Posted tagged ‘behavioral science’

Consistency and Commitment: A Two Stage Influencer

June 8, 2009

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.”

The Compelling Role of Reciprocation

June 4, 2009

At its core, a “weapon of influence” is a trigger. It stimulates a response that is truly compelling and one that we have difficulty ignoring.

The first “weapon of influence” is one that Cialdini refers to as reciprocation. You can see the concept of reciprocation being put into play every single day. Those address labels that accompany the letter requesting that you donate to a worthy cause… reciprocation, in this case, in the form of an uninvited debt. Gifts to politicians with the intention of receiving support later on…reciprocation. Even the free sample given by manufacturers with the intention of exposing someone to a product is still another form of – you guessed it – reciprocation. And it is core to the way we raise our children (i.e. the golden rule and if you want him to be nice to you, you have to treat him nicely)

The rule of reciprocation states that “we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided to us.” The need to reciprocate is a self-imposed obligation that we place on ourselves. You can even see it in our language as “much obliged” has become synonymous with “thank you.” In fact, this sense of obligation is pervasive in all human society.

In reading Cialdini’s work, I was frankly ambivalent. On the one hand, I was concerned that I was becoming wise to ways that I was being manipulated (or, dare I say, in fact, manipulating others). However, as I reflected more and more on the book, I realized that these influence factors are truly an engine for advancement and care.

Some sociologists note that this sense of future obligation has made a significant difference in our ability to evolve because it meant that what we shared, gave, or even taught, would not be lost. Reciprocation is the basis of trade, mutual defense and perhaps even friendship. Those who do not live by the rule of reciprocation are ultimately scorned (i.e moocher or ingrate). Reciprocation does indeed create a positive cultural norm.

The rule is also overpowering that it can even overcome dislike for the requester. Cialdini cites the Hare Krishna as truly understanding the rule. When they would solicit passerbys, they would not only offer a flower, but they would insist that the flower be accepted. They referred to it as “gift” and would not accept no for an answer. Fundraising was so successful that two important phenomena should be noted.

The first is that the passerbys often discarded the flower at the first available trash can. The Krishnas were thus able to recycle the gifts. There is also now a common practice in many airports to restrict solicitations to certain discrete areas simply because the power of obligation to accept a gift and to repay it is so overwhelming.

The reciprocation rule can also trigger unfair exchanges. Cialdini cites a woman whose car wouldn’t start. She was helped by a young man. About a month later, the young man asked to borrow the car, and while the woman hesitated, she felt compelled to lend him her car, even though she had misgivings about his age. Needless to say the young man totaled the car. The lesson though is that indebtedness and the need to reciprocate is an itch that we must scratch.

There are exceptions and they typically fall into the category of circumstance or ability. If circumstances or ability prevent us from reciprocating, we allow ourselves that latitude

The area that was particularly enlightening to me was the concept of reciprocal concession. This is a common tactic in negotiations where one party asks for something that would be deemed inappropriate simple so that the offer can be withdrawn and replaced by a less outrageous offer. The other party often feels a need to reciprocate to the concession and agrees to the new request.

To make this point, Cialdini draws on the testimony of Nixon associate Jeb Stuart Magruder, upon hearing that the Watergate burglars had been caught, responded by asking, “How could we have been so stupid?”

As the story goes, it seems that G. Gordon Liddy, who was in charge of the intelligence gathering for the Nixon campaign, had initially asked for $1,000,000 in cash for a wide range of activities. Magruder and Campaign Director John Mitchell kept declining the offer. Liddy kept scaling back the request until finally the rule of reciprocal concession kicked in and his request for $250,000 in cash for the break-in was approved.

As to more mundane examples, think of the salesman who shows you the top of the line product so that he can scale you back to sell you a more “affordable” item in the product line

Is there a way to say no? Cialdini suggests that one can say no if one adopts a mindset that recognizes the tactic for what is. This requires us to cognitively understand that reciprocation is a tactic and be present so that the tactic can be effectively managed.

The Psychology of Persuasion

June 1, 2009

About a week ago, I had dinner with one of my favorite friends. Andy’s mind is always racing. He had served as CEO of a very successful company in Buffalo, NY that was recognized as being a model for one of the most outstanding places to work in that region. Andy is also a serial entrepreneur and his quick and agile mind has enabled him to create, build and overcome almost any challenge.

I enjoy our dinners for so many reasons. It is a chance to catch up with a friend whom I admire and at the same time, I always discover that I have learned something insightful and valuable after we have spent time together. After four hours of dining and conversation with Andy, I found myself mentally exhausted but intellectually stimulated.

A significant portion of our evening’s discussion focused on the work of Dr. Robert Caldini. He’s the Ph.D. referenced in one of my earlier posts. I had bought his seminal work, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, about the same time as I had read the Time Magazine article. It was on my list of must-reads – I just hadn’t created the space to get through it.

Andy had met with Cialdini and was very favorably influenced by his thinking. This was the impetus that I needed to pick up Cialdini’s book.

Cialdini’s book is a mix of theoretical study and empirical research. He cites the works of others but frequently intertwines their research with his own experiences and investigations into how our minds assist others in moving us to certain decisions – often without us even realizing it.

His work is important. While it teaches us how our minds work, it also teaches us how to move people to appropriate directions. I don’t view his book as a study in manipulation. In fact, I believe it to be just the opposite. If you subscribe to the strategy of pre-eminence, that is, that as leaders and business consultants we have an obligation to help people past their fears while addressing their concerns, Caldini gives us methods to consider. Like everything in the world, it can be used appropriately or not.

