Here’s the second in a series of blogs that discuss Robert B. Cialdini’s 1984 landmark work on persuasion: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Put more directly, how do you get people to do what you want them to. The first post (https://velocitypublicaffairs.com/2019/07/05/persuasion-to-get-you-gotta-give/) deals with the idea of reciprocity; i.e., if you give people something, they’ll be much more likely to give you something in return. Today, we’ll explore the concept of consistency.
Cialdini feels human beings have a deep need to be seen as consistent. That consistency is especially important when it involves something to which we’ve publicly committed, because it’s a commitment on which we’re much more likely to deliver. By following through, people see our behavior as consistent, and, more importantly, we see our behavior as consistent.
Good marketers excel at getting people to “publicly commit.” Have you ever downloaded a “free guide” or a “free whitepaper” from a company’s website? If you have, you’ve established a relationship with that company. Cialdini says this increases the likelihood you’ll eventually see yourself as customer, which allows those marketers to follow up with an offer to buy their products or services. The odds are better you’ll accept their offer, Cialdini says, because doing so aligns your values with your actions (i.e., you maintain consistency).
It’s also important that you feel you have made a free choice. (After all, no one required you to download anything.) If you feel coerced or obligated, you can get yourself off the hook and explain your behavior by saying you were “forced” into it. And, Cialdini continues, when people believe they have made a free choice, they feel personally responsible for their decision and seek to justify it.
So, how to use the idea of consistency to connect to advocacy for your public works or other projects?
The first idea is to begin getting people to make a small commitment – perhaps a signature or a small amount of volunteer time. Ideally, the commitment should be something written or done in public so a person will almost feel guilty if they break a commitment to your effort. And, to hear Cialdini tell it, we’ll change our thinking to connect with our actions before we’ll change our actions to connect with our thinking.
The foundation of an effective way to activate people to take the action you want starts with smaller asks that connect people, build confidence, and increase effectiveness. This approach may take more time to build the support you need, but it creates a greater chance for success and longer-term impact.
In closing, and speaking of persuasion, let me acknowledge the July 2019, passing of Jerry Lawson of the a cappella group The Persuasions. A sometimes quartet/sometimes quintet with fans the likes of Joni Mitchell and Frank Zappa, they influenced contemporary groups like Boyz II Men and Take 6. Not persuaded? Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmqqFBMsKR4.