Tag Archive for: social proof

Need to Collect a Debt? Persuasion Can Help!

When people think of influence and persuasion they immediately gravitate to sales and leadership. That makes sense because at its core selling is about persuading prospects and clients regarding the merits of your product or service. Leadership conjures up thoughts of influencing people, moving the masses, to forge ahead with goals.

I’ve noticed that rarely do people think about influence in the following contexts:

  • Settling an insurance claim
  • Getting people to adhere to their appointments
  • Working in collections

The reality is, each of those is a persuasive conversation because the influencer is attempting to change someone’s behavior.

U.K. Tax Collections

When Steve Martin, CMCT, head of INFLUENCE AT WORK in the U.K., worked with officials from the U.K. tax office he demonstrated just how powerful a tool persuasion can be when it comes to something as difficult as collecting back taxes.

U.K. residents that don’t pay their taxes on time are sent a standard collection letter in an effort to get any monies owed the government. Usually collection letters use some implied threat of legal recourse to gain compliance. In response to the standard letter 67% of U.K. residents who were behind on tax payments sent in the money they owed. Not bad but the question is: could the do better?

Another group who were delinquent on their taxes received a different letter. This letter incorporated the fact that most citizens paid their taxes on time. The response rate went up 7.5% (67% to 73%) in response to this approach. While that wasn’t a huge jump, it was a very good return for doing nothing more than changing the words on a letter they’d already planned to send.

With a third group the response rate jumped 23.8% (67% to 83%)! That letter let people know that the vast majority of people in their town, people just like them, paid their taxes on time. Scale that increase across an entire county and you’re talking about millions of pounds (British currency) collected each year with no extra effort. Small change, BIG difference! For more details check out The Small Big (Martin, Goldstein, Cialdini).

Ohio Debt Collection

I shared the U.K. findings with a debt collection firm and they were amazed at the results. The firm wanted to see if changes to their collection letters might produce similar result so we started working together.

This particular firm is entrusted with collecting debt (back taxes, liens, etc.) owed to the state of Ohio. The original letters sent to people who owed money relied primarily on coercion: pay or else we will pursue a legal remedy.

We decided to change the standard letters by incorporating a little persuasive psychology. The small changes led to BIG differences for the firm. Below are a few changes in key metrics:

Overall response rate from people who called in or responded by mail jumped 52.5%. Whereas only a quarter (23.5%) of people responded to the original letter, more than a third (35.9%) of people who got the revised letters proactively reached out to the firm. This was significant because making contact is the most difficult part of the collection process.

In response to the new letters, phone calls from debtors increased by 84.6%. Under the old letters only 13.2% of people responded but with the revised letters 24.4% called in. This was especially significant because once the firm has someone on the phone they stand a much better chance of collecting whatever was owed. Even if they were not able to settle the debt in full, quite often they were able to gather enough information to set up a collection timetable.

Finally, the number of people from whom debt was collected increased 89.6%! Using their original letters, the firm only collected debt from one out of every six people (16.9%). However, with the modified letters that incorporated a little influence, one third (32.1%) of people paid off their debt or some portion of it.

When you put dollars to the collections, depending on the size of the firm, it results in tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of additional monies collected. This significant increase is only a result of changing letters. The opportunity to change how debt collectors interact with people can increase the numbers even more.


Don’t fall prey to thinking influence is only for salespeople and business leaders. Any role in an organization where success depends on getting others to do something different can benefit from understanding how to ethically influence people.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.


From Womb to Tomb Each of Us is a Persuader

From womb to tomb, each of us uses the skill of persuasion throughout our lifetime. As soon as babies come into the world they cry because they want to be held, fed, burped or changed. They don’t understand they’re engaging the skill we call persuasion, but they know they have a need and they want it met! Persuading others to act is one big way each of us seeks to get our needs met every day.

What is Persuasion?

Persuasion is more than changing hearts or minds, it’s ultimately about changing behaviors. Aristotle put it best when he said persuasion was, “The art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.”

If someone is already doing what you want then persuasion isn’t necessary. However, if someone isn’t doing what you need them to do then how you communicate might make all the difference between yes and no. But doesn’t this border on manipulation?

