Post No.: 0436
Being pleasant, charming and likeable is probably the most important factor when it comes to persuasion. The people we like are more influential on us – we’re more likely to want to do, believe in and buy what they do, believe in or buy.
In this way, nice people actually finish first, especially in the long run! Many people say they’d rather work with a colleague who’s mean but competent, but when it comes to their actions, they’d rather work with a colleague who’s nicer but less competent. It’s critical to not confuse being nice with being passive, unassertive, a doormat, inept or less interested in money than others. Well wouldn’t it be a defect of the markets if most people prefer nice people yet don’t reward nice people?!
Therefore if we want to be influential on others without the use of force, coercion or pressure i.e. people have a choice to listen to us or not – we must be liked. Similarity, attractiveness, cooperation, appropriate physical contact or simply supplying (meaningful) compliments can all help to make one be more liked and thus more influential. Maintain reasonable levels of eye contact and smile :D! Similarities, such as appearing to be like somebody in the way you speak, dress, your age, background, political views and other opinions – even merely having the same name as somebody else – improves trust and persuasiveness. Following others and fitting in shows that we’re on the same team, as explained in Post No.: 0431. Physical touch that’s appropriate tends to increase trust because of the release of oxytocin. (We currently wonder what a post-COVID-19 world will be like if cheek-kissing greets and hugs continue to be treated with caution?)
In job interviews, spend time talking about topics not related to the job/contract that interests both sides. Do your research on and praise the organisation. Compliment the interviewer(s). Be genuinely interested in their organisation, what they’re looking for and how you’ll fit into their overall organisation. Be enthusiastic, nice, interested and empathic. It’s important to be amiable. As long as you’re not too unqualified – being likeable and passionate are far more important than qualifications or past work experiences because we consider the former less mutable than the latter. Rapport with the interviewer(s) is by far more crucial since people like people who are like them, as well as who like them.
Mention your weaknesses early rather than later – this reveals openness and honesty. Therefore mention your strengths later, which reveals modesty. Retain something strong about you (or your product) until the last minute so that this can be the last impression they leave with about you.
Blunders and mistakes, if you admit to them and demonstrate that you learn from them, can make you seem more human and relatable, so the occasional slip up is okay if you are in danger of sounding too perfect. Showing some humility is disarming and helps others to trust you. (The exception might be with politicians, who we say we want to be relatable yet in practice are held to higher standards if they make human mistakes – a politician having an affair is a huge scandal but your neighbour having an affair is, not okay, but not as major.)
Someone may try to dehumanise your request by stating, “These are the rules” or, “Computer says no” and they’re sticking to those rules – so try to humanise yourself, such as by saying, “Please do this thing for me” or, “I need this for my child.”
Lighten up and inject a bit of humour too! It makes people feel good and therefore more likely to feel like being generous. Feeling good and positive is associated with everything being fine, such as because there’s plenty to share around and therefore to give. Conversely, social trust declines and we focus more on our own self-preservation when we feel marginalised, poor or stressed, which in turn makes us more likely to behave less kindly towards others.
People are thus more likely to agree with you when they have already said something positive. So for example ask, “How are you feeling?” if you think they’ve had a good day. Good food or a nice drink also puts people in a happy mood so that’s a good time to ask for something. Having fancy business lunches, negotiations during or shortly after a round of golf (especially if they’re winning), and the like, are purposely designed to get the other party in a good, relaxed (perhaps off-guard) and reciprocal mood so that negotiations hopefully go more favourably.
Similarly in sales contexts, get a series of ‘yeses’ going first before calling your true request – people are more likely to be positive with you when they have already given you something before. This suggests that – along with being nice, being genuinely interested in people, being generous and being able to create rapport – people can sometimes like you more not because of what you’ve done for them but what they’ve done for you. So ask for small, achievable favours from others. This might be because we rationalise that we help those we like and trust, thus if we’re helping someone then it’s probably because we like them and have trusted them before (unless we’re helping them through gritted teeth!) We obviously prefer to help people we like and can trust.
