Resistance-Countering Technique: “But You Are Free”

16.03.2017 |

Episode #10 of the course Persuasion science masterclass: part I by Andy Luttrell


Yesterday, I talked about how persuasion is difficult when people are resistant to influence. So how do you get past people’s resistance? One strategy is the “But You Are Free” strategy, and according to this strategy, you should emphasize that the other person is free to say “no.”

Now, this might seem a little strange. You might think, “Well, I’m actually really trying to influence them, so if I tell them that they can say ‘no,’ doesn’t that work against what I’m trying to do?” Well, ironically, no. By emphasizing that the person is free to say “no,” you actually overcome resistance from the beginning.

Remember that people are resistant to persuasion because they want to have freedom to make their own decisions and don’t want to feel controlled. If you remove that block from the beginning, you assure them that they do have the freedom to make their own choices, which actually improves your influence ability.

One study that documented the power of this was very simple (Guéguen & Pascual, 2000). Researchers just went up to people and asked them to donate money, and they did it in one of two ways. In one version, they would simply ask if the person would donate money to a charity. That was it.

In the other version, however, they would add one simple sentence to their request and say instead, “Excuse me. I have something to ask you, but you’re free to accept or refuse. Would you donate money to this charity?” That’s all. That’s the only difference. One sentence. Amazingly, it had a profound impact.

When it was just the basic request, 10% of people ended up donating money. But what happens when you add that one magic sentence? The sentence where you say “you can say no to me.” When they had the extra sentence in front of the request, then 50% of people gave money to the cause.

Let’s look at another example. This time, they were asking people to fill out a questionnaire, which would take about five minutes to do. Like before, they either simply made this request or started their request by saying, “I have something to ask you, but you’re free to accept or refuse.” When it was just a basic request, people agreed to do the survey 75% of the time. But when they first said “You don’t have to do this,” people agreed to do the survey 90% of the time. It seems crazy, but by giving them permission to say “no,” they actually increased the likelihood that they said “yes.”

Why does this work? Again, people don’t like to feel controlled, so by assuring people of their freedom to choose, they then become more comfortable with whatever it is that you have to say. They know you’re not trying to control them. You’re just asking for a genuine favor.

Applying the “But You Are Free” technique is to assure people that they’re free to say “no” to you. And by doing that up front, you’re able to sidestep the resistance that people can often bring to an influence situation.


Recommended book

“Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely


That’s end of Part 1 of this persuasion science email course! I hope you’ve learned a lot and are ready for more. Check out Part 2 on Highbrow, and we’ll pick up where we left off.


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