Researchers set out to unpack rituals on the subway, and examined a common societal pattern: Why don’t people give up their seats to others they “should” give them up for?
It seems all they needed to do was ask, simply.
Students in [an] experimental social psychology class took to the underground to ask for seats, under a number of conditions (either with no justification, or offering a rationale like “I can’t read my book standing up”). People were surprisingly compliant — a total of 68 percent either got up or moved over in the “no justification” condition. The more justification that was offered, however, the less likely people were to stand up. Curiously, Blass notes, the most striking thing for many of the participants was just how difficult it was to ask for the seat (“I actually felt as if I were going to perish,” recalled Milgram). It’s not hard to imagine why; asking for help on a subway exposes one to both the risk of a certain stigma — and to the possibility of rejection.
The “no justification” condition is as true for the subway space as it is above ground. The next time you want something, try not giving a justification. I’ve found this particularly true in saying “no.” The more you justify why you’re saying no, the less a person accepts no. The less justification you give, the easier it is for the person on the other end to accept it.