It’s not easy asking someone to do you a favor or to do something for you that they are not really obliged to do. No one is really obliged to do you a favor and you are not obliged to do favors for others. If we decide to go out of our way to do something for someone else depends on a few important factors. How close we are to that person? Are we in a position to empathize with that person? How asking for the favor is communicated?
Even if we don’t know someone at all we are willing to help because we either empathize with that person or the favor was communicated properly. That’s why we will do a favor for a complete stranger because we either empathize with the fellow human being or because the message of asking for a favor was communicated correctly.
Sometimes we act like family members or those close to us owes us help at any time. It’s important to show appreciation while communicating a favor with the other party. What is an important thing to say when asking someone to do you a favor? Of course, we are not talking about basics such as “please” or “I would appreciate.” We assume we have all these words in our vocabulary showing appreciation for others. The four magic words are: “But you are free.”
These four words when used appropriately can actually double your persuasive powers. This compliance-gaining technique can work like this: you have a request for someone and after saying what is the request, you add “but you are free to refuse” or whatever the opposite option might be in your case.
In 2013, BYAF (but you are free) technique was described by communication researcher Christopher Carpenter in the journal Communication Studies. Christopher explains the first experiment with this technique conduced in 2000 by researchers from France, Alexandre Pascual and Nicholas Guéguen. He says:
“One of the experimenters approached individuals walking alone in a shopping mall in France. In the control condition, the experimenter made a simple, direct request: ‘Sorry, Madam/Sir, would you have some coins to take the bus, please?’ In the experimental condition, the experimenter added: ‘But you are free to accept or to refuse.’ Those in the experimental condition were substantially more likely to comply with the request. Moreover, those who gave in the experimental condition gave twice as much as those in the control condition.”
Carpenter explains that BYAF technique works so well because it can ease our perception that our ability to say “no” has been taken away from us. When we are offered two options, we are reminded that we have free will and that choosing to help is always a good option.
The wording of the phrase doesn’t have an impact on the way someone will react. “Don’t feel obliged to” works as effectively as “but you are free.” It’s important to communicate the option of saying “no” as the other option. According to this meta-analysis:
“The factor most consistently emerging has been the importance of verbally recognizing the target’s freedom to say ‘no.'”
Asking for a favor is a struggle for some while it might be a habit for others. In any case, make sure that the message is communicated properly. The BYAF technique reminds those who are asking for a favor that people do have the option to say no. It also reminds us that people are not obligated to help us, it is a matter of goodwill.