Influence, like Hansel, is so hot right now.
Bloggers and journalists carved a niche out of analyzing the influence battles during the 2016 United States presidential election. Terms such as ‘social proof ‘and ‘confirmation bias’ were used to define the action of the candidates and others trying to influence the outcome. The analyzers of influence (who are also usually purveyors of influence) do their best to convince us of the importance of the topic. To a large degree, influence has gone meta; influence experts use influence to legitimize themselves and monetize their knowledge.
Got all that?
Our goal here is to pump the brakes a little. We do not begrudge the influence wave or the folks leading it. Good on them for breaking ground. What we’re attempting to do with the following definitions is make the topic of influence more approachable and understandable.
This topic isn’t going away. Your brain can be hacked by others (or so they say). Not to say your brain is perfect; the human brain comes with some bugs pre-installed. In both cases, awareness is the anti-virus.
With that, we bring you Influence Buzzword Bingo. You will hear all of these terms again within a short time of reading them here. Baader and Meinhof will make it so.
Regularly and repeatedly writing or saying positive intentions and desired states to oneself. One example is your author writing “Rugged Individualism will help many others” six times a day, every day. Effectively, you are routinely influencing yourself. Scott Adams on affirmations.
$3.00 appears to be the current upper bound for the price of a large cup of coffee. What is the most you would be willing to pay for a large coffee of average quality? …. Did you start at $3.00 and work backward? If so, you were anchored. Anchoring is a cognitive bias that draws decision makers to subconsciously refer to or rely upon the first piece of information offered. Investopedia on anchoring.
Your 63-year-old primary care physician recommends a low-fat diet that includes plenty of whole grains. He also recommends frequent snacking to keep your metabolism running. You’ve spent the better part of three months researching ketogenic diets and the benefits of fasting. At the conclusion of your annual physical, your doctor gives you the annual lecture about a “healthy” diet. Even though you may have a high belief in your own conclusions on healthy eating, you feel conflicted and even a bit guilty when walking out of Doc’s office. That right there is the authority principal fucking with you. Many of us instinctively want to defer to the “experts”. It is easy to follow those that have the air of authority. Some wisdom from the American Journal of Political Science on authority.
The mental crutch of relying upon the first thing that pops into your head when faced with a decision or asked a question. Stated another way, the availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on the projection of past experiences to solve the problem of the present. In the link below, Tversy and Kahneman reference an example of subjects estimating the divorce rate in their community by quickly referencing the couples they know that were divorced. Simply put, we lean heavily on the evidence already in the mental file cabinet. Here’s Tversky on availability.
The frequency illusion. If you weren’t consciously aware of some or all of the topics discussed thus far, your humble author is willing to bet that you will hear about them again within the next week. You’ll see them on your timeline, hear them from a friend, or stumble on them somewhere in print media. These terms will come out of the woodwork to find you. Resource from Pacific Standard on the phenomenon.
The desire of our brain to stay consistent with our previous actions and behavior. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This is an important principal to grasp as influencers use it to lead you around. See consistency bias later on. Blackwell Reference has a short definition of behavioral consistency:
The non-conscious mimicking of the people around us. Ever notice how a group of people that work closely together start to make the same hand gestures and display the same facial tics (for lack of a better phrase)? That is the chameleon effect. A good influencer can act in a way that he or she hopes that others will start to subconsciously copy. Here is a Yale paper on the chameleon effect.
The godfather. Aka Godzilla. Robert Cialdini is the most notable face in the science of influence. Cialdini’s big 6 tools of influence are reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. Cialdini’s master work.
You know that uncomfortable feeling when you have two contrasting beliefs in your head? You are on your last dime and you know that you shouldn’t go back into the casino but you came all the way out to Las Vegas for vacation. Don’t you owe it to yourself to throw caution to the wind? You traveled all that way, right? Just like that, you’re back at the tables doubling down on a pair of tens. Cognitive dissonance will cause you to change your behavior and thought process so that you avoid the discomfort of contrasting beliefs. Scott Adams provides additional examples of cognitive dissonance.
99% of web searching is powered by confirmation bias; people searching for information that confirms the opinion that they already have. Golfers, for example, are great at this. A golfer will start striking the ball well and will likely have a “feel” or “move” that goes along with this good personal performance. Many a golfer will go right to the web to see if their “move” has been documented and use the information that they find as a source of validation. It’s like doing research in reverse. The important aspect of confirmation bias is that drowns out all other competing and potentially more valid arguments and theories. Perhaps a better example of confirmation bias is Twitter; users follow accounts that they generally agree with a subject themselves to a steady stream of agreeable opinion. America runs on Dunkin and Twitter runs on confirmation bias. Raymond Nickerson lays down the law on confirmation bias.
