Cialdini: Liking

At this point, we are well into Bob Cialdini’s important book “Influence”. Remember the power of reciprocity? Commitment and consistency? Social Proof? Each can be used as a tactic to get other people to do what is requested. And liking is yet another category.

It is so simple that you might be surprised how well it works. We tend to do things for people that we like. So we might not buy tupperware from a salesperson. We may, however, buy that same piece of plastic if we are invited to a tupperware party hosted by a friend.

So we come to a critical question. What makes people likeable?

The first characteristicis physical attractiveness. Research shows that we assign favorable traits to attractive people, including talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence. And we do this without being aware that our judgments are affected by looks. As a result, people who are physically attractive consistently receive preferential treatment from both men and women.

The second is similarity. Among people with average looks, we are more affected by people who look and act more like us. That include people with similar opinions, personality traits, backgrounds, or life style. So, for example, research shows that we are much more likely to help a person who dresses like us. Hippies lend money to other hippies – less so to squares.

The third is to be complimented. Research shows that we tend to like people who say nice things to us, like “I like you”. It does not even matter that we know they stand to gain by saying it. Nor does it matter if pone can tell that the compliment is not true. It is an automatic response. And so the secret of success of a used car dealer was to send out holiday cards to his clients every month that just said “I like you”.

The fourth characteristic relates to familiarity. We like things that we are more familiar with. So voters are more likely to favor a candidate whose name is known.  For this reason, contact can be a trigger to gain liking. And yet, it is not sufficient. American experience with school desegregation shows that mixing races in school does not necessarily improve racial harmony.

The problem is that more contact in a competitive setting may actually reduce harmony. So in a camp, separating boys into two cabins and then fostering competition between cabins produced disharmony between them. But harmony could be re-established if circumstances compelled inter-cabin cooperation, for example, to solve a joint camp problem. The trick is to produce contact AND cooperation. The good cop/bad cop game works because the game accentuates the appearance of cooperation between the good cop and the suspect under interrogation.

The fifth characteristic relates to conditioning and association. It is an old story — we tend to connect the messenger with the message. So TV weathermen are blamed for the bad weather that they report and liked when the report good weather. And we make associations between people (like celebrities) and brands. Men believe that cars pictured next to beautiful women perform better than ones that stand alone. Moreover, we like the messages we receive better over a nice meal (like at a fund raising event). It is indeed, Pavlovian.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this type of association is between sport teams and their fans. The fans build a personal and highly emotional association with the team, even to the point of shouting “We won!” when all they did was to watch the game. And if the team loses you hear “They lost!”. It is basking in reflected glory, and perhaps a symptom of poor self-regard. But we should keep in mind that while one can explain this rationally, it is not a rational behavior pattern — and we are all prone to it.

it may be impossible to block this effect. At the same time, one can be sensitive to the extent to which is affects decisions. You can break the association even if you are vulnerable to the emotion that caused it.

Next up is authority! Stay tuned!


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