Asking questions_crop

OPINION22 August 2018

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Behavioural science Impact Opinion UK

There is more than one way to ask people’s opinion and very subtle changes of phrase can have a significant impact as Rory Sutherland explores.

I have a friend who attributes half of his success in a long and lucrative career to the phrase ‘I wonder if you can help me?’

Think about this for a moment. If you need a colleague to do something for you, there are many phrases that might come to mind: ‘Could you do me a favour?’; ‘Sorry to spring this on you, but I really need…’; ‘I wonder if you can do something for me’; ‘I need you to help me out’; perhaps, even, ‘If you do this, I will pay you some money’.

These sentences are similar in meaning, but arouse different emotional reactions in the listener.

Mention money and you have stigmatised the action in question as something no person would perform without compensation. Apologise, and you have framed the task as something that is negative – a necessary evil; the same goes for any mention of ‘a favour’. Talk of ‘what ...