Tag: Robert Cialdini

The Destructive Influence of Imaginary Peers

Tina Rosenberg with a thoughtful op-ed in the NYT on the influence people around us have on our decisions, even, oddly, when they are imaginary.

Bad behavior is usually more visible than good. It’s what people talk about, it’s what the news media report on, it’s what experts focus on. Experts are always trying to change bad behavior by warning of how widespread it is, and they take any opportunity to label it a crisis. “The field loves talking about the problems because it generates political and economic support,” said Perkins.

This strategy might feel effective, but it’s not — it simply communicates that bad behavior is the social norm. Telling people to go against their peer group never works. A better strategy is the reverse: give people credible evidence that among their peers, good behavior is the social norm.

In short, stop nagging people about what they shouldn’t be doing and instead tell them how other people are doing the right thing.

Why does this work?

Because when we don’t know what to do in a situation, we naturally look around to see what other people are doing. “From that we learn what is appropriate, and what is practical.”

With traditional approaches to behavior change, an outsider comes in, warns you of the dire consequences of your behavior and tells you what to do differently. That often just makes people defensive.

With social norming you tell people what other people are doing, not what they should be doing. But we need to be aware of salience.

“We can only hold one thing in consciousness at a time – and it is that thing that drives behavior,” said Cialdini, who is writing his next book about the topic. Success is more likely if the social norming message hits people just when they are about to make that behavioral decision.

And, of course, you need to make sure the behavior you’re norming is credible and accurate.

Also, it helps to compare people’s behavior to the closest peer group possible. For example, Cialdini’s towel study found that people were even more likely to re-use towels when told that most people who had stayed in the same room did so.

If you consider the social norm as a sort of baseline, then the people doing worse than the baseline will improve their behavior. But we’re not all below the baseline; some people are above average. Simply knowing that you’re actually doing better than your peers can turn you into a slacker.

This is called the boomerang effect, and it is real. Opower initially found that households that were saving a lot of energy relaxed their efforts once they know how other people were doing. But Opower officials solved the problem by providing rewards for good behavior. Well, a computer did – the “reward” was a smiley face or two on their bill. That small change kept people from backsliding, and the boomerang stopped.

One of the mysteries of social norming is that although it is being used by some people in several fields, it isn’t used by a lot of people. Even institutions that used it successfully in the past have abandoned it when the champion left.

Social norms work below our conscious radar. “People don’t see themselves as easily influenced by those around them,” Cialdini says. When people are asked what would make them change a behavior, they rank “what my peers are doing” last. But when tested against what does, in fact, change behavior, it comes first.

Rosenberg concludes that “[f]ollowing the crowd is primal.”

If you’re interested in understanding how people persuade you—and how you can better persuade others—you should read Robert Cialdini’s books Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

What Lovers Tell Us About Persuasion

“The thing that is most likely to guide a person’s behavioral decisions isn’t the most potent or familiar or instructive aspect of the whole situation; rather, it’s the one that is most prominent in consciousness at the time of the decision.”

Separations are prominent in the consciousness of our mind – not connections. What’s different stands out and gets our attention. Knowing how this works will help you better persuade your lover and everyone else.

Robert Cialdini explains:

Recently, a team of research psychologists in Texas recruited dating couples into a study of communication patterns. The researchers asked each pair to identify and discuss an unresolved issue in their relationships, one that either partner (or both) sought to change. With recording instruments running, the scientists registered precisely what the communicators said, as well as the effectiveness of the communicators’ various appeals in swaying their intended targets.