Telemarketer — “how are you doing today?”. You — “great!”. Telemarketer — “Super! Might you have a few spare minutes so that I can tell you about a group of refugees in dire need of your help?”. Many people will hang up the phone right then and there, but others will feel conflicted. How can you hang up on a message of need after confirming that you yourself feel great? Another example would be a sales person that asks you for a small favor such as a 15-minute meeting. When he gets in the door and asks you for a big favor, such as a product demo, your consistency bias has you wired to say yes. Your brain wants to stay consistent with the “yes” pattern that it has established. Consistency is a big influence topic to grasp as consistency is generally rewarded and valued by others; who wants to be seen as someone who flip-flops often? Influencers will hone in on your desire to stay consistent. Social-Engineer.org has a good summary of consistency.
That thing where a sales person presents a clearly worse option to make the option she really wants to sell you seem much better. The contrast effect is similar to anchoring in that a point of reference is made. Try as one might, it is nearly impossible to judge something without referring to something else. The influencer is very careful in choosing what that “something else” is. Sherif, Taub, and Hovland dissected the contrast effect in 1958.
People “like” to do business with people that they “like”. Liking is akin to reciprocation. Clients will jump in on your deal to stay in your good standing because they like you and want to you to succeed. It is hard to do business repeatedly with people or associations that you don’t like. Nielsen Norman drills in on liking. Seth Godin provides the kill shot here.
Pacing and Leading
P&L is a popular NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) technique whereby an influencer is taking credit for something that you are already doing or feeling and then using that “credit” to guide you towards doing something else. Think of any Don Draper pitch idea from Mad Men. In the following quote, Don transforms a woman’s want for a unique shade of lipstick to the ability to possess a man. “Every woman wants choices, but in the end, none wants to be one of a hundred in a box. She’s unique. She makes the choices and she’s chosen him. She wants to tell the world he’s MINE. He belongs to ME, not you. She marks her man with her lips. He’s her possession. You’ve given the gift of total ownership.” Buy the lipstick, get the guy. Pace with common knowledge; the desire for a unique shade of lipstick. Lead with the promise of “marking” a man. Where do I sign? Mindwhirl explains pacing and leading more precisely.
The chef on TV is putting a meal together. She starts with a burrata and then constructs an antipasto plate. For the main, she’s preparing pappardelle Bolognese. It’s been a long day. You get up from the couch to pour a drink. What do you go for? You’ve got a nice bottle of red wine. You also have all the ingredients for a top shelf tequila and tonic with a twist of lime. What do you go for? In that situation, most of us will go for the red wine due to the priming that occurred whilst watching TV. The menu primed your mind. Priming is the influence technique of opening the mind to suggestion via text, pictures, sound, and other media that is designed to refer to whatever the influencer is pushing. Cialdini just wrote a whole book on priming.
Most people have a desire to be fair to others. Ever wonder why your feel like you need to bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party? That is your reciprocation need at work. You don’t want to be perceived to be a free loader. Influence Jedi will use your desire to reciprocate to build bonds and direct action. Business dinners and sporting events are great examples. Sensei Marketing has a good reciprocation summary.
A combination of the words “satisfy” and “suffice”. Satisficing happens when you and your significant other have been searching for that perfect sofa for weeks. You have an idea of perfection in mind but you can’t find it. At some point, you break and hit your “cognitive limit” and buy the closest thing that you can find. Influencers and marketers can use the satisficing principle to design products that check most of the boxes for most of the people. Settling for “good enough” happens often. Influencers seek to get to “good enough” before you do. Economist Herbert Simon coined the term satisficing.
See Twitter. See confirmation bias. People stick to what they know and like. It’s hard work reading a book or watching a movie that repeatedly espouses values that you hold in contempt. A short article from Arceneaux and Johnson on selective avoidance.
“500 tickets for this event have been taken, only 200 remain. Get yours before the event is sold out!” Even if you didn’t want to attend this event, your brain’s instinct of loss aversion kicks in and forces you to more seriously consider your “need” to attend. Generally, we subconsciously value scarce resources higher than freely available resources. Scarce is desirable. The entire luxury goods market is built on this premise. Here is UXmatters on the power of “free“ and “scarce”.
Everybody else is doing it, why can’t I? This product has 589 five star ratings on Amazon; it must be great. The line for this bar is much longer than the line for the bar down the street; this must be the place to be. “Proof” from experts, celebrities, crows, and friends is tough to refute. Given enough “proof”, the brain is easy picking for influence. Here is Hubspot on how you can ramp up social proof in your online efforts.
In conclusion, we’ve just scratched the surface on influence. Perhaps, though, you’ll find yourself better armed when someone starts throwing around these terms at work or at a cocktail party. Your mind is now primed to catch these terms as they are mentioned in conversation. We hope that you may even spot some of these techniques in action. Here’s to happy brain hacking! (or hacking avoidance!).
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