With that as introduction, let us look at the six factors that he refers to as “weapons of influence.” These six are:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Effectively employing these six factors allows one to perform a mental ju-jitsu on the other party. In his terms, it allows one to leverage the natural beliefs and inclinations of the buyer to create a preferred outcome for the seller.

To illustrate these weapons of influence / ju-jitsu perspectives, he poses the question about whether a salesperson would be more effective selling a high priced item before selling a low priced item or the other way around. In other words, which approach is more likely to result in both items being sold?

One’s initial thought might be to sell the low priced item and establish a “foot in the door.” However, marketers have discovered, particularly with higher priced items, that the exact opposite is true.

Think about it.

After you have bought the tailored suite or the fashionable dress, it is only then that the salesperson suggests that you might want to look at shirts, ties, socks, or accessories and shoes. There is a simple reason for this approach and it is the concept of “contrast.”

After spending a significant amount of money, the cost of the additional item does not seem all that much. By contrast, buying a sweater to complete a look is an insignificant purchase.

In our next post, we’ll look at the first of these weapons that Cialdini outlines – reciprocation.

How the Obama Administration Motivates Behaviors

May 26, 2009

The Time Magazine article was extremely instructive in helping us to understand the behavioral science oriented steps being taken by the Obama administration. In this post we’ll focus on a number of them. Specifically, they are:

  1. Supplying knowledge
  2. Making it easy
  3. Creating social norms
  4. Legislating the activity

According to the Time Magazine article, studies suggest that better information can help us make better choices. This information can be disseminated in the forms of public service announcements (PSA’s) or appeals from well respected figures (remember our discussion about the use of Hubs in building communities) and even serial dramas.

What this means is that aggressive rules for disclosure and clarity will likely result in people making more informed and better choices. Documenting best practices will also produce meaningful results.

The second way to influence behavior is to make it easy for those who wish to make the choice that you wish them to make. This is why default options – opt-out instead of opt-in – are very successful. The push to create an electronic health record (EHR) is one step along the path of making generic drugs our default prescription of choice.

The creation of social norms is yet another way to influence what we choose. An appeal to conformity is very effective as we are a herdlike species. If our peers are obese, we are more comfortable choosing to be that way. What works is creating a sense that choosing not to participate in an effort sets us apart from social norms and therefore, we will take steps to be in sync with our peers. This is a technique that has been used successfully even in forwarding goals that are inappropriate or morally wrong (think McCarthyism).

The last factor that the Time Magazine article addresses is what happens when a nudge is insufficient. At that point, a strategy of making something mandatory is very useful. That’s why there is interest in taxing undesirable behaviors such as cigarettes, alcohol and even trans-fats consumption and subsidizing desirable behaviors such as weatherizing a home or the purchase of fuel efficient cars.

Now, when we hear a new initiative being proposed by the Obama Administration, our awareness to the work of the behavioral scientists will be present. Let’s hope that these efforts though are used to move us in the right directions.

In the ensuing posts, we’ll look at like some of the other models and variants that allow us to influence others.

Understanding the Science of Change

May 22, 2009

I have always been a big believer that the universe has a tendency to bring ideas, concepts and even people to you when you need them to be in front of you. When that occurs in my life, after I finally recognize that it is happening – and yes, sometimes it takes me a while to notice — I begin to immerse myself in the idea or get to know that person better.

Lately, a new concept has been showing up and so over the next few posts, I’m going to write about it. I’m also going to read about it and share what I learn along the way.

In the April 13th, 2009 edition of Time Magazine, there was an article by Michael Grunwald called “How Obama is Using the Science of Change.” The article cited the work of behavioral scientist Robert Cialdini who found that that the most powerful motivator was that “people want to do what they think others will do.” Cialdini is the author of the best seller “Influence.” (For what its worth, Cialdini is the name that keeps popping up…more on that in the next few posts)

According to Time, Obama leans heavily on the work of the behavioral scientists to understand what makes people tick and then, using this knowledge, he intends to spur behavioral change throughout the country. He’s leveraging what he learned about people to move forward his agenda on the economy, healthcare and energy.

The power of these nudges is huge. For example, is there a difference in the number of people who participate in a 401 K plan if they have to sign up or would that number change if they were signed up already and had to opt out? Well, a 2001 study showed that only 36% of women joined a 401K plan when they had to sign up for it…but when they had to opt out, 86% participated.

The implications of using behavioral science in our business and personal lives are huge. This notion affects sales, marketing, management, leadership and even how we lead our communities or exist within our families.

So how is the Obama Administration using what they have learned? Consider the way Americans received the $116 billion in payroll tax cuts from the stimulus package. Obama chose NOT to send one lump sum check even if that would have put the money in the hands of Americans faster. His administration was concerned that a lump sum check might be viewed as a windfall and deposited in a bank account instead of being spent to rev up the economy. Instead, the money is being released through decreased payroll withholding. Smaller amounts spread over time are more likely to be spent. The idea is to subtly nudge us to spend the extra cash.

Make no mistake – this is a radical departure from the way that we have let the free market dictate how things work. Some might call this “manipulation,” but to change our ingrained behaviors, this might be necessary. And we may discover that behavioral science is compatible with free market thinking as it may prove to be an accelerator in how we interact with the free markets.

The Time magazine article goes on to highlight several elements that help us to change behavior. And that will be the subject of the next post.


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