The magic word is … “willing.”
Psychologist Elizabeth Stokoe, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University in the U.K., specializes in conversational analysis, recording and transcribing everyday verbal exchanges to try and understand their linguistic and social components. In a recent presentation at Latitude, a festival-slash-conference in Suffolk, England — think a British SXSW — she explained a common pattern that she’s noticed throughout her research:
When a request framed in more direct terms is turned down, a follow-up with a willing will often get the other person to cave:Are you the type of person to mediate? Yes or no. What was really interesting about the mediation “willings” is that if you ask someone “Are you interested in mediation?” they might say yes or no. But if you ask them if they’re willing to mediate, that requires them saying something about the type of person that they are.
That particular phrasing, in other words, tweaks the nature of the ask — a question that was formerly about an immediate action is now about a person’s boundaries, what they can find doable or palatable in a broader sense. “So, if we change words, we change outcomes,” she said