Persuasion vs. Manipulation

Persuasion differs from manipulation in that manipulation is one sided. The manipulator doesn’t care about the other person. Manipulators only focus on what’s good for them.

Persuasion on the other hand carefully considers the other person, their wants, needs, desires and goals. Ethical persuaders focus on three very important things.

  1. Win-win. Ethical persuaders look to create mutually beneficial outcomes. I like to say, “Good for you, good for me, then we’re good to go!”
  2. Ethical persuaders tell the truth and they don’t hide the truth. By being truthful to a fault they build trust with everyone they interact with.
  3. Ethical persuaders only use psychology that’s natural to the situation. For example, if scarcity doesn’t exists they don’t falsely create it.

Relationships are the Foundation

It’s a well-established fact that people prefer to say yes to those they know and like. The mistake most people make in relationship building is focusing on getting others to like them. Getting others to like you can be effective and it’s not difficult to do. Two simple ways to make this happen are to focus on what you have in common and pay sincere compliments.

It’s very natural for us to like people we view as similar to us. For example, if you and I find out we grew up in the same hometown, went to the same college or cheer for the same team, you will like me more. Along the same lines; if I pay you a genuine compliment you’ll feel good about me and like me more. Nothing new here.

While there’s certainly benefit to that approach I’ve learned there’s a much better way. Cultivate the following mindset: I want to like the other person. And here’s some great news – the very same things that will make you like me will make me like you. In other words, when I find out we grew up in the same hometown, went to the same college, or cheer for the same team, I will like you more. If I pay you genuine compliments I will see you as a good person and I will like you more.

This is a game changer because when you sense deep down that I truly like you – and I do – you become much more open to whatever I may ask of you. Why? Because deep down we all believe friends to right by friends.

No More Manipulation

Here’s where manipulation is all but removed from the equation – the more I come to like you the more I want what’s best for you. Now my attempts to persuade you come from a place of wanting the best for you and you receive it that way. We have a virtuous cycle that’s good for you and good for me.

The subtle shift from getting others to like you, to becoming a person who likes the people you work with, naturally makes you the kind of person others want to be around and work alongside. In other words, you become the preferred teammate.

Keys to Ethical Persuasion

The following principles are scientifically proven to help you be more persuasive. The science is based on more than 70 years of research from social psychology and more recently behavioral economics. Let’s briefly look at each principle.

Liking. The principle of liking was just described in detail above. Coming to like others will cause them to like you and will make it easier to persuade them because you’ll want what’s in their best interest.

Reciprocity. When you give, people will naturally want to give in return. I help you, you help me and we’re both better off. Remember, because I’ve come to like you, my giving is from a place of goodness, wanting to help you in ways that will be beneficial to you.

Social Proof. The actions of others impact how we think feel and behave. It’s why we’re drawn to “best sellers” and “most popular” opportunities. If others like you prefer something, it’s a good bet you’ll feel the same and be willing to follow their lead.

Authority. We feel better following the lead of experts. The more you establish yourself as an expert or the more you bring credible expertise into your communication the easier it will be for someone to follow your advice.

Consistency. Most people feel better about themselves when their words and deeds align. Telling someone what to do is never as effective as asking because psychologically, once someone responds saying they’ll do something, they’re more like to follow through. That’s because they want to feel good about themselves and look good in your eyes.

Scarcity. It’s natural for us to want things more when we believe they’re rare or going away. But the key is knowing that. By honestly telling someone about an opportunity that might not be available soon, or what they may lose if they don’t follow your advice, they’re more likely to act.

Full Circle

I used the term “virtuous cycle” earlier. Ethical persuaders understand this and take the long view when it comes to working with people. They recognize it starts with relationship. The stronger the relationship the easier everything becomes thereafter.

I often ask people; is it critical to your professional success that you understand how to get more people to say yes more often? The answer there is always a resounding yes! They also recognize the importance yes plays at home. After all, things tend to be more peaceful and happier at home when those around you willingly say yes.

By studying the influence process and psychological triggers that lead to yes you will enjoy more success at the office, happiness at home and be the kind of person others want to work with.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence and persuasion.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling gAmazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 90,000 people around the world!

