The Power of Asking

In Psychology of Success, Success, The Power of Yes or No on June 18, 2009 at 12:04 am


Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

“Excuse me. May I have your seat?” 

In 1975, this is the question the late psychologist Stanley Milgram instructed his graduate students to ask when they ventured into New York subways. Wanting to explore the “hidden rules” that undergird our public interactions, Milgram had his students ask strangers to give up their seats. They were told not to provide an explanation or any other information. 

Some of you may know the story. But for those who don’t an astounding 68% of the people said yes. They either got up or scooted over. Either way they vacated their seats. The New York Times conducted a similar, but unscientific and quite smaller study in 2004. Their reporters claimed 13 of 15 people gave up their seats when asked. Not bad numbers at all!

This brings me to my point. We never quite know what answer we will receive until we ask. There is no use belaboring over what someone will say or what will they do, because often we just don’t know. 

Now of course tens of thousands of people who’ve taken a psychology course in the last 30 years may say this is nothing new. However, consider the shock it caused among those who found out in 1975. In big, bad New York City, subway riders of all types would give up their seats if asked politely.

Sure, who knows why they did it. They could have thought the person asking was a little ‘disturbed’ or sick. Or they could have done so as an act of kindness. And to be fair the graduate students and even Milgram stated, and I’m paraphrasing here, that they were very uneasy before and after people said yes. (The fact that they had no real reason to ask other than the application of a psychology experiment most likely triggered those feelings.)

Regardless, this study demonstrates that people may be open to giving you what you want. You just have to ask first.

Bakari Akil has a question for you. Will you buy his book? 🙂 Dr. Akil never runs out of ideas in his riveting new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize yout Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.


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