GreenWorks Newsletter - You're Free To Choose - Business Recycling

You're Free To Choose


When asking colleagues to take positive environmental actions at work, like recycling more, there’s one technique that’s been tested on more than 22,000 people that is free, easy and has been shown to be about the most persuasive technique available. 

In our Behaviour Change Made Easy series we’ve covered a range of techniques to ethically persuade colleagues (as well as customers, students, friends and even your kids) to do the things you want.  These techniques include using social proof, making it personal and using the right signs can all be effective.

The big question is - based on psychological research - which is the most practical, can easily be used by pretty much anyone and has been consistently shown to work?

Well the answer is the ‘But You Are Free’ technique. This technique is based on reaffirming people’s freedom to choose to do what you want or not. You just need to add a few words to the request making it clear they can say no if they want. 

By reaffirming their freedom to choose you are effectively saying: “I am not threatening your right to say no. You have a free choice.”  This is important as we have a natural aversion to being hemmed in or compelled to do things.

A 2013 review1 of 42 psychology studies that have examined this technique showed it was very effective, which is surprising considering how easy it is. Overall the technique has been tested on more than 22,000 people.  On average these studies found that the technique was found to double the chances of someone saying ‘yes’ to the request.

The studies have shown people are more willing to donate to good causes, agree to do surveys and give more to someone asking for a bus fare home.

The exact words you choose to use aren’t that important. The research shows that phrases like, “But obviously do not feel obliged,” worked just as well as “but you are free”.

For the technique to be most effective it should be done face-to-face.  Asking via e-mail still has a positive effect but it is less than asking in person.  It’s such a simple technique that can be used in conjunction with other strategies.

Respecting people’s autonomy has the happy side-effect of making them more open to persuasion. You can look good and be more likely to get what you want. Nice. 

Further Reading

For more tips on creating positive change see other articles in our Behaviour Change Made Easy series.


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