6 buttons for persuasion

Photo from sxc.hu

A psychological remote control? (Photo from sxc.hu)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

It would be cool to have a remote control we can use to persuade anyone.

One push of a button persuades your child to finish eating his food. Another push of a button persuades your noisy neighbor to shut up. And another push of a button persuades your boss to give you a raise. I’d definitely pay a hefty sum for that.

I was therefore delighted to have stumbled upon psychologist Robert B. Cialdini’s work. He is close to bringing us that remote control, though a psychological one. But it’s not mind control or hypnotism so, to a certain extent, it’s ethical to use.

He discovered these six universal principles of social influence:

  1. reciprocation (we feel the need to return favors to other people)
  2. authority (we respect experts who know better)
  3. commitment/consistency (we feel the need to be consistent with our beliefs and values)
  4. scarcity (we want what others can’t have)
  5. liking (we like to say yes to people we, well, like)
  6. social proof (we pattern our behavior to what others do)

“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”

Let me deal first with reciprocation. Whether we like it or not, we tend to reciprocate the good deed that others have done to us. Thus, we return favors.

So how can we use this principle to persuade somebody? For example, you want your office colleague to do something for you. One way to convince him is to remind him about a past favor. “How did you find that book I lent you? Did it help you with your report?”

Of course, you have to do it in a subtle way. After the gentle reminder of a past favor, you can now make your request.

“I trust the authorities”

The second principle, authority, has been used to launch successful ad campaigns in the past. Endorsements by influential celebrities filled a lot of people’s pockets.

But then even non-celebrities can become “authorities.” We listen to our friends’ recommendations. That’s how word-of-mouth works.

I tried this principle recently when a friend asked for help in his election campaign in an organization. Instead of him introducing himself to strangers and asking for their votes, I was the one who introduced him, enumerating his most salient credentials.

There was no way of measuring exactly how this move worked. He still lost, but only by a hair’s breadth. There’s enough anecdotal evidence, however, that it helped a lot, especially since he was a newbie in the election.

“I am committed to me”

Commitment/consistency is another very effective principle to use. People just don’t want to do anything that is inconsistent with their values, beliefs or commitments.

If you want people to attend a meeting next week, the best way is to ask them personally beforehand if they will indeed attend the meeting. And since they’ve made a commitment to attend the meeting, they’ll likely attend the meeting.

I’ve seen this used in a profitable way by a priest in our church. Every year, the church sells calendars in December. During his sermon, the priest tells the congregation that there are beautiful calendars for sale, and that they should buy multiple copies for their families and friends. He then asks them, “Who among you love God with all your heart?” Not content with their answer of “Yes,” he asks them to raise their hands. So everybody does. “With God as witness, all of you have agreed to buy these calendars which will help fund our projects,” the priest declares jokingly. Everybody laughs. But the calendars are soon all sold out.

“I have to have that last one”

The principle of scarcity is also a good tactic to use. If you want to increase the sales of your top-of-the-line product, you introduce a more expensive and slightly better model. The notion that the lower-priced but still superb product would soon be phased out persuades people to buy the next most-expensive model.

You’ve probably heard about the new and more powerful iPhone 3G S model that has been released. Shortly after that, Apple drastically cut the price of the older iPhone 3G. That looks like a manifestation of the use of scarcity to me.

“I like to be liked”

Liking is another principle that, well, we all like. We are easily convinced by people we like. But if we are trying to convince someone we’ve just met, we can get them to like us more easily if we mirror or sync with their movements and language. Repeating words and phrases they’ve just said can help.

Researchers do this in their interviews with subjects. They mirror body language and repeat words and phrases to make their subjects feel comfortable. The result? A statistically significant difference in the number of subjects who agree to go through a lot more tests and surveys.

“If others do it, maybe I should, too”

Social proof is another principle that is almost irresistible. No one is totally immune to its intelligent application.

Cialdini mentioned one experiment at the Petrified Forest National Park in the US, where the principle of social proof, in this case, negative social proof, was tested to devise messages that would help minimize wood theft.

The first group was exposed to signs that said, “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” This was accompanied by a picture with several park visitors taking pieces of wood.

The second group saw signs saying, “Please don’t remove the petrified wood from the park in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” A picture of a lone visitor picking up a piece of wood accompanied the message.

The control group did not see any sign or picture.

The result? The first group stole 7.92 percent of the pieces of wood in the area compared to the control group with only 2.92 percent. It tripled theft! The second group only did slightly better, with 1.67 percent.

The lesson? Messages focusing on negative behavior can backfire. Focusing on positive behavior is better and more prudent.

There are a lot of techniques that can be derived from these six principles of persuasion. When you can’t seem to convince someone to do something, think of the six principles of persuasion: reciprocation, authority, commitment/consistency, scarcity, liking, and social proof.

Add a little imagination, good judgment and good timing, and you may come up with the perfect button in your psychological remote control.



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