Don’t Memorize, Internalize. Embrace, Anticipate, Practice!

At a recent sales training event I encouraged attendees; don’t memorize, internalize. These were salespeople and we were talking about how to deal with objections whenever they arise. The key with objections is to embrace them. After all, if you’re in sales then objections are part of the game just like running is part of soccer or jumping is essential in basketball. Nobody would start playing soccer and complain about all the running. Likewise, no one would take up basketball if they didn’t like jumping. Now apply that thought process to sales and dealing with objections.

No surprises here

If you’ve been selling for any length of time you face the same objections over and over. Sure, there are rare case something new is tossed at you but the vast majority of the time there’s no surprise when an objection is lobbed your way.

I recall when I was learning hapkido (Korean version of aikido, think Steven Segal) every offensive attack move I attempted, the black belt I was working with had a counter move that would break my wrist, elbow or arm. No punch I threw at him caught him off guard.

You’re in control

With objections the ball is in your court so to speak because when you know what to expect you’re actually in control. Consider this; if you were playing a competitive sport and had an answer for every move you opponent might make there’s no way you’d lose!

Back to hapkido; because I could not surprise my black belt opponent he was always calm in control. That allowed him to stay focused on what needed to be done to protect himself and subdue me.

You have answers

You can’t control other people but you can control yourself. Not only do you know what’s coming, which allows you to stay in control, you should know exactly how you’re going to respond.

As noted previously, the black belt I was working with had a counter to every move I made. His counters, if fully executed, would have quickly ended the confrontation and because of the damage he could do it was scary stuff.

Practice you moves

There’s nothing worse than dealing with a salesperson or customer service rep who gives pat answers that sound like a bad telemarketer who mindlessly memorized a script. Even worse might be the person who obviously doesn’t care because “they’ve heard it a thousand times before.”

My black belt friend needed more than knowledge of what I would do and how he would respond. He needed to be really good at his response in order to protect himself and end the confrontation. That meant countless hours of practice on his moves.


You may not be in sales but you’re sure to run into objections in your career. Those objections may be to a project you’re proposing, training you believe is needed, budget approval or any number of other initiatives. Knowing this you need to be embrace the reality of objections, anticipate them and practice your responses. The better you get at this the more likely you are to get the approval you need.

To Do This Week

Take time to write down the five most common objections you face. Next, think about how you might incorporate the principles of influence into your responses to make it easier to hear yes. Then begin to practice your responses out loud.

Two principles that are excellent when it comes to dealing with objections are social proof and authority.

  1. The more you are viewed as an expert or invoke expertise (principle of authority) the easier it will be to get beyond the objection.
  2. Tapping into social proof, what many or similar others are doing, is often an indicator that the person or group you’re trying to influence might want to consider doing the same.

Remember, just like my black belt friend, anticipate, practice and respond. Don’t memorize, internalize so your responses become and authentic part of who you are.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence and persuasion.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by almost 90,000 people around the world!

PS That’s a picture of me with our daughter Abigail at Taekwondo.

Peer Pressure – None of Us Fully Escapes It

When you were a kid did your parents ever say, “If everyone decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge would you?” Okay, perhaps they used something other than the famous bridge as an example but you get my point. They were trying to warn you against mindlessly going along with the crowd. Their concern was even greater when the crowd was doing something potentially harmful.

Call it peer pressure, social proof or consensus, but each describes the same thing; humans are pack animals. As such, we are heavily influenced by others; what they’re thinking, feeling and doing. Each impacts what we think, how we feel, and what we do. Sorry, but there’s no getting around it.

This jumped out a me once again when I read the following from Brian Kight, CEO of Focus 3, in his daily email:

First, you and I are not immune to peer pressure. It doesn’t matter your age, experience, or what group you belong to. Believing you’re above peer pressure only blinds you to how much it drives behavior. Group dynamics don’t decrease as we progress in our careers, they increase. In emotions, complexity, and consequences. Second, peer pressure always pulls you in one of two directions: it propels you forward or it pulls you back. It’s never neutral. Keeping it simple and true accelerates your awareness of how social scenarios affect you.

