Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Running late? Learn to butt-in Effectively

I once had the worst experience ever returning from Asia and connecting at Chicago's O'Hare on my way to Toronto. The plane was already slightly late so coming off the plane, I had to change terminals and therefore leave the secured area to return again in the new terminal. Of course the flight was the exact furthest possible point relative to the entrance but beyond this, there was a massive snaking line to get through security.

Unlike Toronto where Air Canada agents have the good sense to try to move passengers for soon departing flights to the front of the line, such is not the case in Chicago where United Airline's staff really only know how to glare at you and make snarky remarks (I won't burden you with the aftermath in trying to get on another flight which was even more painful). Bearing in mind that I had not slept for about 18 hours at this point coming off a transpacific flight, this behavioural research might have been helpful (courtesy of the Economist Blog):

Behavioral scientist Ellen Langer and her colleagues decided to put the persuasive power of this word to the test. In one study, Langer arranged for a stranger to approach someone waiting in line to use a photocopier and simply ask, "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?" Faced with the direct request to cut ahead in this line, 60 percent of the people were willing to agree to allow the stranger to go ahead of them. However, when the stranger made the request with a reason ("May I use the Xerox machine, because I'm in a rush?"), almost everyone (94 percent) complied...

Here's where the study gets really interesting...This time, the stranger also used the word because but followed it with a completely meaningless reason. Specifically, the stranger said "May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?"

Comments the Economist writer: "As Tyler Cowen notes, compliance in the latter case was a stunning 93%. This will surely lead to a provocative new round of campaign advertisements, declaring, 'Vote for me, because I'm running.'"

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