Influence” explores how we are persuaded to do things and how fixed-action patterns are manipulated to achieve compliance. These patterns are mental shortcuts we use to make decisions based on assumptions, such as braking when other drivers do. They help us make decisions efficiently but can also be exploited to influence our behavior.
Compliance practitioners, such as salespeople, fundraisers, and politicians, exploit our fixed-action patterns to persuade us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. They manipulate us by using the wrong stimuli to elicit the desired response.
For instance, a store owner may mark up a low-quality item to make it more appealing by triggering our mental shortcut that associates high prices with high quality. This turns our fixed-action advantage into a disadvantage that hinders our judgment and leads us to make poor decisions.
Compliance practitioners commonly apply six psychological principles to persuade people:
- Social proof
The Reciprocity Principle urges us to repay others when they do something for us, which is commonly seen as basic courtesy. The principle evolved from early human communities that had a better chance of survival by working together and reciprocating favors.
Compliance practitioners use this principle to create a sense of obligation by giving small gifts or making token gestures of kindness before asking for something in return. They may also use a rejection-then-retreat tactic to encourage a reciprocal concession.
To avoid falling for these tactics, it’s crucial to distinguish between genuine acts of kindness and those designed to manipulate us. Socially, we are required to repay a real kindness with a similar one, but we are not required to repay a trick with a trick.
The Consistency Principle says people feel compelled to stay committed to their beliefs and actions, even when they don’t align. While it’s useful, it can be exploited. Compliance practitioners take advantage by starting with small requests and building to larger ones. Spot the situation and turn the tables by calling out their tactic. Make decisions with a reason, not reason for a decision.
The Social Proof Principle says we tend to follow what others are doing or thinking. It can be useful, as it helps us make decisions quickly and accurately. But it can also be manipulated by those who want to sell us things or influence us. Advertisers may create the illusion of popularity by claiming that a product is the “fastest-growing” or “highest-selling.” To avoid being tricked, you should look beyond the numbers and think critically about why people are behaving in a certain way. Don’t just follow the crowd blindly; use your own judgement.
The Liking Principle suggests that we are more likely to comply with requests from people we know and like, including family, friends, and attractive or affable individuals who profess to like us. Compliance practitioners take advantage of this by using names of acquaintances or projecting likable qualities to win us over.
However, it’s important to evaluate each situation on its own merits to avoid being manipulated. Don’t let personal feelings cloud your judgement when making decisions.
The Authority Principle states that we tend to comply with requests from those we perceive as authoritative figures, such as teachers, doctors, and police officers. Symbols of authority like titles and uniforms can also trigger compliance.
While this can be beneficial for society, it can also be exploited by manipulators who use superficial authority to deceive us. For instance, the Milgram experiment showed that people can be easily pressured by an authority figure to perform unethical actions.
To avoid being manipulated, considering a person’s credentials and relevancy is crucial. The mere fact that someone presents themselves as an authoritative person does not imply that they are knowledgeable or reliable.
The Scarcity Principle states that we’re drawn to things that are limited in availability. Scarcity is related to loss aversion, where we’re more afraid of losing something than gaining something of equal value.
Creating a feeling of immediacy through “sales pitches that are “first-come, first-served” or “limited-time only”, compliance professionals take advantage of scarcity to their advantage. The sense of loss aversion is heightened when scarcity occurs through social competition.
To avoid being manipulated, ask yourself if you want something for its intrinsic value or just because it’s rare. Compliance practitioners use various techniques to get us to comply, including free samples, fake social proof, flattery, authority, and fake deadlines. Knowing these tricks can help you resist them.
I’m founder and director of The Digital Agency; a certified Google Partner and Shopify Partner digital marketing agency operating in London and Istanbul. The Digital Agency has a solid track record of delivering high growth in eCommerce, Facebook & Google advertising, social media communication, search engine optimization, eCommerce and website production through 16 years of experience with 140 brands in 500 projects. Visit The Digital Agency here