Have you ever wished you could just wave a magic wand over someone to get them to do your bidding? Well, now you don't have to. Being able to persuade others is a useful communication skill (when it's not manipulative, that is) — and scientists have uncovered a simple trick to boost your powers of persuasion. Pull it out at the right time, and it might help you up your game for that awkward situation with a boss, partner, or friend.
New York Magazine's Science of Us blog reports that persuading someone to do something for you is actually a lot easier than you might think. Apparently it's all in the wording — and it's so subtle a tweak, the other person probably won't even notice you're working a little magic: A professor at Loughborough University in the UK, psychologist Elizabeth Stokoe, found that simply changing the way we ask a favor of someone increases the likelihood of them bending to our will. In fact, it's focusing on their "willingness" which is key.
In a talk presented at the Latitude event in Suffolk, England, Stokoe noted that questions that produce a straight "yes" or "no" outcome often results in little progress: Think things like, "Do you meditate?" — "Yes" or "No" are complete answers to that question, and they don't really invite followups. But asking someone if they are "willing" to do something will reveal more about their personal boundaries and what they find permissible. For example we learn more about a person from asking them, "Are you willing to meditate?" Furthermore, it's likely that answer will produce more conversation, ultimately leading you towards the outcome you want.
Worth noting, though, is that you might want to avoid opening your conversation with this technique; it's a way of upping your persuasion game later on in the exchange. Stokoe remarked that framing your request around the other person's willingness works best after they initially show resistance. "It shouldn’t be your opening gambit," she said.
Stokoe has spent years analysing human conversations in her work and although her conclusion isn't a result of any one particular segment of research, her recommendations are definitely worth a shot. I mean, what have you actually got to lose by changing tact in a situation that isn't going your way? A whole lotta nothing — that's what. And her recommended phrasing is also extremely subtle; asking someone if they are "willing" to help you out with something likely won't set off any major alarm bells in the conversation.
Despite this convincing argument, though, the lack of concrete evidence to support the theory means the only way to test the validity of this is to give it a shot ourselves. And if that doesn't work? Well, you can always become a master of reading body language instead.