10 Psychology Tricks Persuasive People Use to Get What They Want
10. The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action
Sometimes the easiest way to get what you want is to simply provide a reason for why you are asking, even if it’s nonsensical. The word “because” is a powerful part of a successful persuasive sentence, particularly when it comes to asking for small favors. This is because people are conditioned to respond to certain patterns in certain ways. When people are asked for a small favor, they often subconsciously default to a script where, “a small favor was asked of me, and a reason was given, so I should comply.” Because people aren’t always mindful when processing the information, the actual reason given is often less important than the fact that a reason was given at all.
To illustrate this principle, we can turn to the study by Harvard University’s Ellen Langer titled, “The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of ‘Placebic’ Information in Interpersonal Interaction”. In this study, adults in line to make copies at a Xerox machine were asked one of three questions. The first, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” was a simple request. The second question, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” was a request with placebic information. The third question, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” was a request with real information. The study then had participants ask the same three questions, but with a request for 20 pages instead of 5.
The researchers found that when a request was small, for 5 pages, people defaulted to the script mentioned above (favor asked, reason given, comply). So even when a bogus reason was given – I have to use the copy machine because I have to make copies – people were still 93 percent likely to comply with the small favor of making five copies. Without any reason being given, people were only 60% likely to comply. However, when the favor was larger and someone asked to cut in line to make 20 copies, people were more mindful of the reason given, and did not comply at nearly the same rates when an irrelevant reason was given.
The moral of the story here is that if you want something small from someone, your chances will increase significantly if you provide a reason for your request, no matter how irrelevant that reason may be.
9. Information Manipulation Theory
Many persuasive people are able to obtain what they want by using deceptive communication practices. Steven McCormack’s Information Manipulation Theory suggests that people hold certain assumptions regarding conversation, and that someone can secretly violate these conversational maxims for the purpose of deceiving his or her listeners.
There are four conversational maxims set forth by McCormack: quantity, which means that information is complete and full; quality, which means that information is truthful and accurate; relation, which means that information is relevant to the conversation; and manner, which means that information is expressed in an easy-to-understand way, with non-verbal cues supporting the tone of the statement.
When someone wants to be deceptive to achieve a desirable outcome for themselves or their cause, they might manipulate the information that they disclose, violating the conversational maxim of quantity. Or people may distort the information that they disclose, violating the maxim of quality. Or people may present the information in a vague or unclear way, violating the maxim of relation. Or, finally, people may present information that is irrelevant to the preceding dialogue, violating the maxim of manner.
By manipulating and exploiting one or more of the assumptions that govern conversational exchanges, people can mislead listeners. An example of the persuasive power of Information Manipulation given in McCormack’s theory is a teenager who convinces their parents to let them to go to a party by saying that an adult will be there. However, the teenager failed to mention that the adult is a friend’s 21-year-old sibling who is supplying alcohol for the party.
Priming is a non-conscious form of human memory that is concerned with the perceptual, semantic or conceptual identification of words and objects through repetition. Priming can be used as a psychological tactic used to subconsciously train a person’s memory. For instance, a stage magician or psychic might say the words “try” and “cycle” several times throughout a show, covertly priming an audience member to later think of the word “tricycle.”
People’s behavior can also be altered through priming. The study “Automaticity of Social Behavior: Direct Effects of Trait Construct and Stereotype Activation on Action” asked groups of students to unscramble different words. One group received words of politeness, one group received words of rudeness, and one group received neutral words. After they unscrambled the words, the students were instructed to go the test administrator’s office down the hall. In each case, the test administrator was found engaged in a conversation when they arrived. The control group of students who were exposed to the neutral words interrupted the test administrator 37 percent of the time. The students who were exposed to the rude words were covertly primed for rudeness, and they interrupted the test administrator 63 percent of the time. The students who were exposed to the polite words were covertly primed to behave politely, and they only interrupted 17 percent of the time.
Priming clearly provides a stimulus that influences future thoughts and actions. Primed ideas tend to be more effective the more recent they are. Once primed, certain thoughts are brought close to the surface of the subconscious, making them more accessible and more relevant than other thoughts. Successful attempts at priming in order to influence someone towards a desired outcome needs to be done subtly. If the person realizes that they are being primed then your efforts will have the adverse effect.