Brian is right (me and him!). As much as we like to see ourselves as individuals, we bend to the crowd more than we realize on many things. Deep inside us is the sense that “everyone can’t be wrong” and “there’s safety in numbers.” Why? If you go back in history things worked out well more often than not when people followed the crowd.

Now let me acknowledge this; great things usually don’t come from going along with everyone else. Great thinking, amazing inventions and social change usually come about when people choose to break from the pack. But, most people aren’t looking to do such monumental things. Our days are full of many mundane tasks and decisions. Couple that with the fact that a deeper, stronger drive survive and you get a sense of why consensus has such a grip on us. Here are a few examples:

  • You disagree with the strategic direction at work but don’t speak up because everyone else seems to be on board.
  • You’re at an event that’s so boring you can hardly wait for it to end. Despite your boredom, when everyone gives a standing ovation you stand and clap too.
  • A contentious social subject comes up (Trump, abortion, diversity, etc.) and, although you disagree with the majority, you don’t say speak up.

In each case you decided to go along to get along. Oh sure, you’ll rationalize your decision but the fact remains; you went along with the crowd. Going along with the crowd is like swimming in the ocean. You don’t realize how much the current pulls down the beach unless you fix your eyes on a stationary point on shore.


Going along with the crowd the majority of the time isn’t bad. In fact, quite often it’s good because it generally works out well. Indeed, over history those who stayed with the crowd were typically the ones who survived, thrived and passed along their genes.

However, you need to be careful when your gut is telling you otherwise. When you were younger it would not have been good to jump off a bridge just because other kids were doing it. As an adult sometimes you need to speak up, break from the crowd or go against the grain to be true to yourself and for your personal well-being.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence. Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical– will be available for pre-sale July 9and live on August 20.

His LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by nearly 70,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.


Why is it so hard to…

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to…do certain things and not do others? It’s a good bet that a lot has to do with psychology and conditioning. Your rational brain might be telling you one thing but something deep inside is prompting you in another direction. For example, why is it so hard to…

…say no to a friend? Imagine for a moment a stranger asks you for your last $10. I’m sure it would be very easy to say no but if a friend asked it would be much tougher to resist their request. That’s because the principle of liking is at work on you. It’s often the case that your willingness, or unwillingness, to do something has more to do with who is asking than what’s being asked. One word of advice; be wary of the person you come to like too quickly, especially if they ask for something shortly after meeting you.

…not say thanks to unwanted actions? Many years ago, my daughter and I were walking through the mall. Shortly after entering we were accosted by someone from a kiosk asking if we wanted to try Dead Sea Salt facial cream. I simply said, “No,” and immediately felt Abigail elbow me as she said, “Dad, it’s ‘no thank you.’” I asked her why I should say thank him when I didn’t appreciate being interrupted and wasn’t thankful for what he was offering? She advised me it’s considered polite to say, “No, thank you.” That social norm comes about because the principle of reciprocity conditions us to give back to those who first give. Even when someone’s actions are unwanted reciprocity typically prompts a conditioned response from us.

…go against the crowd? We all felt peer pressure growing up. Parents worry about kids caving to the pressure of underage drinking, sex, drugs and other behaviors that could be harmful. The pressure to conform never goes away but as we move past the teenage years we call this phenomenon the principle of consensus or social proof. All you have to do is observe an office setting to see how people look around then naturally begin to conform to what they observe. Whether it’s a new initiative at work, dress code, or some cultural norm, people find it hard to go against the crowd because standing out might reflect negatively on them as Robert Cialdini explains in this video from Big Think.

…dismiss expert advice? Your friend tells you to quit smoking and you pay little attention but your doctor tells you and resisting the advice becomes tougher. That’s because the principle of authority is working on your brain. In one study (Expert Advice Shuts Your Brain Down) brain imaging showed critical thinking almost comes to a halt when a perceived expert is giving advice! But, that same advice from someone with no credentials is easy to ignore.

…change your mind? The pressure to be consistent in what you say and do (principle of consistency) is HUGE. One reason that’s so because changing your mind might mean you have to admit you’ve been wrong. If you’ve held a particular view for a long time then it’s even tougher despite the reality that you’re always learning, growing and evolving in your views. One could make the case that changing one’s mind shows openness, flexibility and perhaps enlightenment but that nagging feeling of having been wrong is very difficult to overcome.

