Eons ago, human beings learned the value of working together. He who thought “I better get that mastodon before he does!” were not as likely to survive as those who thought “We better get that mastodon before it gets us!” That’s survival of the fittest, and it worked liked crazy.
Almost as quickly, roles got defined between Deciders and Doers, because those who thought “You guys better get that mastodon before it gets us!” really made out. That’s survival of the smartest and it became the basic DNA of business today.
Fortunately for the Doers, there’s an equally powerful set of tribal principles that can be used to influence Deciders to lean in their favor. It’s what “natural born” salespeople do without thinking. The good news is that they are things even unnatural agency types can learn to apply in working with clients and profoundly affect the outcome.
Importantly, we are talking about influence and persuasion, not coercion or manipulation. It’s about understanding the root of common tendencies so you can get people to want to go with your flow, not have to. Let’s break it down for you, starting with the most familiar one.
We’ve all experienced the herd mentality, otherwise known as safety in numbers or follow the crowd. If a lot of people are doing something, it probably makes sense for you, too, even if it doesn’t seem that way. It also feels less risky if it doesn’t work out because you always have the “Hey, everybody was doing it” defense. It’s the basis for good decisions like investing in Apple circa 2003 “Everyone’s seems to really like these iPods” and bad ones like wearing Member’s Only jackets circa 1983.
One way it can be brought to bear is deciding options to present. It’s tough to make a decision when you only have one option or one major support point, no matter how strong those appear. Two is twice as good as one, three is perfect. Anyone feels confident deciding between any three things regardless of expertise or experience. Four is too many and they have to think about it. And when choosing between three, people always veer toward the safer middle option.
Think of this as the “That’s not fair!” principle, otherwise known as you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We are naturally inclined to do whatever someone does for us. Ever get a Christmas present from someone you never imagined getting one from or for, and find yourself telling them about the one you forgot to bring that you’re hoping you can buy at lunch? Join the club. And it works just as well with emotional gifts. If I act reasonable with you, you are programmed to be more reasonable with me.
In business, one manifestation is welcoming objections, conceding points and embracing suggestions. The more occasions you create to model the behavior you want to receive, the better your chances. Whatever you do, it has to come with no obvious strings attached and feel genuine, otherwise it’s simply transactional (this for that) or even worse, manipulative.
This principle deals with the desire to protect yourself, loosely translated as defend your own. If you’ve ever gone on record as believing, agreeing or supporting something, however long ago and no matter if your views have changed, your instinct is to stick up for that position. I’m from Detroit, not exactly something to boast about these days. But you know who that has a lot of juice with? Other people from Detroit. Even if we are not currently enamored of the city, we will defend it to the death as a great place to grow up.
This is the reason for the age old advice to get early head nods, meaning asking an audience to agree with small things early and often so they will go with you in the end. If I agree publicly with your first, second and third points, how could I not agree with your conclusion? Like flips of a coin, my final agreement is not dependent on the prior, but it sure feels like it, especially with other people around because I don’t want to seem wishy washy.
This last one concerns reactions to authority figures and the value of second opinions, especially if they have badge value. All our lives, we’re told to listen to who’s in charge, including parents, teachers, coaches, yes, even bosses. If they’re in charge, they must know something we don’t. As a consultant, I experience it daily as the outside voice. I could say exactly what a company’s managers have said for years, but people listen more to me because I’ve been brought in so I must know something they don’t. “Well, of course I do (usually)…”
Knowing this can affect who you bring into meetings or onto conference calls, when and what they should say. Selected and timed right, they can magnify the power of your words tremendously. And you know who has even more sway with clients? Other clients, using the Prior Commitment principle. Get any client to weigh in on a decision facing another client and watch the magic happen.