I’m sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect – J. D. Salinger
‘Few people would be surprised to learn that, as a rule, we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. What might be startling to note, however, is that this simple rule is used in hundreds of ways by total strangers to get us to comply with their requests’. This is the fourth post in a series on Robert B. Chialdini’s classic work on the study of persuasion, compliance and change, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition.
A Tupperware party is a great example of multiple factors of influence at work. You have reciprocity because the party starts with games where people win prizes. You have commitment because each person is encouraged to share stories about Tupperware they own and why they like it. And you have social proof because once the buying starts you see that similar people want the product so it must be good. ‘But the real power of the Tupperware party comes from a particular arrangement that trades on the liking rule‘. Everyone knows that the hostess, the friend who invited you, stands to benefit from the evening’s sales. You’re not buying from an unknown salesperson, you’re buying from and for a friend. ‘In this way, the attraction, the warmth, the security, and the obligation of friendship are brought to bear on the sales setting‘.
And so compliance professionals’ (salespeople and others) strategy is often simple: ‘They first get us to like them‘.
Several factors are well understood to influence liking. The first is physical attractiveness. ‘Although it is generally acknowledged that good-looking people have an advantage in social interaction, recent findings indicate that we may have sorely underestimated the size and reach of that advantage‘. The advantage is conferred through something known as the halo effect. ‘Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence. Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process‘. Consider the implications to:
- Politics. Studies show attractive candidates receive more votes that unattractive candidates.
- Hiring. One study showed how good grooming influenced the hiring decision more than job qualification, even while the study participants denied appearance played a role.
- Justice. Research shows that good-looking people are more likely to receive favorable outcomes in the legal system.
Underwear model Cameron Russel shares important insights in her Ted talk on beauty and identity. ‘If there’s a take-away from this talk I hope it’s that we all feel more comfortable acknowledging the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures‘.
The second is similarity. ‘We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or life-style. Consequently, those who wish to be liked in order to increase our compliance can accomplish that purpose by appearing similar to us in any of a wide variety of ways‘. Upon meeting someone we will usually attempt to establish common ground. This behavior has roots in our evolutionary past. Jared Diamond in The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, describes how an encounter with a stranger is likely to turn violent unless they establish common ground. Behavioral origins aside, ‘sales training programs encourage trainees to mirror-and-match the customer’s body posture, mood, and verbal style‘.
The third is compliments. ‘We are phenomenal suckers for flattery. Although there are limits to our gullibility – especially when we can be sure that the flatterer is trying to manipulate us – we tend, as a rule, to believe praise and to like those who provide it, oftentimes when it is clearly false‘. Research shows that ‘positive comments produced just as much liking for the flatterer when they were untrue as when the were true‘. Praise doesn’t have to be true to be effective.
The fourth is contact and cooperation. ‘For the most part, we like things that are familiar to us‘. Research shows this behavior is often unconscious. Simply increasing our exposure (contact) to something impacts our liking. This helps explain why modern political campaigns rest so heavily on the amount of advertising they can afford. Beyond contact, cooperation produces increased contact. Chialdini discusses the interesting results of ‘cooperative learning‘ in American classrooms where ‘cooperation rather than competition is central‘ and students take turns teaching and helping each other. When working towards shared goals ‘the students became allies rather than enemies‘ and unhelpful behaviors like ridicule and teasing decreased. For more on this see Elliot Aronson’s concept of the Jigsaw Classroom. Savvy compliance professionals will exploit the liking effects of cooperation and look for ways to show how they are working for our best interests. Consider:
- The car sales rep who takes our side and does battle with his boss to secure us a good deal.
- The Good Cop/Bad Cop routine from police interrogators.
The fifth is conditioning and association. Shakespeare said that ‘The nature of bad news infects the teller’. ‘There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news‘. The opposite is true as well. ‘An innocent association with either good or bad things will influence how people feel about us‘. So it is unsurprising that compliance professionals ‘are incessantly trying to connect themselves or their products with the things we like‘. Manufacturers will try to connect their products with popular cultural trends and celebrity.
Psychologist Gregory Razran uncovered that people became fonder of the people and things they experience while eating, confirming the effectiveness of ‘luncheon technique’ long used in politics and business.
The intensity of the relationship between a fan and his sports teams illustrates how powerful association is. It’s difficult to make sense of the ‘raging, irrational, boundless fervor‘ of sports fans that results in riots after games and sometimes the murder of players. ‘As distinguished author Isaac Azimov put it in describing our reactions to the contests we view, “All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality….and what you want to prove is that you are better than the other person. Whomever you root for represents you. and when he wins, you win”.‘
Chialdini speculates that low self-esteem could also be a factor with people who ‘seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others of attainment… accomplishment as deriving from outside the self.‘ He shares some amusing stories about doctors wives.
HOW TO SAY NO
Chialdini advises us to stay alert to the feeling of increased liking. ‘The time to react protectively is when we feel ourselves liking the practitioner more than we should under the circumstances… Once we notice this feeling, we will have been tipped off that there is probably some tactic being used, and we can start taking the necessary countermeasures.‘ And having recognized the feeling we can work to counter its effects. ‘The recognition of that feeling can serve as our reminder to separate the dealer from the merits of the deal and to make our decision based on considerations related only to the latter’.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition by Robert B. Chialdini
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Cameron Russel Ted talk on beauty and identity.
- The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond.
- Elliot Aronson and the Jigsaw Classroom.