The findings are eye opening. The communicators used three differing styles to gain persuasive success. Some tried what we can call the coercive approach, threatening their partners with regrettable consequences if they didn’t yield (e.g., “If you can’t change on this, I’m just going to have to do some things you really won’t appreciate” or “Unless you’re willing to agree here, I don’t see how I could possibly help you with x”). This hardball strategy was a disaster. Not only did it fail to spur the desired result, it produced the opposite effect, driving the partner farther away from the communicator’s position.
Other communicators tried a less combative technique that we might label the rational approach. They attempted to argue that theirs was the more reasonable view and that it only made sense for their partner to adopt it (e.g., “If you’ll just look at this thing rationally, you’ll see my point” or “Once you take everything into consideration, you’ll want to change your mind”). Although not as misguided as the coercive approach, this persuasive style didn’t fare well either, leaving its targets wholly unchanged.

But there was a third set of communicators who employed a breathtakingly simple and successful procedure that we term the relationship-raising approach. Before making a request for change from their partner, they merely made mention of their existing relationship. They might say, “You know, we’ve been together for a while now” or “We’re a couple; we share the same goals.” Then, they’d deliver their appeal: “So, I’d appreciate it if you could find a way to change your stand on this one.” Or, in the most streamlined version of the relationship-raising approach, these individuals simply incorporated the pronouns “we,” “our,” and “us” into their request.

The outcome? The relationship partners exposed to this technique shifted significantly in the requested direction.

Two qualities of this approach are worth noting.

First, its functional essence is a form of evidentiary non sequitur. Stating, “You know, we’ve been together for a while now” in no way establishes the logical or empirical validity of the communicator’s position. Instead, it offers an entirely different reason for change—the relationship itself, with all its attendant trust, strength, and security. Back in the 1960s, the brilliant media commentator Marshall McLuhan observed that often in the realm of mass communication, “the medium is the message.” I’m willing to claim that often, in the realm of social influence, the relationship is the message

The second remarkable quality of the relationship-raising route to persuasion is that it provides nothing that isn’t already known. Typically, both parties well understand that they’re in a relationship. But that implication-laden piece of information can easily drop from the top of consciousness when other considerations vie for the same space. True to its name, the relationship-raising approach merely elevates one’s awareness of the personal connection in the moment before a request so that it will have due impact on the response.

As Cialdini concludes, “[w]e’d be fools to think that a force as primitive and powerful as human connection can direct change only within romantic relationships.”

Secrets from the Science of Persuasion

A great animation describing the fundamental principles of persuasion based on the research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

Dr. Cialdini, if you’re not familiar, is the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Business Week International Bestseller Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.

Learning about the six universals that guide human behavior could be the best 12 minutes of your day.

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Why We Overpay at Auctions

Tom Stafford discusses a lot of the psychological principles that make rational bidding hard. Auctions also hit on many psychological persuasion techniques:

First, auctions use the principle of scarcity, whereby we overvalue things that we think might run out. Auction items are scarce in that they are unique (only one person can have it), and scarce in time (after the bids are finished, you’ve lost your chance). Think how many shop sales successfully rely on scarcity heuristics such as “Last day of sale!”, or “Only 2 left in stock!”, and you’ll get a feel for how powerful this persuasion principle can be.

The other principle used by auctions is that of “social proof”. We all tend to take the lead from other people; if everybody does something, or says something, most of us join in before we think about what we really should do. Auctions put you in intimate contact with other people who are all providing social proof that the sale item is important and valuable.

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” — Gore Vidal

the competitive element of auctions is crucial to provoking our irrational buying behaviour. Once we’re involved in an auction we’re not just paying to own the sale item, we’re paying to beat other people who are bidding and prevent them from having it.

Still curious? The best book you can read on the subject of psychological influence is still Robert Cialdini’s Influence.

How Raising Prices Can Increase Sales

I have posed at two different business schools the following problem. I say, “You have studied supply and demand curves. You have learned that when you raise the price, ordinarily the volume you can sell goes down, and when you reduce the price, the volume you can sell goes up. Is that right? That’s what you’ve learned?” They all nod yes. And I say, “Now tell me several instances when, if you want the physical volume to go up, the correct answer is to increase the price?” And there’s this long and ghastly pause. And finally, in each of the two business schools in which I’ve tried this, maybe one person in fifty could name one instance. They come up with the idea that occasionally a higher price acts as a rough indicator of quality and thereby increases sales volumes.

