One Word that Makes You (Instantly) More Persuasive

How to be More Persuasive with One Word

Fun question:

Ever wanted to duct tape someone’s mouth shut?

Because you were so worked up?

One teacher in Vancouver actually did it…

She duct taped a student’s mouth shut.

Three students, in fact.

The students say it’s a joke, but there’s a lot of buzz around the duct-taping.

How do you persuade someone, especially students, to do what you say before it gets to duct-taping?

Sometimes, a little psychology will fix it before it gets out of hand.

What to say

Let’s look at a tried-and-true scenario.

In Influence, a classic book, Cialdini writes about a study where he tests how people can be more persuasive.

There is a line-up at the Xerox machine in the office, and one guy wants to cut in line.

In the first scenario, he goes up to someone in the line, and asks, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”

About 60% of people let him cut in line to use the machine first. Not surprising.

In the next trial, he asks someone in the line, “I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I am in a rush?”

This time, about 94% of people let him cut. That’s a massive jump from a small change in the question.

A simple reason, “because I am in a rush,” gets him many more cuts. Funny, isn’t everyone in a rush at the office?

He tried one more scenario. In the last trial, he asks, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”

Read the question carefully.

Guess what percentage of people said yes?

93% of people let him cut in line when he said that. Even funnier, because a mundane reason gets good results.

The word that makes you more persuasive

It’s just one word, but it makes people at least 33% more persuasive.

It’s “because.”

In the first scenario, there was no reason for him to cut, and he was only allowed 60% of the time.

A plain reason made him 34% more persuasive. And a dumb reason only made that 1% less persuasive.

The point is to give a reason– any reason at all– because it makes you more persuasive. (See what I did there?)

Persuading people to shut up

Today, I was in the car listening to the radio. People were calling in to comment on the teacher who was duct-taping highschool kids’ mouths.

All the callers declared themselves to be teachers, and each gave their own tips on ‘discipline.’

Everyone sounded so reasonable, as if no one ever gets frustrated. At one point, the host bursts out at us: “Well, what do you do when the kid just won’t shut up?”

Sometimes, when my sister spouts nonsense on perfectly intelligent topics and I am simply exasperated, I tell her to “just be quiet,” because she really does not know what she’s talking about in our “discussion”.

That’s as far as I’ll go, and we’re not in a classroom– she is my sister. I treat my students differently.

The caller on the radio made some noises about it but it wasn’t satisfying.

When you do it for real

How do I persuade people to do what I say, and I’m right? It always works and I never yell (actually, I don’t think I’d be able to yell at a student).

First, I ask nicely and give a reason. I make it seem like they still have some control; I might say “Would it be okay if you were quiet when I’m talking, because people can’t hear?” or “Can you please listen when I’m talking, because everyone else is trying to listen?”

This gives them a choice: be quiet or be brought out again, and it’s not actually embarrassing to do what I say because it’s a choice, not an order.

I’m not the type of person to shout, “Sit down and shut up.”

If they refuse, and they are young, then compliment another student. “I like the way Sally is paying attention.”

Making people see the big picture

Sometimes I ask the student, “No? Why not?” Young students don’t know that it’s not okay to talk sometimes, so they’ll think about it.

If the student is old enough to know better and they refuse, my response would be firmer because they obviously cannot be embarrassed easily, from their response. “We’d like it if you were quiet because everyone else is trying to work.”

Bringing ‘everyone else’ into the picture is smart because it’s not just between you and the student anymore– it’s the student versus the entire class. We all want to fit in.

Having people see the big picture is good.

If you’re performing and for some reason they won’t let you warm up on the stage piano at a certain time, saying something along the lines of “I’d like to warm up here at 1pm because I’m sure the audience wants to see me at my best” would work.

If you’re talking to an uncaring stage crew, adding that “I get bad stage fright and have been known to vomit if I don’t warm up properly” would be effective, assuming that it’s true. Now that, they’ll care about.

I’ll be sharing a few more persuasion tricks, but I want to hear from you in your comment below (because you probably do it better than that lady on the radio):

What do you do when someone just won’t shut up? What’s your experience with difficult situations?

Just leave a comment below to join the conversation.

And, if you know someone who will find this useful, go ahead and send it to them.

There are 11 comments below
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Tzod Earf
Tzod Earf
10 years ago

I like this article because it mirrors other authors I’ve read lately about the word “because”. It also teaches how to be reasonable while using appeal to emotion, often discounted by proponents of critical thinking. Aristotle taught rhetoric along with logic. We need both to be persuasive because people aren’t ruled entirely by one or the other.

10 years ago

I will not duct tape mouths shut. I will not duct tape mouths shut. well, I could go on but I don’t want to be duct-taped! I have a student like that. she is over-stimulated when she comes to me at 8:30PM – dance classes from 4-7. clarinet, guitar, then piano lessons after dance. drive-thru for supper between dance and music. she can’t sit still or be quiet, and she owns a smartphone and wants her friends to listen I on the lesson. “her other teachers let her” and I do not. when she is like that, I just sit… Read more »

10 years ago

I really appreciate you sharing some tips with us. I learned a lot and will definitely use these tips in the future. I love that every blog post you make contains several examples and perspectives. In here, you talk about a study to a newstory, to your personal experiences, etcetera. Looking forward to learning more. However, I don’t like the way you treat your sister. Telling anyone to “just be quiet” when they are trying to articulate their thoughts is downright rude. You wouldn’t do that to your students, so why would you do that to your sister? Does she… Read more »

10 years ago

If they refuse, and they are young, then compliment another student. “I like the way Sally is paying attention.”

Oh god, PLEASE don’t do this. Why do teachers do this? All it will do is get “Sally” resented by every kid in that class.


Carson Chandler
Carson Chandler
7 years ago

One thing that usually works with my students is to remind them why they are there. I’ll stop – and just ask them: “wait, why are you here again?” Usually it works pretty well.

Joy Hutcher
Joy Hutcher
7 years ago

Well, I have a very different life experience. We home schooled our 6 children. We also had a home school co-op of 6 families. Every Friday a parent would teach the group of 25 children a subject of which that that particular parent was a master. Subjects ranged from sailing, rowing and canoeing to math, history and etiquette. The week after the etiquette class, the young teenage son of that parent came to my house for a class. He decided making body noises and smells would be funny. I was surprised, considering what his mother had taught the week before.… Read more »