7. Ultimate Terms
Researchers have found that there are certain words which carry power when they are used because of their particular meaning within each culture. There are three general categories of persuasive Ultimate Terms: God terms, Devil terms, and charismatic terms.
God terms are good terms like progress, fact, family values, balanced budget and critical thinking. Devil terms are bad terms like racist, communist, terrorist, fascist, Nazi, gang member, sexual harassment and sweat shop. Charismatic terms are observable terms with a mysterious power, and they often require sacrifice. Charismatic terms include freedom and democracy.
Politicians have been known to use ultimate terms to advance their ideas and policies. For instance, the Pentagon is called the Department of Defense, tax cuts are called tax relief, and vouchers become opportunity scholarships.
Sales people are often known for using certain words that appeal to basic needs. For example, the words “guaranteed” and “proven” evoke safety and the word “exclusive” suggests esteem. Negative words can also be used to scare people into action in the opposite direction. For instance, the word “dangerous” puts our safety at risk, while the word “ridicule” and “run-of-the-mill” put our esteem in question.
To be effective, ultimate terms must be used with a light touch. If ultimate terms are used repeatedly, they will quickly begin to lose their power. This could even lead to the opposite of the desired effect.
The principle of scarcity is based on the fact that if something is believed to be unavailable in the future, it will seem more valuable. The thought of losing out on something is a more powerful motivation than the thought of gaining something of equal value. If people think they can’t have something, then it becomes more attractive.
The scarcity tactic is used in sales all the time. Customers are encouraged to buy an item before there are no more left, and limited numbers are often advertised regardless of whether an actual shortage exists or not. Deadlines work in much the same way. Offers that come along with a tagline of, “Act now before it’s too late” are used to encourage people to buy something before they miss out on the opportunity.
Scarcity has also been shown to come into play in interpersonal relationships. A potential mate may not hold an overwhelming appeal to someone, but once their availability is threatened then they suddenly become more much more desirable and wanted. The scarcity principle also has a strong influence on getting people to change health behaviors. People are much more likely to adopt healthier habits if they are threatened with what they will lose if they don’t change a certain behavior, rather than told what they will gain if they do.
Part of the scarcity principle involves the fact that people don’t want to be denied any freedom that they currently have. As opportunities and items become less available, we lose the freedom to choose those opportunities or items.
5. The Sleeper Effect
The sleeper effectis the increased impact of a persuasive message over time. The more time that passes after someone has been exposed to a message, the more their attitude will be influenced by it. This may seem counter-intuitive, and in fact it only happens under certain conditions. The persuasive message has to be a major one to get our attention and to stay there, and it has to be accompanied by a discounting cue, like a low credibility source or a message disclaimer. This arouses the suspicion of the truth of the message, which suppresses any immediate change or dismisses it as propaganda. However, over time people do tend to be persuaded, because the message starts spreading and it is no longer associated with the untrustworthy source.
In essence, the sleeper effect shows that people are convinced by arguments until they see that the source of the message cannot be trusted because of their vested interests and agendas. However, this discounting cue isn’t typically processed very thoroughly, so over time people forget that they discounted the information. When enough time has passed, all they will remember is the content of the persuasive message.
Think about a time when you heard an outlandish story from a friend who is prone to over-exaggeration. When you hear the story the first time, you may dismiss it as untrue because you don’t trust the source. However, after a few months you may forget who told you the story and only remember the content of the story, therefore believing it to be true.
In terms of persuasion, the sleeper effect is most powerful when the message is discounted after it’s received. For instance, imagine reading a magazine article which suggests a great vacation resort, only to find at the end of the article in small print that it’s actually an advertisement paid for by the resort itself. The information may be discounted up front, but over time the sleeper effect will come into play, and all you will remember is hearing about the pristine beaches and gorgeous accommodations at the resort.
The most persuasive arguments are those that present both sides of an issue and then refute the ‘wrong’ argument. This has been found to be a more successful tactic than simply presenting one side to an argument as if there was no alternative. Researcher Daniel O’Keefe collected the results of 107 different studies which were conducted over 50 years and published his findings in “How to Handle Opposing Arguments in Persuasive Messages: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of One-Side and Two-Sided Messages”. He found that across all types of persuasive messages and all types of audiences, two-sided arguments were more persuasive than their one-sided counterparts.
