And the Magic Word is…?

There was a ridiculously long queue on the outside lane of the highway on my way home yesterday. It was only after I had driven alongside it for a few moments that I realised that all the cars were waiting to leave at my exit. By that time, of course, I had left the end of the queue far behind and was faced with the task of trying to squeeze into a line of impatient motorist, delayed by some as yet unknown incident beyond the exit ramp, in the middle of the rush-hour.

As I slowed down, the cars in the queue started to bunch together, determined to prevent my preamble at all costs. Then I had a crazy idea: I pulled up next to one of the cars, lowered the opposite window, and waved, smiling, to the driver. When he responded by lowering his window, I asked whether he would be so kind as to let me get in front of him. The driver remained stony-faced, but gestured with his chin towards the front of his car. When the traffic advanced, he held his ground and I was able to join the line.

This was a driver who just seconds before seemed determined to stamp out that most heinous of vehicular sins – queue-jumping.  Yet, after a polite request, he was ready to allow it. Is the human desire to reciprocate politeness with politeness so strong that we can ask anybody to do anything? Perhaps not anything, but it seems that the old foot-in-the-door technique has lost none of its efficacy: once the driver had responded positively to my waving gesture, he would have deemed inconsistent a refusal to agree to my small request. In short, once his window went down, the likelihood of his compliance went up.

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