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Change the Way You Talk and Make Yourself Heard


Experience says: “Don’t get yourself stuck into those redundant formalism.”

While experiment says: “Don’t overlook formats. When we are all used to certain formats, our brains start to become lazy and judge the contents through the formats.

When you’ve been in queue for two hours and a guy suddenly cut in the line, will you bear that without getting mad on him?

How could that even be possible? We, as defenders of public orders, should absolutely blame the guy, unless…unless he has some special reasons to do so.

Indeed, you need a reason to forgive the guy; however, you don’t care too much about the details of the reason, instead, you just need the format. Dr. Langer, a professor from Department of Phycology in HarvardUniversity, together with his co-workers, performed a study in 1978 on the students who were waiting in line for printing. When the experimenter saw a student was going to print, he went to the printer and requested: “I have a five-page document to print, may I use the printer right now?” If you say this to others with no other reasonable excuses, usually two fifths of people will deny the request.

However, if you change the way you talk into something like “I have a five-page document to print, may I use the printer? I’m sorry to bother but I’m in a hurry.” Then, the possibility of being denied decreases significantly to 6 %.

“I’m in a hurry” seems to be reasonable enough, but it is true that such reason plays the big role here? To better answer this question, Dr. Langer did an experiment in the third condition.

“I have a five-page document to print, may I use the printer? Because I have something to print.” Yep, “I have something to print” is a nonsense, but the conclusion is based on information content. Although it seems like a blah-blah, but the result is totally amazing—93 % people allow the experimenter to use the printer.

When come across these “doesn’t matter” things, people usually don’t think about them thoroughly because human brain is saved to do more complicated jobs. Hence, people just grant the experimenter’s request with simple steps of thinking. Printing five pages won’t waster you too much time, so it’s OK but if the document becomes a twenty-page one, people will not buy the same excuse.

If you want me to grant you something, you should give me a reason, even if it is a “false” one; if you want me to buy your point, first you have to make me feel we come from the same world. Speaking with the same words, someone makes you believe but others only encourage your critical spirit. A Psychologist from MichiganStateUniversity did an experiment that he prepared a speech and found an actor to record two videos with totally different styles. One of the video features in more gestures and facial expressions, while in the other one, the actor seems to be mature and reliable. Then the videos were randomly distributed to participants and the participants were asked to evaluate and vote for either one of the videos. The results revealed that the conservatives tends to opt for the guy who is mature and reliable, while the radicals would like to vote for the one with enthusiasm—although the speeches in the two videos are exactly the same.

Sometimes you may find the guy who has been debating with you for one hour is actually talking about totally different things, or, both of you basically share the same point but just keep arguing, which is extremely ridiculous. Think about those who always comment in blogs and forums with the “stupid” or “idiot” words, they often have one of the following characteristics: they may comment before they finish reading the article, or they even have not read it at all; some of them may not completely understand or simply misunderstand the author’s view; some others are criticizing the author’s attitude rather than the point of view—they just tilt at windmills as Don Quixote did. So why on earth they have such limited comprehension ability?

The answer is simple—we have set our mind before we read the content and we judge friends from enemies. Professor Langer randomly selected some addresses from yellow pages and mailed simple 5-question inquires. The inquiries were actually not the most important part, the keynote was the introduction part. There were two introductions, one just asking people to answer the questions and mail it back to the given address, while the other one started with some polite words such as “Hello…please…”. The polite words seem to be meaningless, however, the return rate of inquires does increase.

In order to save some troubles, our brains work out the way to substitute contents with formats. People who don’t realize this fact sometimes contradict with others but if you are aware of and take full advantage of it, you will be able to overcome communication obstacles and make yourself heard loud and clear.