That Silent Nudge

Have you ever experienced any of the following?

  • You reviewed an email and felt something was off but you couldn’t put your finger on it. Eventually you sent it after rereading it one more time only to notice an error just after hitting send!
  • You left the house and felt something wasn’t right. You mentally reviewed your steps considering the rest of your day but decided to leave the house anyway. Before you know it you realize you forget your phone or wallet!

This happened to me recently as I wrapped up a workshop. I had my laptop bag over one shoulder and several items, including a workbook and handouts, in the opposite hand. Some workshop attendees came up to talk and when we were finished I headed out the door. I had a momentary feeling that something was different but continued on despite the feeling. Later that night I realized I’d left my workbook and handouts on a table because I’d sent them down during that final conversation! Fortunately the hotel had not thrown them away when I called the next morning.

In each case noted above, your subconscious and mine was trying to tell us something but our subconscious doesn’t use words to communicate. It uses feeling, gut instinct and other discernable cues. I told one friend it’s like the look my wife Jane occasionally gives me. I know something is up but I’m not sure what it is even though I’m supposed to. I wish she’d just tell me but most of the time she doesn’t and I’m left to try and figure it out.

The human subconscious is a marvelous thing because it’s helped humans survive. It’s what alerts us to danger before we know what’s actually happening so we can react appropriately. Gavin de Becker does a wonderful job explaining this in his book The Gift of Fear. I highly recommend you picking up this book, especially if you’re a woman, because understanding this might just save your life.

I’ve noted in past posts that experts vary on how much of our behavior is driven by our subconscious but they agree it’s a lot; at least 85% and could be higher than 95%.

The principles of influence I teach on behalf of Robert Cialdini often impact us on the subconscious level. By that I mean, before we fully understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, we make quick decisions. One example has to do with the contrast phenomenon.

In a survey of blog readers many years ago, I posed the following question:

You are at a store considering buying a high-end electronic item for $879. While there you learn you can drive across town and get the same item for $859. Will you make the trip (approx. 30 minutes)?

Only 13% said they would make the drive. However, with another group, when the item they were considering was $79 and they could get it for $59 somewhere else, 49% said they would go to the other store – nearly four times more! It’s highly unlikely anybody was thinking, “Is $20 worth 30 minutes of my time?” Everyone was subconsciously comparing to an arbitrary number and making a decision based on that.

One more example. If you called a friend for a favor, let’s say to move a heavy piece of furniture in your home, they most likely wouldn’t say to themself, “Pat is my friend so I should help.” Instead they would probably say yes if they had the time and strength. In other words they’re not analyzing the friendship but the friendship (the principle of liking) plays heavily into the decision making. In case you wonder consider this; if you asked a stranger they would say no because they don’t know you and would consciously wonder why a stranger would ask something so ridiculous.

In conclusion, understanding the silent nudge of the subconscious is important for a couple of reasons.

First, recognizing that nudge, a nagging feeling, and taking time to consider your next step more thoughtfully can help avoid small errors like the email noted above and bigger errors like forgetting your wallet on the way to the airport.

Second, knowing the power of the subconscious should make you more determined to look for ethical ways to employ the principles of influence because doing so will make it easier for others to say yes to you.

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