…resist some sales pitches? Buyer’s remorse is all too common. This happens when shortly after a purchase people regret their decision and wonder why they bought what they did. The pressure exerted from the principle of scarcity – fear or losing – is often the driver. There’s a fear that if you don’t buy that smart phone, new car, furniture, or something else, you might not get that good a deal again. Yet, in a moment of clear thinking you’d acknowledge sales are a dime a dozen. But here’s the problem – you’re not thinking clearly when you encounter scarcity. The following quote from the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much explains why – “Scarcity captures the mind. Just as the starving subjects had food on their mind, when we experience scarcity of any kind, we become absorbed by it. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.”

For the most part our psychology and conditioning is good because both are meant to help you survive and thrive in a constantly changing environment. But, your subconscious can’t tell when the situation is life or death so it responds just as it did tens of thousands of years ago and that’s why it is so hard to…do many things.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 145,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Do You Care What Others Think?

I recently watched an interview with Tony Robbins and he was asked how to deal with the fear of failure. He said we all have fears and that everybody – presidents, multi-millionaires, professional athletes – has a place where they get fearful. He went on to say, “Train yourself to say, ‘I can be fearful and I can do it anyway.’” He encouraged listeners to use the energy that comes with fear to overcome the thing they fear.

Tony’s words resonated with me because quite often it’s not fear of failure that controls us, it’s fear of what others think of us that holds us back. Feeling pressured to conform to the expectations of others is called peer pressure when we’re young.

When we get older we like to think we’re above peer pressure but we still care greatly what others think about us. We may not feel the peer pressure that comes with youth (underage drinking, drugs, sex) but we do care what our peers (coworkers, teammates, club members, fans) think of us. In social psychology it’s called consensus or social proof. This principle of influence alerts us to the truth that much of our behavior is dictated by what others are doing or thinking.

Don’t believe me? Let’s consider Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was the greatest player of his era and is considered by many as the greatest basketball player ever. A few his records include:

  • Most points in a season: 4,029 (almost a thousand more than Michael Jordan’s best season)
  • Highest season average: 50.4 pts./game (Jordan’s best year was 37.1)
  • Most points in a game: 100
  • Most games scoring 50 or more points: 118

Something Chamberlain was terrible at compared to other NBA players was free throw shooting. His career average was just over 51%. Early in his career he was so bad he switched to the two-handed underhand method when he was at the foul line. When I was a kid we called it the “granny shot.” With the change Wilt’s free throw shooting improved! And then he switched back! Why?

According to best selling Malcolm Gladwell, Wilt switched back because of peer pressure. More specifically, he thought he looked like a sissy shooting underhanded from the free throw line. Imagine that, the greatest player of his time, perhaps all time, made a choice that hurt his game and team because of the fear of how it made him look!

To put this in perspective, Wilt Chamberlain was the LeBron James of his day. He stood 7’1 tall, weighed 275 lbs., and moved like a gazelle. His athletic prowess was decades ahead of his time. He bragged near the end of his life that he’d slept with over 20,000 women. If there was anyone who was supremely self-confident, it was Wilt Chamberlain. And still he caved to what people thought of him in one area of life that mattered a lot.

Perhaps if Wilt had met Tony Robbins he would have converted his fear into resolve which may have extended some of his records, helped his team win more games, and perhaps led to another championship or two.

Do you care what others think about you? Of course you do. Have you learned to stay true to what is right and best for you? If not, take the advice of Tony Robbins and acknowledge your fear then harness the energy that comes with fear and beat it!

