Effective persuasion is passive-aggressive.  

“Please adjust” is India’s infallible persuasion mantra. In a country of over a billion people, scarcity is a way of life, and you must give and take to keep things on an even keel. Please adjust is a polite request to someone to make some space; wait a little longer or put up with a non-working air conditioner. Please adjust is apologetic in that it acknowledges your inconvenience, but it also subtly asks you to step up by “adjusting” or compromising. 

For example, most Indian commuter trains are jam-packed, and you must stand for your entire journey. But you can invoke the, please adjust weapon, and people will stoically move closer in their seats to make room for you. But, of course, this depends on how many people used their, please adjust weapons before you. After all, a three-seater can only squeeze in a couple more people, even if people adjust.  

Please adjust is versatile. It is used to assuage a customer’s anger at a delivery delay, to calm down an irate lender for a late loan repayment, or to coax you to lend money to a relative even when you are running low on funds. I recently heard a women’s rights activist saying that the please adjust ethosisresponsible for Indian women continuing to bear abuse silently. She is correct because the most common advice to a woman in a bad marriage is usually, “please adjust.” But in the larger scheme of things, the advantages of the, please adjust mentality outweigh its negatives because it keeps Indian society from boiling over amidst the incessant scarcity and delays. 

Interestingly, please adjust, perfectly captures the important persuasion technique, “the reciprocity concept.” According to the persuasion expert Robert Cialdini, when someone thanks you for a favor, instead of saying “no problem,” say “I am sure you’d do the same for me” because then you create an unsaid obligation to return the favor. Along these lines, please adjust is reciprocal because although courteous, it reminds the other person of their civic responsibilities. But, of course, please adjust does not always work, is misused, and can backfire if overused. With experience, every Indian figures out how much they and others are willing to adjust.    

I chose this topic because my upstairs neighbor suddenly began moving furniture late at night, jolting me out of my sleep. But since it is sporadic and momentary, I cannot officially complain. So, I decided to channel my please adjust ethos by sleeping later (the noise is usually between 11-12.30 am). Although this is disruptive to my sleep habits because I am an early riser, I decided to adjust to the realities of NYC living. But then the neighbor began making noises outside the 11-12.30 window, so I had to complain gently through the building super. And voila, the noise stopped completely. 

Since my complaining was so effective, I wondered if my adjusting was pointless. But then I was told I don’t hear any noises because the person upstairs is in rehab with a broken leg. So, the please adjust days may be back soon.  

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