Post No.: 0481
I’m going to present here a random array of cognitive effects and tricks that might help improve your ability to convince or persuade others in various contexts. Post No.: 0078 also presented a few things…
The ‘Yellow Pages effect’ is the tendency to go for the thing that comes first alphanumerically when one has no personal knowledge, experience, recommendation or better heuristic to decide something in a better way. This is why there are so many ‘A1’ plumbers, electricians or similar out there! (Something that’s ‘A1’ is also associated with high grades or standards too.)
The ‘contrast effect’ is when something looks better when it’s being directly compared to something worse than it within the same category, and vice-versa. This indicates that preferences are made relatively rather than absolutely. Hence to make your proposal seem more attractive, present it next to or immediately after a less attractive proposal. (If you’re sometimes naughty like me then this less-attractive proposal could be a deliberate decoy that’s there solely to convince people that your main proposal is good!)
The ‘less-is-better effect’ is a type of preference reversal that occurs when the lesser/smaller alternative of two propositions is preferred when they’re evaluated separately, yet not when evaluated together – for example, when some cat food overflowing in a small bowl appears more bountiful than some cat food that barely fills a large bowl, even if the former is objectively a smaller portion than the latter. Or when giving away an expensive version of a normally cheap item seems more generous than giving away a cheap version of a normally expensive item, even if the former is objectively cheaper than the latter.
Choose simple, catchy, easy-to-pronounce company or product names. Unnecessarily complex language sends out a negative impression. Clarity is key. The choice of name affects the perspective people take too – for instance, an ‘estate tax’ on the estate of a deceased person compared to calling it a ‘death tax’ or an ‘undeserved heir correction adjustment’(!) Marketing and politics are partly about trying to spin negative-sounding things into more positive-sounding things. The media likes to call things by different names to serve their particular story angles too. Rhymes also sound more persuasive because they’re catchy, memorable and repeatable, even when they’re not logical.
Similarly, an activity can be regarded as good or bad depending on how it’s presented or framed – chores can be framed as a fun game, or good things can be temporarily restricted thus making them more desirable, for instance.
Things that get associated together, such as via Gestalt principles (e.g. based on similarity, continuity, closure, proximity, symmetry, common fate or past experience), whether rightly or wrongly, will be mentally connected together. It’s about how the brain perceives, organises and stores information via associations, links and connections. So things that specifically remind you of someone you dislike will tend to also be disliked, and vice-versa. Or things that are specifically associated with awkward and embarrassing moments will make you feel awkward and embarrassed too, even if other people don’t know about it. (Please don’t ask!)
In cultures where nodding one’s head means ‘yes’ and shaking it means ‘no’ – reading down a column (causing us to nod) as opposed to reading across a row might result in more likeability in what’s being read; although this effect is only incredibly subtle. Colours can also connote certain things in certain cultures too, such as red connoting more urgency.
The size of a bin will influence how much rubbish someone will produce, thus a larger recycling bin compared to a general waste bin will increase recycling behaviour (although a risk is that people might end up putting some non-recyclable trash in the recycling bin too).
Put a photograph of a cute and happy baby in your wallet to increase the chances of it being handed in or returned if lost. Cute people will also tend to get helped more often too (although we shouldn’t be discriminatory or gullible!)
People crave closure, so to keep them hooked for longer – set something up but then leave them hanging for until you decide to give them the release of closure. Leaving some narrative questions unanswered from one episode to the next is a typical trick used in serial dramas to make you want to watch the next episode.
We’re generally quite bad at taking advice. Even if we agree with the advice, we often fail to put it into action, especially if we’re (over)confident in our own abilities, we didn’t ask for the advice or if we’re not in the mood. So we’re more likely to take advice that we’ve paid to receive.
Reasoned requests are more likely to be granted than giving no reason at all, regardless of how good those reasons are. For instance, when waiting in a queue to use the photocopier – asking, “Excuse me, can I get in line in front of you? I need to use the photocopier” will yield more relative success than just asking, “Excuse me, can I get in line in front of you?” People seem to pay more attention to if a reason is given rather than to the content of the reasoning i.e. sounding reasonable is sufficient for our ‘system one’ to be convinced (our ‘system two’ might not be convinced though if engaged). Good manners are also of course always helpful. (Starting a request with, “Would you kindly…” in a working-class Dublin accent might also convince those who know what I mean!)
Testimonials, vivid anecdotes and visceral imagery are often more compelling than mountains of plain objective facts and figures. People tend to be more convinced by visual evidence. The documentary series Blue Planet II shocked a lot of viewers who finally understood in no uncertain terms how plastic pollution is affecting the entire globe.