We’ve all seen politicians use counter-arguments to their advantage, and they are a key part of successful debating as well. It has been shown to be a powerful tactic regardless of if your audience already supports your idea or rejects it before you begin your argument. The most important part of using counter-arguments to your advantage is to refute the opposing view. It doesn’t appear to matter whether counter-arguments are introduced at the beginning or end of an argument or whether they are sprinkled in throughout. As long as they are refuted, they will help you to persuade your audience.
3. The Rule of Authority
The rule of authority posits that when people are asked to do something by someone they view as an authority, most will obey. This is often true even if the order violates their consciences. The famous Milgram experimentinvestigated this theory by asking study participants to help test other people’s ability to learn. Participants were instructed that “learners” in an adjoining room were tasked with memorizing lists, and that the participants’ job was to shock the learners when they made a mistake. The “learners” were actually a knowing party to the experiment and they didn’t actually receive any shocks. The study participants were seated at switches which they believed sent varying levels of shocks to the “learners” who could be viewed through a glass window in an adjoining room. The experimenter, who appeared to be an authority, told the participants to administer increasing levels of shocks as the “learners” cried out in mock pain, eventually pretending to faint. Although the participants grew increasingly nervous and agitated, over two-thirds of them administered the highest level of shocks when the experimenter ordered them to do so.
When someone appears to have authority, special knowledge, impressive credentials, or simply carries an air of confidence, they are typically seen as more credible and therefore have more power over directing the attitudes and behaviors of others. When evaluating authority, people often look for professional titles such as Dr., Professor or President. Clothing is also a signifier, with army uniforms, police officer uniforms, white lab coats and even smart business suits conveying authority. Other symbols of authority include badges, guns, executive letterhead, even expensive watches.
The rule of authority gives people a shortcut to making decisions based on what they perceive to be true based on their assumptions. Because it is impossible to methodically evaluate every element of every situation, people have to rely on shortcuts in order to make decisions based on limited information. Symbols of authority help people to decide who to trust to guide and protect us.
2. The Norm of Reciprocity (Rule of Reciprocity)
The norm of reciprocity involves our social expectation and obligation to return favors done by others. Every single human culture trains their members in this unspoken rule.
Researchers Kunz and Woolcott mailed Christmas cards in a 1976 experiment that illustrated this idea. They chose 578 strangers out of the Chicago telephone directory and sent them Christmas cards in the mail. They received cards in return from 20 percent of the original sample. Some even included family pictures and detailed letters. Even though these people had never heard of Kunz and had no idea who he was, they felt obligated to send him a Christmas card since they received one from him.
Persuasive people can use this social norm to their advantage, by giving something to someone or doing something for someone, in order to obtain something that they want from that person. Think about someone at a beauty counter who gives you a free makeup application. You technically have no commitment to buy anything, but you likely feel an uncomfortable pressure to purchase something. Similarly, a salesperson might use the tactic of offering you a free item or an upgrade if you make a purchase. The item or upgrade may not even be anything you particularly want, but since they seem to be doing you a favor by offering it, you feel obligated to buy.
1. Conversion Theory of Minority Influence
Conversion theory of minority influence maintains that if someone breaks the unanimity of the majority, it captures the majority’s attentions and causes them to reconsider their arguments and reasoning. If the new opinion garnered from the minority is validated, then it could sway the majority. This change in opinion is more likely to stick since this type of validation leads to private acceptance. This is in contrast to their original opinion, which was the result of simply following the majority because it seemed easier or because there was no real alternative.
In order to make your minority opinion most powerful and likely to sway others, it needs to be expressed with consistency and with confidence. It also needs to appear reasonable and unbiased. When trying to implement the conversion theory of minority influence, you need to resist the natural social pressure from the majority. Position yourself as the voice of reason, while steadily subverting your target people and convincing them to join your side.
With the power of persuasion, you can learn how to take control of the circumstances around you. In today’s competitive world, knowing the tips and tricks to getting what you want will help you succeed. Whether you’re dealing with your colleagues, your spouse, your friends or your clients, these psychological tips will help you understand your interactions and use them for your benefit. Try employing some of them today, and you’ll be amazed at how effective they can be. Just remember, always use your powers for good; not evil!