Even better is to help someone first and they will likely reciprocate i.e. scratch someone’s furry back and they’ll scratch yours. Even unexpected favours can elicit a powerful need to reciprocate because most of us adhere to social reciprocation norms. Giving small freebies away can persuade people to offer something in return, but spontaneously going out of your way to do something extra is even more powerful. We will more likely return the favour, and will possibly be fine about returning more than what was received too because we believe we’re building a joyful long-term relationship. We like people who help us and we help people we like. Meow!
In terms of favours, it doesn’t take much for us to like a person, and people can sometimes give much more in return on the basis of receiving so little, and so this kindness can escalate between them and us. So if you want to help yourself – help others first. To keep a civilised society in one piece, we must work together and help one another. Being thoughtful implies that you like them, trust them and that you are agreeable.
For the optimum effect if you do need something, ask for the return favour quickly, otherwise people will tend to forget or convince themselves that they didn’t really need your help in the first place.
The favours that are most powerful are those that happen between people who don’t know each other very well and when the favours are small but thoughtful. A large amount of effort too early may make the recipient feel an uncomfortable pressure to reciprocate, and their motivation may be affected because the recipient may experience a drop in self-esteem if they think they’re being helped because others believe that they don’t have the ability to succeed by themselves. Favours work best between strangers possibly because favours are already expected between friends, family and colleagues. Whatever the case, it’s truly the thought that counts and it has to come from the heart, not the head.
There are some cultural differences to watch out for though concerning favours or what appear to be favours. For example, in China, particularly expensive gifts in business contexts may be considered as an intention to bribe, whilst in Japan, expensive gifts in business are quite customary.
Overall, it’s about the principle of ‘tit-for-tat’ – specifically of being kind first, but then only helping again those who return favours when the opportunities arise because one needs to avoid being exploited by those who’ll just take (unless they have an acceptable reason why they cannot give or give much). Correspondingly, if you don’t reciprocate when someone helps you then they may feel that you are not worth helping again in the future. However, it’s crucial to be able to forgive others over time if they don’t return a favour because permanently closed doors will reduce future opportunities for mutual cooperative gains.
…A flipside perspective to all this is that being nice in order to get something in return is just manipulative ****-kissing flattery and is ultimately a self-interested behaviour! But really, we should be nice to everyone before we know whether we might need something from them in the future. We might never need something from them ever – but we cannot be so sure? So we cannot be so calculating. For most people and in most cases, we can afford to give a little time and/or spend a little money and it won’t be a problem for us anyway even if it doesn’t bring a ‘return on investment’ (i.e. your livelihood isn’t going to suffer) – but that little time and/or money can potentially reap huge benefits for us individually in the future or collectively for us in society. What appears short-term or directly irrational might be long-term, overall bigger-picture and indirectly rational, hence a contributory reason why altruism evolved?
One thing we should watch out for though – since traits like the attractiveness of someone or similarity of someone with us can increase the chances of us liking them – is should we like or trust someone just because they’re pretty or similar to us, or hate or distrust someone just because they’re not? Some things that persuade us aren’t down to people’s choices, efforts or kindness. Some of these intuitions are superficial, yet we do need to understand that this is how a lot of people are.
We also need to watch out for insincere charm and deceptive manipulation. For instance, a trusting smile is apparently the best poker face in poker. Yet people are often told to just ‘be themselves’ but this does depend on how we are when just being ourselves(!) And even if image may not matter to you, you must still be aware that image matters to many others.
Whatever you choose to do with what you learn is up to you. For me, I’ll take home the messages of being pleasant, being positive, being human (well sometimes) and being kind. I’ll try my fluffy best to behave with humility, humanity and emotional intelligence because then others will more likely do so too. Happy and positive messages and feelings promote kindness more than negative ones. And being friendly is one of the best ways to be persuasive.