Social Proof in Social Media


Not long ago, as I scanned through my social
media sites one morning, I came across a blog post where someone shared six
reasons why they decided to give up alcohol. Curiosity got the best of me so I
clicked on the link to find out why the author made that choice.
All of his reasons were valid and probably the
best choice for him. What caught my attention more than his reasons were the comments
that ensued. At the time I read the post, all 15 comments were from people who
had also given up alcohol. There wasn’t one person who took the opposing view.
I decided to post a comment about why I choose
to drink alcohol. To every point he shared I could make the opposite case as
long as the drinking was in moderation. Despite the fact that according to a 2012
Gallup Poll 64% of Americans
drink alcohol on occasion, I felt odd posting my comment because I was
definitely in the minority.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that despite
the fact that two out of three Americans drink, all the readers said they
didn’t drink. As I thought about it two reasons came to mind.
The first reason was social proof (aka
consensus or peer pressure). This principle of influence tells us the more
people do something the more inclined others are to join in. In other words, we
get our cues for socially acceptable behavior by looking at how others are
behaving in the same situation.
This was a classic case of social proof in
action because the more people posted about their experience, the more others
felt free to do the same thing.  It’s not
just that other people posted that made the difference, it was that all the
posts were similar. You see, when we notice the behavior of people we view as
similar to us that magnifies the feeling that we should behave in the same way.
For example, if a teen sees a large group of
people doing something do you think they’re more inclined to follow suit if
that large group consists of other teenagers or adults? Teenagers, of course.
Another reason the comments gained traction
was due to liking. We tend to like those we see as similar to ourselves in some
way so readers seeing the author had a similar stance on alcohol made them like
him more and, therefore, made it easier for them to post.
Social media is amazing for so many reasons. At
my age I can easily recall the days before mobile phones, the Internet and
social media. Soon younger people won’t have any recollection of those days and
therefore might not marvel at the technology the way some of us do.
However, despite all the good social media can
do, sometimes it doesn’t change human behavior much. Prior to social media, and
still today, I bet you hang around people who are similar to you. Take politics
for example. My guess is the vast majority of your friends hold essentially the
same political views as you do. Being similar generally makes for less
contentious conversations and better times for the majority of people.
That same trigger applies to those with whom
we connect on social media, the blogs we read, the news stations we watch, and
so on. There’s nothing wrong with this but the more time goes by the more
entrenched we become in our viewpoints. Knowing our point of view isn’t always
correct, isn’t it worth it to stretch ourselves some?
Here’s my advice – make it a point to get
together on occasion with people who are different than you. If you watch Fox
News take a look at CNN sometimes, and if you’re a CNN person, watch Fox News.
Believe me, it won’t kill you. Follow some blogs or people you know who hold
different opinions than you do, if for no other reason than to try to
understand their perspective. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Why 1 in 3 Americans Might be Cheating on their Taxes

This is the second time in recent months I’ve found myself riding the coattails of Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality and most recently, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.

With the approach of April 17, the last day to file taxes  in the United States, Ariely wrote a blog post on Taxes and Cheating. There’s an old saying from Ben Franklin, “There are only two certainties in life, death and taxes,” and apparently people would like to “cheat” both.
Cheating on taxes was in the headlines several years ago because Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary for the United States, was questioned by Congress for failing to pay about $40,000 in taxes while he worked for the International Monetary Fund. On the surface it’s easy to conclude if people see someone cheating on their taxes they’re more likely to do so as well but is that supported by hard evidence? This question prompted Ariely and colleagues to conduct a little experiment to see if more people would cheat when they saw others cheating.
I’ll leave to you to read Ariely’s blog post on the subject if you want details on the experiment but for our purposes I’ll simply note the results – people cheated more when they saw others cheat. And, there was more likelihood of cheating when the cheaters were similar in some way (i.e., went to the same college) to those who observed them cheating.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, Ariely’s conclusion should not surprise you because it’s simply an application of Robert Cialdini’s principle of consensus, otherwise known as social proof or peer pressure. This principle of influence tells us we are influenced by the actions of others. The more people that are involved, the more we are influenced or the more similar we see those others to ourselves, the more we are influenced by their behavior.
For example, kids will be influenced to smoke when they see other people smoke, such as their parents. However, when teens have two or three friends who smoke, the odds that they’ll take up the bad habit are astronomically higher than the example set by parents. Why? Because they take their cues on how to act far more from their peers because they want to fit into that social group. Thus we get the term “peer pressure.”
Here’s another experiment to convince you. Trick-or-treaters in Seattle were observed on Halloween. When a single child came up to the door, he or she was told to only take one piece of candy; then the parent walked away. The child now has a dilemma; he knows what to do but also knows he could get away with taking more than one piece and no one will be the wiser. Only 7.5% broke the parent’s rule and took more than one piece of candy. Not bad.
It gets interesting when the kids came to the door in groups. With the same set of instructions, more than 20% of kids took extra candy! Why did the number almost triple? Simple; when that small percentage of kids who would take extra even if alone were observed by their friends, the friends decided they too should get more candy. This is a classic example of peer pressure that parents are always warning kids about.
It’s no coincidence that I posted this the day before Americans are supposed to have their taxes filed and paid this year. In 2001 it was estimated 30%-40% of Americans cheated on their taxes shortchanging the government about $345 billion and more recent estimates are still in that range! With record deficits we need every penny to pay down our debt but how can the government expect the average citizen to be honest if the person running the U.S. Treasury is either dishonest or too inept to understand the tax code? You and I can’t solve that one but at least we can be more cognizant of consensus in both how to ethically use it, and avoid its potential negative impact on us.
This wasn’t as taxing to write as you might think.
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Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear

