In a comment to my post last week, a friend of mine suggested a book by Robert Cialdini titled “Influence – Science and Practice”. I find the book quite interesting. Here are some lessons from my initial reading of the book.
Stereotyped behavior is prevalent in much human action, because in many cases, it is the most efficient form of behaving . . . and in other cases it is simply necessary. The form and pace of modern life is not allowing us to make fully thoughtful decisions, even on many personally relevant topics. It is odd that despite their current widespread use of looming future importance, most of us know very little about our automatic behavior patterns. They make us terribly vulnerable to anyone who does know how they work. Here are a few examples.
One of the most potent of the weapons of influence around us is the rule of reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. There is a general distaste for those who take and make no effort to give in return. A consequence of the rule, however, is an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us.
Another interesting mechanism of influence is “Rejection-Then-Retreat”. One way to increase the chances that the person will comply is first to make a larger request of him, one that he will most likely turn down. Then retreat and draw real concessions from the opposite side.
Yet another mechanism often used is called “Commitment and Consistency”. Once we make a choice or take a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person. Active commitments give us the kind of information we use to shape self-image, which then shapes future actions, which solidify the new self-image.
A smart person can use one or more mechanisms in combination to get what he wants; which may or may not be what we want. It makes a deadly weapon of influence. Whether we want to use or not is our choice but it certainly helps to prevent being tricked by others.
Any thoughts or comments?
We see all around us cases where parents, teachers and managers tend to assume that they can “Control” the behavior of their children, students and employees respectively. Their actions are then guided by this assumption. If it is false, their actions would be inappropriate. Hence I would like to explore this aspect today and am eagerly waiting for your valuable inputs.
I often wonder whether it is really possible for anybody to control another individual or a group of persons. Absolute control presupposes that we precisely understand the laws governing the workings of what we are trying to control and therefore our actions will create exact repeatable results. This could be true in case of physical systems. But when we come to human beings and human organizations, it is impossible because the human systems like all living systems are autonomous. They have a mind of their own. They take their own decisions. They may or may not respond in the same way at different times even under apparently identical situations. Science has rapidly advanced and we know lot more today about how humans work than we did few centuries or even few decades ago. But human systems are too complex to be completely deterministic.
What is the way out? Does it mean that we can do nothing about it? Absolutely not; we know enough to be able to influence others. But first we have to get rid of the deeply ingrained assumption that we can control others to do what we want them to do and feel bad when they don’t. If we accept that we can only influence – not control – behavior of others, our whole attitude changes. When things don’t go as expected, we would no more feel bad and try even harder to control others. We accept that we may be unaware of certain aspects and would try to know them. We will try to understand the system better. We would take it as an exciting challenge to know more and be able to influence even more effectively. This leads to an open mind which is ready to learn from its own experiences as well as those of others.
What are the practical implications of this change of attitude? Whether at home in schools or organizations we would stop treating them as commodities to be manipulated; rather accepting them as human beings and try to know more about what they really are and what makes them tick. We would realize the importance of trying to predict more accurately the resultant behavior of their actions and keep on fine-tuning based what actually happens. Rather than being a one way street, it will become an interaction, a virtuous loop which keeps improving.
Based on your inputs, I would like to explore further in next few weeks and try to find some patterns about prediction and influence.