy machine experiment,’ a Harvard University professor studied the topic of compliance as it related to requests. This simple trial compared the results obtained when the word because was inserted in a request, or conversely when not used.
The test involved an attempt by one person to break into a long line to use a copy machine on a college campus. Requests were made in two different ways: One with no reason given for breaking in line, and another with an explanation, preceded by the word because.
On the surface, you would think that one word would not make much difference. This experiment proved otherwise. In this trial, merely using the word because, followed by a reason for the request, resulted in a 50-percent improvement in compliance. Fifty percent! It does not seem possible, does it? It defies logic.
Wow! One word! I am already thinking of a few people whose cooperation I would really like to expand. I am sure you can think of one example right now. I know some parents who would be ecstatic about a 50 percent improvement in their child’s willing adherence to their requests. How about managers who struggle to motivate their team? A one-word effective solution would also be highly efficient. What about older parents who are set in their ways? If they would just listen!
We can quickly create a list of people whom we wish would not only pay more attention to our requests, but follow-through with real action. Have you already started your list? (Mine is too long to document in this newsletter!) The possibility of such an inclination seems very much like divine intervention or a dream.
As a professional speaker and author, I continue to study and practice the use of words – before live audiences, in this newsletter, and in the books I write. And, my absolute conclusion, after many years of experience, is that everything about our communication — including word choices – significantly matters. The copy machine experiment is useful because it points to a monumental truth. Everything about communication matters. Recognizing the importance of a single word, such as because, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to effective communication. Substantial literature on this topic reinforces the reality that many factors do exist.
Communication is complex and challenging. Even the smallest element (a word or nod of the head) can be the largest impediment to our success. I can remember discussions that were negatively altered by just a tiny component. Can you? I also recall chats that were positively changed by a single word.
Communication is the most important ingredient in relationships. Not surprisingly, the lack of effective interaction is often cited for failures in resolving differences or problems. Like the air we breathe, it is essential and yet often taken for granted.
In today’s technological world, complicated by the increased speed and volume of messages, it is even more challenging – not less.
We are constantly communicating, even if our intention is to not communicate. That choice is not available. Non-verbal expressions send a message, too. Our tone, selection of words and use of volume are major (not exclusive) factors in what others hear and how they decide to respond.
If you are not happy with any current relationships, is it possible that you need to earnestly examine your personal approach to communication? What are the key words you consistently use? Do these words need modification or replacement? What is your normal tone and non-verbal gestures in the most challenging conversations you have each day? What small changes could you make in what you say, as well as how you phrase it that might make a huge difference? If you cannot answer this last question, ask someone close to you. You will likely be surprised by their response. A tiny change can mean a huge difference in your life.
Communication is the ‘elephant’ in the realm of relationships. We can only vanquish that elephant one stroke at a time. One word. One nod. One facial expression. All of these elements represent a single step toward successful communication.
One word might not make a difference. But, it might. One small change could mean the first step toward a positive and life-changing result in a relationship essential in our lives. The options for improvement are almost limitless, in some cases requiring many years to implement all that is available. Does it make sense to start today?
Today, I will succeed in my communication . . .