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Let the Other Person Save Face

Let the Other Person Save Face

Have you ever been asked to do something a certain way, and then told "it's just common sense" when you ask why? The chances are, the reply had two outcomes:

  1. It did not cause you to develop this "common sense," so you still did not know why you were being asked to do it.
  2. You began to think that the person asking you was unreasonable, and you became less willing to do things on this person's behalf.

Neither of those outcomes is particularly desirable for the person doing the asking.

What's more, despite knowing how the outcome this type of response elicits from ourselves, how is it that it still seems to proliferate. You would think that such a counterproductive impulse would have been weeded out through evolution. After all, it's just common sense that we would stop doing something that doesn't work.

Certainly being patient and explaining our reasoning can help address the first response. Even if I think there might be a better way of doing something, knowing the reason you prefer it be done a certain way is likely to make me more predisposed to please you. Influence guru Robert Cialdini says "people simply like to have reasons for what they do." Simply adding the word "because" to a request significantly increases the likelihood of compliance.

The second benefit of this approach is that it allows the recipient to save face. Telling them that they should take out the trash because it is common sense implies that they lack common sense. It is insulting, and though they may take out the trash anyway they are likely to feel resentful. By adding a because (even what Scott Adams calls the "Fake Because") they are able to save face. For example, "Would you take out the trash, because it is full." The fact that it is full gives no additional information, but is likely to increase compliance.

We all make mistakes. If we are smart, we admit our own first. According to Dale Carnegie, It is equally important, when confronting the mistakes of others, to let them save face.

Photo by Matthew

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