This happened in the case of my friend Bill Ballhaus. When he was head of Beckman Instruments it produced some complicated product where if it failed it caused enormous damage to the purchaser. It wasn’t a pump at the bottom of an oil well, but that’s a good mental example. And he realized that the reason this thing was selling so poorly, even though it was better than anybody else’s product, was because it was priced lower. It made people think it was a low quality gizmo. So he raised the price by 20% or so and the volume went way up.

That’s from a 2003 talk by Charlie Munger.

I was reminded of that lecture when I came across this recent article in Forbes:

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini suggests that in some cases, businesses can actually increase their sales by raising prices. The reason behind this surprising phenomenon, he revealed in a recent podcast interview, is that in “markets in which people are not completely sure of how to assess quality, they use price as a stand-in for quality.” While most customers wouldn’t pay $20 for paper towels because it’s easy to compare them to other products on the store shelves, it’s much harder to evaluate certain categories of products or services.

Art is notoriously challenging – what makes a Damien Hirst sell for millions while a similar piece by someone else might languish? Consulting or other professional services are also hard to compare, because practitioners may have different approaches or skill levels, so you’re not comparing apples to apples. Thus, says Cialdini, “especially when they’re not very confident about being able to discern quality in their own right, people who are unfamiliar with a market will be especially led by price increases to go in that direction [and purchase more expensive offerings].”

Pricing is such an important signifier, says Cialdini, that “organizations will sometimes raise their prices and as a consequence, will be seen as the quality leader in their market,” regardless of whether they’ve upgraded their offerings.

Still curious? Robert Cialdini’s is the author of two books: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Master of Influence Robert Cialdini Recommends Five Books

Psychologist Robert Cialdini wrote two of the the most important books on influence: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and The Psychology of Persuasion.

Now he recommends five books for you:

Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki

Enchantment, as defined by bestselling business guru Guy Kawasaki, is not about manipulating people. It transforms situations and relationships. It converts hostility into civility and civility into affinity. It changes the skeptics and cynics into the believers and the undecided into the loyal. Enchantment can happen during a retail transaction, a high-level corporate negotiation, or a Facebook update. And when done right, it’s more powerful than traditional persuasion, influence, or marketing techniques.

Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath

Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory,” and creating “curiosity gaps.”

Power: Why Some People Have It And Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer

Pfeffer brings decades of his incredible insights to a wider audience. Brimming with counterintuitive advice, numerous examples from various countries, and surprising findings based on his research, this groundbreaking guide reveals the strategies and tactics that separate the winners from the losers. Power, he argues, is a force that can be used and harnessed not only for individual gain but also for the benefit of organizations and society. Power, however, is not something that can be learned from those in charge—their advice often puts a rosy spin on their ascent and focuses on what should have worked, rather than what actually did. Instead, Pfeffer reveals the true paths to power and career success. Iconoclastic and grounded in the realpolitik of human interaction, Power is an essential organizational survival manual and a new standard in the field of leadership and management.

Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath

In Switch, the Heaths show how everyday people—employees and managers, parents and nurses—have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results:
— The lowly medical interns who managed to defeat an entrenched, decades-old medical practice that was endangering patients.
— The home-organizing guru who developed a simple technique for overcoming the dread of housekeeping.
— The manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Whether mundane or life-altering, these choices define us and shape our lives. Sheena Iyengar asks the difficult questions about how and why we choose: Is the desire for choice innate or bound by culture? Why do we sometimes choose against our best interests? How much control do we really have over what we choose? Sheena Iyengar’s award-winning research reveals that the answers are surprising and profound. In our world of shifting political and cultural forces, technological revolution, and interconnected commerce, our decisions have far-reaching consequences. Use THE ART OF CHOOSING as your companion and guide for the many challenges ahead.