How to Streamline Influence to Persuade the Un-Persuadable
By: Gilan Gork, Mentalist
It is clearly the case that lots of people want to influence and persuade you every day. When you consider all the messages you deal with from TV, radio, websites, billboards, email, texts, telemarketers, customers, colleagues, your shareholders, appeals for charitable donations and so on, it’s amazing that you make it through the day without screaming for it all to stop.
A given percentage of all these messages are from people and organisations that want to persuade you to suit their own ends. Sometimes they have good intentions, sometimes not; sometimes their persuasive techniques are rather open, sometimes rather subtle. Nobody likes to think of themselves as a puppet, pulled by the strings of a clever advertising campaign or a calculated political appeal to your feelings. However, defending yourself from all of these many and various forms of persuasion is not easy.
Just as an accomplished screenwriter could watch any movie and predict the plot, accomplished marketers can usually grasp the nuts and bolts of any campaign. When I was invited to collaborate with the brilliant Stream Africa tech director, Dale Imerman, we wondered if we could influence the entire group of Stream Africa delegates — without them twigging on to what we were doing — using just a Facebook messenger bot and my influence skills. Would these guests — some of the most skilled architects of influence in their industries — detect and resist my powers of persuasion, or would I successfully infiltrate their minds with covert psychology? The results unveil extraordinary principles of influence that are simple to implement, but hardly ever used.
In one experiment we sent delegates a Facebook message in which I asked each person to complete the following words:
W _ _ S and S _ _ P
I was able to influence half the group to choose positive words (like WISH and SOUP or SKIP), whereas I could get the other half to predictably think of negative words (like WASH and SOAP or STOP). You might be wondering how?
In another experiment I requested delegates to estimate the price of an unknown bottle of whiskey. How was I able to control and predict which third of the group would estimate a low price, which third would estimate a mid-range price, and which third would assign a high price?
You might be wondering if some of the discussions or content in other activities during the (un)conference were used to sway people’s answers. While I have previously conducted experiments of that nature and seen much success, we wanted to keep these particular experiments within the framework of simple texts sent by the messenger bot.
Could it be that we programmed the bot to ask the groups different types of questions, eliciting different information? While we did program the bot to split the delegates in half so we could apply influence differently to each group, we did ask everyone the exact same questions in exactly the same way.
So, we wanted to influence delegates without their realising it, in a way that was limited to a few brief questions sent to their phones, and where we ask every person the same set of questions.
The secret to the influence was not around the questions themselves. Rather, it was based on what happened directly before we asked the questions. Imagine three buckets on a stage. One is filled with freezing water, another with hot water and the third with room-temperature water. Two people are on stage, one has their hand in the cold water and other has their hand in the hot water. If both people had to place their hands into the room-temperature water, do you think they would have two different experiences? Of course. The same is true for any influence attempt. Most people put all their energy in crafting the ‘perfect’ message, but neglect what happens directly before delivering that message. Take control of what happens first, and you can almost predict what will occur next.
In our first experiment with the incomplete words we used the principle of priming. As well as physical actions, priming can also affect emotions. The work of Freud and Jung provided us with many insights into the role of symbols and metaphors in unconscious associations. While some of their work may now be open to question, or at least refinement, there is no doubt that priming can affect feelings and perception, and this has been proven scientifically.
Just before we asked guests to complete the words W _ _ S and S _ _ P, some people were primed by first asking them to ‘Imagine vividly in your mind a moment in your life that was playful, fun or inspiring’. In this group 71% of people suggested words like ‘Wish’ and ‘Soup’. The others were primed by first asking them to think of anything they had ever done that they were ashamed of, or that they knew they shouldn’t have done. Of this group 79% of them thought of words like ‘Wash’ and ‘Soap’.
Psychologists refer to this as the Lady Macbeth effect (after the Shakespearean character whose guilt causes her to walk in her sleep and try to cleanse imaginary bloodstains from her hands). The ‘cleansing’ we choose can even show what type of shameful or bad thoughts we are thinking. In a different study, volunteers were asked to lie to a research assistant either over the phone or by email. The volunteers were then asked to rate the desirability of certain products. Those who lied by email were drawn towards soap while those who lied over the phone preferred mouthwash.
In our second experiment with the whiskey price estimation we utilised the influence principle of anchoring. Anchoring is a distortion of your ability to estimate values. It works by simply supplying numbers and values that influence your estimation, even though you don’t realise it.
We first asked everyone to submit the last two digits of their cell phone number. Following that, in a seemingly unrelated question, we displayed glass whiskey decanter and prompted them to ‘Use your gut instinct to guess how much a bottle of this whiskey might cost?’. Would something as arbitrary as the value of their 2-digit number influence the price they would assign to the whiskey? The answer is a resounding yes!
See the images below:
It is clearly the case that people are predictably irrational. This is especially true when you begin managing what people experience directly before your ‘influence attempt’. Influence is a fascinating subject, and one that has obvious links to countless different fields: from advertising and marketing to business negotiations, from the art of leadership to the even more delicate art of making sure that a first date isn’t also a last one. Applying these principles is like using a surgeon’s knife — a tool that can be used for good or for evil — depending on the intensions and moral fibre of the person using the tool. So use wisely, and remember, with great power comes great responsibility.
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About the author:
Gilan Gork is a renowned mentalist, speaker and best-selling author who has presented to audiences in over 20 countries. His astonishing mentalist feats have been written about and extensively broadcast by leading media platforms. Gilan and his team at The Influence Institute are passionate about empowering you with the influence ability to get the buy-in, agreement or support your ideas deserve. Companies hire Gilan to help their teams become more influential and effective the fields of leadership, sales, marketing and innovation. Learn more about Gilan here: www.gilangork.com