Leadership Tactic #83: Feel Free to Say No

double deckerFeel free to read this blog entry or not. Either way. It’s completely up to you. Feel free to say no if you don’t want to.

Still reading? I thought so. It’s because you just got beh-psyched (behavioral psychologied)!

Here’s what happened, according to a recent study:

A recent review of the 42 psychology studies carried out on this technique has shown that it [giving people two options and explicitly telling them they’re “free to choose”] is surprisingly effective given how simple it is (Carpenter, 2013). All in all, over 22,000 people have been tested by researchers. Across all the studies it was found to double the chances that someone would say ‘yes’ to the request.

What’s the lesson here? The next time you ask for something, tell the person that they’re free to choose. Here are some examples:

  • You want your cat to get off the keyboard so you can finish writing a blog entry. Say, “Hey Biddy, would you consider moving to the side desk? You’re free to choose.”
  • If your other cat then pounces on Biddy, you might say, “Hey Walter, I appreciate your playfulness, but Biddy clearly doesn’t like that. Feel free to say no, but could you let go of his face?”
  • When both cats end up snuggling on your face while you’re trying to read in bed, say, “Hey guys, cuddles are awesome, and I think it would be great if you could cuddle to either side of me at this particular time. The choice is up to you.”

Yeah, most of my interactions are with cats.

How will you use this tactic this weekend? Most creative answer wins a Biddy (the award that Biddy gives out to comments he likes).

8 thoughts on “Leadership Tactic #83: Feel Free to Say No”

  1. I tried this with Beckham at lunch in regards to him choosing to come inside. He tilted his head, indicating he was listening to me and thinking about what he wanted to do, and then barked at me and ran in the opposite direction. He’s one of a kind. 🙂

  2. I’d love to read the detailed version of this study! Would be interesting to compare it to the Milgram experiment, where 65% of subjects delivered a soul-crushing shock of 450 volts to what seemed like another human being in the other room.

    • Oh, I know what you are talking about. I don’t remember the details, but the participants can’t say no to “shocking” the other person in the other room because the person in the white coat standing next to them said so. What’s the purpose of that study?

  3. This strategy works beautifully on young children. The key is in how you phrase the choices, though. You can’t just give a “Do you want to do it or not do it” choice. You have to give two actionable options (both of which are totally acceptable to you) for the child to pick between.

    Example: Emmy, you can sit in the red chair or the blue chair while you eat lunch now. Which color of chair do you want?

    Notice the choice isn’t whether she’s going to sit, whether she’s going to eat, or whether she’ll do it now. You’ve already totally mind-controlled the real choices, leaving her with something utterly inconsequential to decide. The kid feels like she’s steering her own destiny while actually doing exactly what you wanted her to do.

    The result is that Emmy feels empowered because she got to make a decision
    …and meanwhile you feel like a Jedi.

  4. The above should be as “Leave a Reply. It’s up to you.” Would have been perfect for this post.

    I would like to comment on the picture.

    Biddy: “You know, you can buy us a cat condo, then we don’t have to take over this table every night. It’s your choice, but you know how awesome it is to not have my butt in your face when you eat.”
    Walter: “Meow.”


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