Need a favor? Be sure to include this word in your “ask.” – SCN Encourager

By Tom Page, SCN Founder | Knucklehead Moments (The Real Tom)

It’ll improve your chances of success by 9 times.

It’s totally research backed.

By a Harvard professor no less.

Learning what’s the best word to use when making a request is just one of the many things I’m picking up from Vanessa Van Edwards book “Captivate – the Science of Succeeding with People.”

One of the other things I’ve learned from this book – by the way – is not to put it on the shelf where Cindy keeps her cookbooks.

She spotted it immediately when she got home from work and shot me a speedy-kwik “what the…?” look right away.

Even though I told her the book was power-packed with Harvard based research, this didn’t stop her from moving it to “my stack” of stuff.

(See? By knowing what bugs Cindy, I can have fun with a book at home and not even have to read it!)

But I am glad I took a few moments with the “how to ask for a favor” section of Captivate.

Van Edwards outlined a classic experiment with copy machines at Harvard.

WIth a number of student and office worker participants in on the act, the participants went all around campus to various copy machine stations to try and “squeeze in front” of people who were about to make copies.

They wanted to see which types of requests would work and which ones wouldn’t.


The Harvard participants used and evaluated the results of three different requests.

#1  “Excuse me. I need to make some copies. May I use the copy machine right now?” (Simple request only)

#2  “Excuse me. I need to make some copies. May I use the copy machine right now because I’m really in a rush?” (Simple request + a decent reason.)

#3  “Excuse me. I need to make some copies. May I use the copy machine right now because I have to make copies? (Simple request + a dumb reason)

Here is how two of the requests fared.

#1  A sImple request only = 60% yes

#2  A simple request + a decent reason = 94% yes

Now where do you think the “simple request + a dumb reason” scored?

Surprisingly, request #3 came in with a 93% success rate!

The Harvard professor and Van Edwards said this proves the value of adding a “because” explanation at the end of every request.

A “because…” component is critical.

Apparently, when a request of some kind comes our way many of us aren’t overly critical about the stated rationale behind it (the “because” part), we just want to know that there is one… that the requester is making at least a minimal effort.

And yes, this is true, even if the accompanying explanation is lame.

At first this puzzled me.





But then I asked Cindy why she quickly yanked “Captivate” away from her cookbooks.

“Because I wanted to,” she replied firmly.

And all of I sudden I got it.

That explanation was all I needed!

About the Author

Prior to launching SCN I was the communications director for Holland Public Schools in Holland, Michigan for 20 years. The challenges for in-the-trenches school communicators are many – and if I can help you in any way, give me a call. I'm a former teacher and I've managed more than 100 election campaigns of all types and sizes over the years. (I was even featured in the Wall Street Journal... a very, very slow news day, no doubt!) I created the School Communicators Network because I believe the noble purpose of education deserves the best marketing and PR possible. And there's a lot of talent and expertise we can tap into! I'm also convinced we can support each other while remaining human and having fun, too. You can reach me at

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