For two months every spring, I spend every weekend as someone else. Not entirely an alter ego, but a 16th century version of myself. It’s great for my inner Renaissance Faire geek, but it’s also a learning experience. Times change – customs, people, business – it’s all very different now. Or is it?
The return to real life 24/7 is a major adjustment. It’s not that I have to change my focus – I have to re-adjust to an entirely different psychological perspective, full-time. After all, things have changed. People, technology, business…even social influence has changed over the last 500 years! But
To quickly explain social influence: it’s when your emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. We see this at the large institutional level, like organized religions or political parties. We see it in our interactions with each other at work or at home. And we see it in business, from organizational culture to sales and marketing. Robert Cialdini, a former psych professor of mine, came up with six principles of influence: reciprocity, social proof, commitment and consistency, liking, authority, and scarcity.
SOCIAL INFLUENCE: NO INTERNET REQUIRED
- Reciprocation was more uniformly practiced then. If a gentleman tipped his hat to someone on the street, that person would politely acknowledge with a similar polite gesture. (Today, it doesn’t happen much in social settings. Not because people are more rude, but because they don’t notice or they don’t know how to respond.) It might be a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours, or it could be a I’ll-scratch-your-back-and-we-agree-you-owe-me kind of deal. Reciprocation can only work when both parties share an understanding of the value and meaning of the gesture.
- Social proof has changed. In those days, only the upper classes could influence others to any measurable extent through social proof, because they had what everyone valued – land and a title, aka, money. Today, we value more than just money. Intellect, skill, physical appearance – these are also things that generate social proof among people who value those things. To apply this principle well, you have to know what your audience values.
- Commitment and consistency are more evident than in Renaissance times, simply because people have more freedom of choice these days. These concepts mean that if we make a commitment once (to buy something, maybe, or help someone in a small way), we’re more likely to repeat the behavior again. In the height of the Renaissance, behavior options were dictated by poverty, oppression, and whoever held the power in your area at the moment. Today, we’re able to choose behavior in accordance with our goals and values. It seems like we’d be less likely to repeat behavior, but that’s not the case!
- Liking has changed. A lifespan in those days may have only been half of what it is today. If you liked someone, you got down to friendship (or romance) quickly, while you were alive to enjoy it. People were more open, so with a few minutes of conversation you could determine whether someone was your “kind of people” or not. Today, many social interactions are virtual, allowing for people to present themselves in the best possible light. We are careful about what we share and with whom – it’s not all bad, but the entire liking process is slowed and made more shallow. This means that just “liking” doesn’t make us more likely to listen to what someone has to say. It also means that, while we want others to like us, we aren’t going out of our way to Like their Facebook posts, for example.
- Authority: See social proof, above. Once, there was only the monarchy. Beneath them, in terms of authority, were the clergy, local law enforcement, and the rare scholar. You were told things, so you knew things. Hm, on second thought, maybe this kind of influence hasn’t changed much. Today, do you care what your mayor’s favorite color is? Do you even know who your mayor is? Nope. But people send money to Nigerian princes who email them, because the Internet is King. (Who’s that Snopes guy, anyway?) When 7 out of 10 experts agree on the benefits of a product, we trust them because we’re still not comfortable questioning authority.
- Scarcity doesn’t work nearly as well as it did then. It was real and life-threatening in those days. Today, barring the zombie apocalypse, it’s not something most of us will have to face. So “only three left at this price” only works when it’s real and tangible. In a retail situation, yes. Otherwise, don’t count on it. Except when it comes to time. Time is still a precious commodity and while we have longer lives today, we also have more to cram into them. Time management is not just a skill for the peasant wife anymore!
If you use influence and persuasion methods, which ones? How do you use them and how do they work for you? Leave a comment! And as always, please share this post with a friend or colleague who might benefit or have a question! Thanks, crumpet!