Consistency and Commitment: A Two Stage Influencer
Cialdini’s second weapon of influence is commitment and consistency. The rule here is that we feel required to be consistent with what we have already said or done. As Cialdini explains, “once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that decision.”
Here are some examples of how this type of behavior manifests itself. Someone takes a public position and then must explain it afterward. Or one of the more interesting studies that the author cites is one where staged thefts of a radio were performed on a beach. Onlookers attempted to stop the thief four in twenty times. However, when onlookers were asked by the individual beforehand to watch the radio before leaving the scene, an astounding19 out of 20 times an onlooker attempted to stop the thief! The power of commitment and consistency was so strong that people were actually willing to put themselves in harm’s way.
Much like reciprocity, consistency is a desirable personality trait. People who are inconsistent are thought to be two-faced or confused while those who are consistent are thought to be balanced and decisive.
In fact, my mentor Carl, shared with me a business aphorism long ago. It simply stated that “management should always be consistent but never predictable.” Until reading this book, I had always believed that aphorism meant that employees needed to have common and fair rules. Cialdini adds dimensions that speaks to the management portion of the equation, such as trustworthiness and stability.
Most of us relish consistency as it allows us to apply rules and patterns to our thinking. “If this is true then that must also be true.” Applying these types of rules enables us to accelerate our thinking and decision making process. In fact, once the rule is applied, we may never revisit the circumstance again. This explains why automatic consistency is a state that we relish.
However, like any rule, we appreciate its value most of the time but are discomfited when it is used against us. Cialdini discusses how toy stores use consistency and commitment to get us into their stores in January – after the holiday rush and massive toy shopping has just finished.
It’s really quite simple. A toy gets heavily advertised. Your child is excited by it and approaches you about buying it for the holidays. After some consideration, you agree and make the commitment to buy it. When you get to the store, you discover the toy is out of stock. You may check out other stores and then discover that it simply is not available.
What should you do?
You buy other toy(s) to compensate and apologize to your child.
Miraculously, in January, a fresh shipment of these toys arrive. Your child or you notices – and then consistency kicks in. Off you go to buy the toy… The toy stores have thereby leveraged your commitment to yourself and your child as well as your need for consistency to get you back to shopping. (Think beanie babies, cabbage patch kids or more recently, the Wii)
The key element in all of this is that commitment precedes consistency. If your commitment is on the record, the consistency trait kicks in and you will almost certainly respond in a way that supports the commitment. Knowing this, if you want to raise funds for a charity, the first step might be to get your target market to sign a petition that states that the cause is worthy. Commitment precedes consistency.
Cialdini emphasizes that commitment can come in stages. Supporting one campaign well set the stage for supporting extended versions of that campaign. So starting with a little request, such as a petition, creates the foundation and sets the stage for larger requests, such as a donation.
So how does one fight this overwhelming need to be consistent? Cialdini believes that while consistency is required in our day-to-day lives, we do know when it would be wise to forgo consistency in favor of what we know to be right. That feeling that we have in our stomachs when we are not comfortable with a decision is our mind and body’s way to tell us that we should rethink our position – or our actions, and we should learn to recognize and “follow our gut.”