Ancient Survival and Modern Day Complexities

The more I teach others about persuasion, the more clearly I see the principles of influence as a survival tool. Not only did they help our ancestors live day to day, but they also help us deal with the complexities of life in this information-overloaded society in which we live.

Let’s consider the principles in relation to our ancestors.

Liking – One way to engage liking is through similarity. In ancient times someone who looked like you was probably friendly whereas someone who looked different might be an enemy. It became easier to trust those with whom you could quickly tell you had something in common.

Reciprocity – If someone helped you it would be wise to help him or her when the opportunity presented itself because you never knew when you might need his or her help again.

Consensus – There’s safety in numbers so it was probably a good survival bet to go along with the crowd instead of opposing it. If everyone was in favor of some action your optimal choice was to go along with the group or you’d find yourself ostracized.

Authority – We place a lot of confidence in those with superior wisdom and knowledge. It paid to go along with the leader’s direction because opposition could end your life in a multitude of ways. Consistency – To do what you promised would gain you favor most of the time. In turn you learned to rely on those with a track record of coming through as expected whether it was on the farm or on the battlefield.

Scarcity – When good opportunities, like food and drink, came along it was a wise choice to take advantage of the opportunity because you never knew if such an opportunity would come around again.

In the modern world we may not have life and death decisions very often but the principles help us keep our sanity. In my presentations I like to share a quote from William C. Taylor’s article Permission Marketing, which was written for the magazine Fast Company.

“This year, the average consumer will see or hear one million marketing messages – that’s almost 3,000 per day.”

Can anyone possibly take in 3,000 marketing messages every day, sort through them all, weigh the pros and cons and make the best rational decision? Of source not! You’d need a supercomputer to do that. But here’s a scary thought – Taylor’s quote is more than 25 years old! A more recent article on the New York Times, Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad, puts the number of daily marketing messages we’re exposed to closer to 5,000!

To help us deal with the complexities of modern life we use the principles of influence as mental shortcuts. They help us wade through all the noise and when we hear something that resonates with us quite often that’s all we need to make a quick, satisfactory decision.

Liking – A friend tells you the company they used to put in their new kitchen floor and after a few questions you like what you hear so you decide to call the company for a quote. That saves a lot of time because you don’t have to do a lot of research.

Reciprocity – You do something that’s helpful, something another person truly appreciates. You sense they appreciate you and believe you want the best for them. It’s only natural for him or her to say, “Yes” if you need their help in return. Now you’re building relationship.

Consensus – If everyone is doing it then it must be worth considering. After all, quite often the wisdom of the crowd is better than a few smart people. Therefore, best-selling items can usually be relied on over new products or services.

Authority – With the crush of modern life it’s easier to turn to accountants for our taxes, lawyers for legal questions and doctors for our health. We find it easier to pay these people for their expertise because it gives us time to focus on things we’re good at and things that are more important to us.

Consistency – As society becomes more inter-dependent we rely on each other. A big part of the reliability is banking on someone doing what they said they would. We may be more pleased with a “steady Eddie” worker over the person who sometimes does great work and other times does poor work or misses deadlines.

Scarcity – “Sale ends Sunday” is a classic. We don’t want to lose out on the possibility of a great deal so we get off the couch and get to the store before the end of the weekend. Much of the time this is an open door for us to get better deals.

So there you have a comparison of the principles of influence in ancient versus modern-day survival. They don’t explain all of human behavior but if you pay attention you’ll see they do explain an awful lot of why people do what they do. Look for ways to tap into them ethically and correctly and you’re sure to be a more effective persuader.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
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