Influencers from Around the World – Anti-Social Proof

This month’s Influencers from Around the World post is from Yago De Marta. If you’ve followed along in this series then you know Yago hails from Spain and travels quite often to Latin America. He is a public speaking coach and media trainer with much of his work centering on politicians and businessmen. You can connect with Yago on Facebook and LinkedIn.Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
Anti-Social ProofEvery single day we see examples of the power of influence of social proof. As we are surrounded by people it is logical to think social proof is the principle of influence that occurs more often, widely and systematically in society. We strive to dress differently and end up dressing just like everyone else. We try to be independent and then just listen to the same music that millions of others do. We look for reasons to justify our support for our football team or our political party, but in the end, in all these activities lies the power of social proof in a persistent and powerful way.No matter how high we build the buildings; no matter how beautiful our musical compositions are and no matter if one day we are able to unravel the mysteries of the atom we are animals. Remember that – we are animals. So we learn something while we watch a group of monkeys or the organization of ants. In this sense it is worth noting the work of a Mexican that has been going on for more than ten years in California. There Cesar Millan rehabilitates dogs with problems. To look beyond their training sessions is a lesson of the continued use of Reciprocity, Consistency, Liking, Scarcity, and Authority. But what catches my attention most is the therapeutic use of Social Proof.
All of this reminds me of the examples shown in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence Science and Practice about the process of overcoming phobias. In the case of Cesar Millan, he uses the pack (the group) to rehabilitate dogs. It’s curious to see it especially with the more contentious dogs. Cesar introduces a dog to the pack and the new dog gradually learns the correct behavior with the strength of the group. The process is more than observation and learning. The process is more like entering into a large wave that pushes you and your attempts to resist beyond.We know from Millan’s pack example that social proof is powerful, but what is its limit? If we define a perfect environment to implement this principle it would not be unusual to choose the following:

– Number: The number of people determines the power of influence.- Time: The more exposure the greater the influence of the group.- Context: When the group is joined by the historical time and perfect place the greater the influence.- Authority: When group has an Authority reference the influence is increased.

Let’s shift gears now and look at probably the most important example of “Anti-Social Proof” in history. This is a tribute to all who have ever been able to resist and get out of the wave. These are the people who write our history!August Landmesser was a worker in Blohm und Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany. In 1931 he had joined the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) hoping to get a job through their membership of the party. In 1938 he was taken prisoner by the Gestapo, who condemned him for “Rassenschande.” Article 2 of the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor. That article prohibits the extra-marital sexual relations between Jews and Germans. In 1935, his request for marriage to a woman was rejected due to the Jewish origin of the future wife of August. After several trials, Landmesser was finally sentenced to two and half years of hard labor in the concentration camp Börgermoor. August Landmesser became known in history because of a photograph in which he is seen with his arms crossed. It was at the christening of the boat (now a school) of the German navy Horst Wessel in 1936. That day, the Fuehrer Adolf Hitler was present at Hamburg, when August refused to greet him as the thousands of comrades who worked in the shipyards did.
In early 1941 August was forced to work in factory that produced cars for the army. After that he was forced to join the I Battalion “999.” From the end of that year forward there was never any news about him. Maybe he died in one of the battles in which the battalion participated.The lesson we get is this: Maybe we are surrounded by thousands of people; maybe we are supposed to act like the rest; maybe we are inside the perfect wave (the perfect backdrop) but we always have the ability to choose our behavior, we always have the last autonomous capacity to decide and break against the wave instead of riding along with it.August took his decision at the time of history where Social Proof and Authority were not known as Principles of Influence. They were the law and he could find the force among the thousands of people around him.
However, it is worth reflecting on the importance of the number of people. With so many people around, he felt protected as it was difficult to notice him. That is, it is assumed that if there had been a dozen or so people around him he would have raised his harm. If you are interested in learning more about this story visit these sites:http://www.fasena.de/courage/english/5a.htm
http://www.freiburger-rundbrief.de/de/?item=545 Yago

