One Sunday (October 23, 2016), I was glancing through the Los Angeles Times and came upon an article by Robert Cialdini, a behavioral scientist and author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion published more than thirty years ago.

He has published a new book entitled, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. He suggests that rather than concentrating on the message, we concentrate on the process noting that research over the last decade and a half shows that we have the best chance of persuading people “… by arranging for people to agree with a message before they know what’s in it.” (Id.)  (It reminds me of “priming”.) As Mr. Cialdini explains:

Pre-suasion works by focusing people’s preliminary attention on a selected concept-let’s say softness- which spurs them to overvalue related opportunities that immediately follow. In one study, visitors to an online sofa store were sent to a site that depicted either soft clouds or small coins in the background of its landing page. Those who saw the soft clouds were more likely to prefer soft, comfortable sofas for purchase whereas those who saw the small amounts of money preferred inexpensive models. (When questioned afterward, the visitors refused to believe what they saw pre-suasively-clouds or coins- had influenced them at all.) ( Id. )

 Mr. Cialdini then cites another study:

A subsequent study showed the primitiveness of the pre-suasion mechanism. Subjects became three times more likely to help a researcher who “accidentally” dropped some items if, immediately before, they’d been exposed to images of figures standing together in a friendly pose. If this tripling of helpfulness doesn’t seem remarkable enough, consider that the subject were 18 months old- hardly able to reason or review or reflect. (Id.)

 How does this play out in real life? Mr. Cialdini uses an example from history; 1588 to be exact when the British troops were about to defend against an invasion by sea from Spain at Tilbury. The troops were greatly concerned that their leader, Queen Elizabeth I- a woman- was not up to the task of leading the charge and winning. To allay those fears, she addressed the troops, first acknowledging their fears about her weaknesses (which established her honesty for what she would say next) and then she gave a rousing speech about winning.  In response, the troops cheered and cheered and cheered; they were convinced that their Queen would lead them into battle and win. (Id.)

A more recent example was the negotiation strategy used by then President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in the 1970’s. Before beginning any negotiation, “…he would assign an admirable trait to the opposing side (perhaps Israelis’ “well-known” tradition of fairness or sympathy for the underdog or those in need) that fit with what he wanted. …`Sadat gave his opponents a reputation to live up to’- something they then did remarkably often.” (Id.)

While Mr. Cialdini calls this “pre-suasion”, others may call it “priming” or colloquially, some may even call it “buttering up”. By, any name, it seems to work. So, before beginning any substantive negotiation, use the opportunity of small talk to “pre-suade” (or compliment!)  the other party to be more amenable to the content you are about to deliver. By pointing out a positive attribute of that person or otherwise providing a subtler positive priming message before beginning the actual negotiation (according to Mr. Cialdini ), your “message” will be much better received.

… Just something to think about.


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