Say Please: The Effect of the Word "Please" in Compliance-Seeking Requests

By Firmin, Michael W.; Helmick, Janine M. et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Say Please: The Effect of the Word "Please" in Compliance-Seeking Requests


Firmin, Michael W., Helmick, Janine M., Iezzi, Brian A., Vaughn, Aaron, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


This study reports the results of an experiment examining whether presenting a request that included the word "please" would facilitate greater compliance than would a request that did not include the word please. We hypothesized that the plead request (incorporating the word please) would elicit higher rates of compliance than would a nonplead request. Participants consisted of 165 male and 139 female undergraduates, aged 18-24, from a private, comprehensive university in the Midwest of the USA. Participants were surveyed by 8 callers, trained to uniformly verbalize the requests for compliance. Results showed that a greater proportion of participants in the nonplead condition complied than did in the plead condition ([chi]^sup 2^ = 6.432, df = 1, p < 0.05). The implications of this analysis are discussed.

Request-seeking interactions and compliance gaining have been heavily studied areas in psychology for many years. Previous research has focused on the circumstances prior to the presentation of a request (Goranson & Berkowitz, 1966; Gueguen, 2001), the effects of emotions on compliance (Dolinski, 2001; Tannenbaum, Macauley, & Norris, 1966), and techniques the compliance seeker can use (Hertzog & Scudder, 1996; Millar, 2001).

Hertzog and Bradac (1984) studied various domains of compliance-gaining situations. They created five dimensions: the resistance to persuasion dimension, the value/rules dimension, the gender relevant/gender irrelevant dimension, the dominance dimension, and the long-term/short-term effects dimension. The results of their study show that the communicator's style and personality influence the strategy used to gain compliance in various situations. Buller, LePoire, Aune, and Eloy (1992) examined the effect that speech rate has on compliance. Research supported their hypothesis that as the speech rate of the speaker and the speech rate of the listener became more similar, the perceived social attractiveness of the speaker would increase, thereby increasing compliance. A speaker who appeared more socially attractive to a listener would be able to elicit more compliance to a request for help.

Howard (1990) was interested in the effect that one's public statement of one's feelings has on that person's willingness to comply with a request. His study of the "foot-in-the-mouth" phenomenon confirmed that participants would have internal pressure to behave in a manner compatible with a public statement of their well-being, thus being more compliant with a charitable request. One explanation that Howard gave for the increased compliance suggested that participants were simply responding to the politeness of the solicitor. Aune and Basil (1994) further evaluated Howard's study, suggesting that the conversation between the caller and participant may have built the perception of intimacy; participants may have simply been responding in a manner consistent with the perceived relationship. The results of the study confirmed their hypothesis that a greater perception of relationship leads to more compliance.

Sanders and Fitch (2001) took these theories one step farther. While acknowledging the role of relationship within compliance, Sanders and Fitch contended there is no one method that will work in all compliance-seeking situations. Rather, compliance seeking is a complex interaction between the seeker and the target person and cannot be reduced to a one-sided script. In addition to what actually occurs during the request-seeking conversation, the situation is part of a larger whole in which the target person's immediate actions, surroundings, and culture play an important role. Sanders and Fitch also mentioned the shared social-cultural meanings behind requests or statements, which can profoundly influence one's interpretation of, and response to, a request. It is within the context of the conversation that requests are made and compliance is negotiated.

Dolinski, Nawrat, and Rudak (2001) focused on the difference between dialogue and monologue in the compliance-seeking situation.

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