You don’t need to be the CEO to get people to listen to you.
Psychological research suggests there are plenty of ways to get people to do what you want — without them even realizing you’ve persuaded them.
We’ve rounded up 11 science-backed strategies for getting people to like you, to buy stuff, and to give you what you’re after.
All of them will leave you feeling more powerful.
1. Use a “decoy” option to get people to buy your product
In his TED Talk, behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains the “decoy effect” using an old Economist advertisement as an example.
The ad featured three subscription levels: $59 for online only, $159 for print only, and $159 for online and print. Ariely figured out that the option to pay $159 for print only exists so that it makes the option to pay $159 for online and print look more enticing than it would if it was just paired with the $59 option.
In other words, if you’re having trouble selling the more expensive of two products, consider adding a third option whose only function is to make the “expensive” product look more enticing.
2. Tweak the environment to get people to act less selfish
“Priming” is a powerful psychological phenomenon in which one stimulus produces a particular response to another stimulus, often unconsciously.
One study, cited in the book “You Are Not So Smart,” found that participants playing the ultimatum game opted to keep more money for themselves when they were seated in a room with a briefcase, a leather portfolio, and a fountain pen than when they sat in a room with neutral items. Even though none of the participants were aware of what had happened, the business-related objects may have elicited competitiveness.
This tactic could potentially work when you’re bargaining with someone — instead of meeting in a conference room, consider convening in a coffee shop so your partner is less inclined toward aggression.
3. Help advance someone’s goals to get them to do you a favor
Psychologist Robert Cialdini says one way to influence people is to invoke the reciprocity norm. Basically, you help someone with something they need so they feel obliged to return the favor.
And when you’re thanked for helping out, Cialdini advises saying something like, “Of course, it’s what partners do for each other,” instead of “no problem,” so they feel like they’re expected to do the same for you.
4. Mimic people’s body language to get them to like you
The next time you’re trying to impress a hiring manager or the object of your affection, try subtly mimicking the way they’re sitting and speaking — they’ll probably like you more.
Scientists call it the “chameleon effect”: We tend to like conversation partners that mimic our postures, mannerisms, and facial expressions.
The strangest part of this phenomenon is that it happens largely unconsciously — most participants in the “chameleon effect” study weren’t even aware that they were being copied.
5. Speak quickly to get an argument opponent to agree with you
How you communicate your ideas can be just as important as the substance of your argument. Research suggests that when someone disagrees with you, you should speak faster so they have less time to process what you’re saying.
On the contrary, when you’re delivering an argument that your audience agrees with, it helps to speak more slowly, so they have time to evaluate the message.
6. Confuse people to get them to comply with your request
The “disrupt-then-reframe” technique is a sneaky way to get people to cooperate.
One study found that when experimenters went door-to-door selling note cards for charity, DTR helped them make twice as much money as when they simply told people they were selling eight cards for $3. In the DTR scenario, they told people it was 300 pennies for eight cards, “which is a bargain.”
Researchers say that DTR works because it disrupts routine thought processes. While trying to figure out how many dollars 300 pennies comes out to, people are distracted, and so they just accept the idea that the price is a deal.
7. Ask people for favors when they’re tired to get them to cooperate
An alert mind may express some doubt when approached with a request. Yet someone who’s tired or distracted will likely be less critical, and will simply accept what you say as true.
So if you’re planning to ask a coworker to help out with a project that will supposedly only take an hour, it’s best to ask at the end of a workday. That way, they’ll be drained from the day’s tasks and won’t have the mental energy to realize that the project will probably take up more of their time.
8. Display an image of eyes to get people to behave ethically
In one study, people were more likely to clean up after themselves in a cafeteria when they saw an image of eyes than when they saw an image of flowers. The study authors say that eyes typically indicate social scrutiny.
Whether you’re trying to prevent littering or encourage people to return the books they borrow from the office library, it helps to give people the impression that they’re being watched.
9. Use nouns instead of verbs to get people to change their behavior
In one study, people were asked two versions of the same question: “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?” and “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” Results showed that participants in the “voter” condition were more likely to cast their ballots the next day.
That’s likely because people are driven by the need to belong, and using a noun reinforces their identity as a member of a specific group.
10. Scare people to get them to give you what you need
Research suggests that people who experience anxiety and then a sense of relief usually respond positively to requests afterward. For example, people who heard an invisible policeman’s whistle while crossing the street were more likely to agree to complete a questionnaire than people who didn’t hear anything.
That’s possibly because their cognitive resources were occupied thinking about the potential danger they encountered, so they had fewer resources left to think about the request that was just posed.
11. Focus on what your bargaining partner is gaining to get them to agree to your offer
While negotiating, research suggests you should emphasize to your partner what they’re about to gain as opposed to what they’re losing. For example, if you’re trying to sell a car, you should say, “I’ll give you my car for $1,000,” instead of, “I want $1,000 for the car.”
That way, you’ll persuade your partner to see things from a different perspective, and they’ll probably be more likely to concede.
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