You’ll also find it easier to convince someone to convert their own beliefs if they see other people who are like them converting their beliefs first – such as witnessing someone who believed that something was a conspiracy later believing that it wasn’t. (This however could be exploited by people who pretend they believe in something then later ‘converting’ to the belief they always privately believed in.)
If you wish to convince others to give to a charity – make your plight personal. An individual in need with a name and a face is more powerful than plain numbers or statistics (that’s the ‘identifiable victim effect’).
Most people only really start to give a damn about an injustice, charitable cause or call for a more stringent/relaxed law when it personally affects them or someone they love. For instance, protecting rights for homosexual couples if one’s child turns out to be lesbian/gay. One wouldn’t use the reason/excuse of ‘it won’t make a noticeable difference whether I donate or not’ if one’s own child’s life is at stake. So connect why some cause is relevant to them and/or their children – such as why pollution from petrol and diesel emissions is bad for anyone who walks along the pavements of busy roads – for they may not have considered things that way before. Also, when people are faced with their own mortality, they’ll tend to be more benevolent.
Saying, “Every penny helps” prevents potential charitable donors from thinking that if they put a small amount in the box then they’ll look mean and thus end up actually giving nothing at all. This statement legitimises and thus encourages even the smallest of contributions – and once they reach for their purses/wallets then they’re already halfway there to giving more. This strategy helps capture donations from people who’d otherwise not give anything. However, high anchors (stating a high number) will be a better strategy to capture higher donations from those who are already likely to give a donation.
Well every little contribution does materially help in some way. Quantifiable progress has been made in tackling world issues like extreme poverty. And charity doesn’t tend to breed dependence if the gifts are responsible i.e. are a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out’ (although some causes cannot be expected to be self-sustaining in its funding until the problem is totally eradicated, like fighting cancer). And it’s unlikely you’ll noticeably devalue a commodity unless you’re so extraordinarily wealthy and you give too much of it away at once!
People who aren’t so grateful – perhaps because they don’t believe in luck but believe they have earned or earn every single thing they got and get in life – have a tendency to be far less generous when donating to charities. So make people understand that luck plays a key role in life, or otherwise encourage people to feel more grateful.
Make people feel good when trying to convince them – make them think of good times and good things. Get them loosened up, receptive and less mentally resistant via self-affirmations – for example, make them think about times when they felt good about themselves because they acted on a value that was important to them.
Show people the positive impacts of past donations – people want to see that they are or will be making a difference by donating. And give recognition to and publicly thank donors for making that difference too.
People may try to goad you into trying something risky by saying, “You just don’t have what it takes to do it.” Your ego has then got to weigh up the balance between proving yourself as a brave or capable person and proving yourself as an idiot for falling into their trap(!)
See from the perspective and day-in-the-life of the people you want to convince who have this thing or that thing going on. Make your goals align with their goals. Speak to their values rather than your own. Help give them what they want in the time and way they want it (so no 10-page reports for safety critical domains!) Tell them what bus they’ll need to catch, how much it’ll cost, what they’ll need to bring, the step-by-step steps they’ll need to perform… Be empathic, and make it as easy as possible for them to do what it is you want them to do, and they’ll more likely do it (and enjoy it too).
When writing an e-mail, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient, leave out the stuff that only you want to include and only put in the things that the recipient is interested in. Start with some context, explain how the situation will benefit them, and finish with one clear sentence that is the physical call-to-action for them to perform next in order to move this thing forwards. And don’t send it 5 minutes before they clock-off or when their workload is highest – send it at a time that’s conducive for them to do the next thing you want them to do.
It’s not so much the message but the responses it evokes in a recipient’s mind that matters. If a message summons favourable thoughts and feelings, it’ll convince us better. If it provokes us to think of contrary arguments, we’ll remain sceptical. So avoid weak arguments. But even sensing that someone is about to try to convince us of something we don’t already believe in will naturally impel us to be defensive and think of counter-arguments – thus it’s better to spring a surprise argument upon someone if possible. Distracting them from opportunities to think of contrary arguments may also help, as long as doing so doesn’t distract them from the persuasive arguments.
…Some of the above effects wouldn’t exist if people were rational – but people are hardly always rational. Also, like Furrywisepuppy expresses, it’s entirely up to you whether you exploit the above information to persuade or convince others better, or just use it to be critically aware when others may be trying to use such tricks on you.
Meow. So would you kindly use the Twitter comment button below to comment on this post(!)