One Small Step for a Supervisor, One Giant Leap for the Company

Many of you reading this have probably heard Neil Armstrong’s famous words when he stepped on the moon, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Several weeks ago at work I saw one small step for a supervisor and possibly one giant leap for our company.

If you’re in a position of leadership then you know you have to rely on others to accomplish your objectives. Increasingly we have to rely on others for their expertise because there’s simply too much to know and understand as man’s collective intelligence increases exponentially.

Quite often the seemingly little things are what end up making the difference. My boss likes to say, “Most companies don’t make million dollar mistakes, they make a million one dollar mistakes.” Not printing on both sides of the paper, not making the choice to email files rather than printing them, and wasting small amounts of money here and there can add up to millions of dollars over the long haul. When it comes to influence, small changes can make big differences too.Several weeks ago a coworker named Jim emailed a number of people asking us to make a technical change to some websites we were responsible for. For various reasons there was a delay getting this taken care of immediately so I knew Jim was anxious to wrap it up when he contacted us a second time. When I got around to doing my part, I hit Reply All and emailed back, “Done. That was easy.” I know many of you detest people who hit Reply All but allow me to explain why I did this.

Jim’s a good guy who is as nice as they come and always helpful to me. Despite his good qualities I know when an IT guy asks non-IT folks to do something the non-IT people tend to drag their feet. Usually they do so because what they’re being asked to do is not a high priority for them and they might be unsure about exactly what to do. I hit the Reply All button to help Jim.

Jim replied directly to me to say thanks. I called him and asked if everyone had done their part and he said no, there was still one person he was waiting on. He said the email was probably buried in Joe’s inbox. I told Jim I had replied to everyone so he could take advantage of consensus, the principle of influence that tells us people look to many others, or similar others, when deciding what to do. This principle is sometimes called social proof. When talking to our kids we call it peer pressure and for students in college it might be known as beer pressure on the weekends.

You see, I had a hunch if someone who’d not done their part saw most others had completed their work they’d feel the pull of the group and do so as well. My advice to Jim was to reply back to my email, including all of us, to say thanks to all those who had done their part. He took the advice and here’s what he wrote:
“Thanks again! I have heard from everyone but Joe. Joe, do you know when you can complete this update? I would like to wrap up this project by the end of the day.” Within seven minutes Joe replied to let us all know he could be numbered among those who’d completed the task! This may not be a big deal to you but it sure was for Jim because that’s one more item he can put to bed allowing him to move on to the next task. And I bet if it was you, you’d be pretty happy too.

Will this be the difference between growth or no growth for my company? Nope. The
difference between profit or unprofitability? Nope. But, imagine every supervisor and manager taking this subtle approach every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. That’s a lot of days cut off of projects; and more projects completed giving time for new initiatives to begin.

And this might be the best news for you business owners or those in charge of budgets – it cost nothing! All this took was an understanding of the principles of influence, eyes open to opportunities (they’re everywhere!) and a little creative application to a very routine way of communicating.

So here’s my challenge for readers this week; look at what you do and pause for just a moment to consider how you might ethically employ the power of the crowd, consensus, to move people to do what needs to be done. A few days here, a few days there, and it’s one more project off your list for the week which could add up to good things for you and your company. Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.