Recently, the renowned social influence scholar Robert Cialdini sat down for a chat with Matt Abrahams for his Think Fast, Talk Smart podcast. Cialdini recapped a few major findings from his research on persuasion. As he shared a few experimental findings, Cialdini emphasized how we can be more persuasive if we convince others that we are "one of them." Here's one example:
There was a study done on a university campus, researchers took a young woman who was about college age, dressed like a college student, asked her to set up a table for the United Way on a heavily trafficked area of campus and request people who were walking by to donate to the United Way. And because she looked similar to them she was getting some contributions. But if she added one sentence to her request she got four and a half times as many contributions. So what was the sentence, it was I’m a student here too, I’m one of you.
Cialdini went on to offer another example. In this case, the "persuader" did not meet others in person. Instead, people were persuaded simply becaused they were informed that others "like them" had acted in a certain way. Here's an excerpt from the podcast in which Cialdini described an experiment at a hotel:
We had the cooperation of the managers and we went into hotel rooms and randomly assigned various kinds of cards that were the same except for the recommendation, please do this for, right, and the environment was one, please do this for future generations was another. But the one that made the most difference was “the majority of guests who stay in this hotel have reused their towels,” and that produced a significant increase in the willingness of people to reuse their towels.
But even more interesting we got a more significant effect if we said not just the majority of visitors to our hotel have reused their towels, the majority of visitors who’ve stayed in this room have reused their towels. We got significantly more now because the principle we’re talking about is the principle of social proof, that if a lot of other people are doing something it validates the behavior, it makes it more correct. But if those people are comparable to us, staying in the same room now that’s not unity, that’s just similarity here, they’re comparable they’re like us. Well, that makes their behavior even more diagnostic of what we should do.
For more of Cialdini's terrific work on persuasion, I highly recommend his groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
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