If you are trying to get someone to buy into an idea, purchase something from you, or just cooperate, consider the power of the word “willing.” Questions like “Would you like to sign up for a week’s membership?” “Are you interested in making a donation?” “Did you ask your teacher about extra credit?” are all yes/no questions that hope to elicit a commitment. The trouble with these questions is that they don’t tap into the integrity of the person or make them reflect on what kind of person they are. It’s too easy to snap a “yes” or “no” reply.

I learned the power of “willing” while I sat in on a conference call with a group of very savvy salesmen and potential customers. They were not the “high pressure” kind you might expect; instead they used the power of “willing” to turn a “no” into a “yes” or a “maybe” more of the time. They asked, “Would you be willing to sign up for a week’s membership?”  “Are you willing to make a donation? These questions (spoken, by the way, without any vocal emphasis on the word “willing”) evoked surprisingly different replies:  “In that case, yes!” “Yes, I can do that.”  “Perhaps so, that sounds reasonable.”

The credit for this discovery goes to Elizabeth Stokoe, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University and the author of an interesting book called Talk: The Science of Conversation.  She claims that “willing” works best in situations where “they care about the type of person they are, and where they’ve resisted doing the things you’re trying to get them to do.” What is fascinating about this approach is how one simple word shift changes the emphasis from what the person would like to do to the kind of person they are or how they would like to be perceived: cooperative, open-minded, reasonable.

So, how about that extra credit question and a few other chores you’d like your teenager to follow up with?  Give the power of “willing” a try! It may lead to better grades and a cleaner room!


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