Psychologists say there are plenty of tricks we can use to get people to do bend to our will, without them realising what incredible mind tricks we are playing on them.
Here are a few ‘Derren Brown-type’ skills you can place into your armoury, whether you want people to buy stuff from you, or just to change their behaviour.
Utilise a ‘decoy’ to get people to buy
This is something that Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist (???) spoke about at TED. He explained it using an old Economist advert as an example.
Their ad had three levels of subscription; $59 for online only, $159 for print only and $159 for print and online. He said the $159 print only offer was featured in order to make the combination $159 subscription stand out and seem more attractive than if it were compared only to the $59 option.
Meaning: if you believe you may have trouble selling the more expensive of two offers, perhaps think about adding a third, which serves to make the ‘expensive’ one look more attractive.
Alter the environment to get people to act less selfishly
‘Priming’ is a psychological phenomenon, in which one stimulus effects a particular response to another stimulus, usually unconsciously.
One study, cited in the book ‘You Are Not So Smart’, found that participants playing the ultimatum game opted to keep more money for themselves when they were seated in a room with a briefcase, a leather diary and a fountain pen, than when they sat in a room with neutral items. Even though none of the participants was aware of what had happened, the business-related objects seemed to elicit competitiveness.
This tactic could work when you’re bargaining with someone — instead of meeting in a conference room, consider a coffee shop instead, so your partner is less inclined toward being combative. Hence the effectiveness of the business lunch.
Mimic people’s body language to get them to like you
If you are trying to impress a hiring manager, or the object of your affection, try subtly mimicking the way they sit and speak; the idea is that thet will consequently like you more.
Scientists call this ‘chameleon effect’: We tend to like conversation partners that mimic our postures, mannerisms, and facial expressions.
The strangest part of this phenomenon is that it happens largely unconsciously. Most participants in the “chameleon effect” study weren’t even aware that they were being copied, but if they do, they are liable to think you are just taking the piss.
Speak quickly to get an someone to agree with you
Totally unfair this one. The way in which you communicate your ideas can be as important as the substance of your argument. Apparently when someone disagrees with you, you should speak faster so they have less time to process what you’re saying.
On the contrary, when you’re delivering an argument that your audience agrees with, it helps to speak more slowly, so they have time to evaluate the message.
Confuse people to get them to comply with your request
The ‘disrupt-then-reframe’ (DTR) technique is a fiendishly sneaky way to get people to cooperate with you.
A study found that when people went door-to-door selling cards for charity, DTR helped them make twice as much money as when they simply told people they were selling eight cards for $3. In the DTR scenario, they told people it was 300 pennies for eight cards, “which is a bargain”.
Researchers say that DTR works because it disrupts routine thought processes. While trying to figure out how many dollars 300 pennies come to, people are distracted, and so they just accept the idea that the price is a deal. Probably works best on Trump voters.
Ask people for favours when they are tired
An alert mind may express some doubt when approached with a request. Yet someone who’s tired or distracted is more likely to be less critical and just accept what you say is true.
So, if you’re planning to ask a colleague to help out with a project, it’s possibly best to ask at the end of a workday, when they just want to go down the pub.
Display an image of eyes to get people to behave ethically
In a study, people were more likely to clean up after themselves in a cafeteria when they saw an image of eyes than when they saw an image of flowers. The study authors say that eyes typically indicate social scrutiny. This is the same technique used in some woods to nudge dog walkers to clean up after their pet.
Security cameras in the office will have the same effect.
Use nouns instead of verbs to get people to change their behaviour
Participants in one study were asked two versions of the same question: “How important is it for you to vote in tomorrow’s election?” and “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” Results showed that participants in the ‘voter’ condition were more likely to cast their ballots the next day.
That’s probably because people are driven by the need to belong and using a noun reinforces their identity as a member of a specific group.
Scare people to get them to give you what you need
People who experience anxiety and then a sense of relief usually respond positively to requests afterwards. For example, people who heard an invisible policeman’s whistle while crossing the street were more likely to agree to complete a questionnaire than people who didn’t hear anything.
This could be because their cognitive resources were occupied thinking about the potential danger they encountered, so they had fewer resources left to think about the request that was just posed.
It probably wouldn’t be wise to blow a whistle in the middle of your office. Just scare a colleague more subtly by reminding them about a project due later that day (Kidding. It’s due tomorrow) and then ask them if they’d mind helping you with something else.
Focus on what your bargaining partner is gaining to get them to agree to your offer
While negotiating, you should emphasise to your partner what they’re about to gain as opposed to what they’re losing. For example, if you’re trying to sell a car, you should say, “I’ll give you my car for $1,000,” instead of, “I want $1,000 for the car.”
That way, you can persuade them to see things from a different perspective, and they’ll probably be more likely to concede.
Show people the extreme versions of their views
It seems obvious that, if you want to change someone’s point of view, you should make them realise it’s wrong. But when it comes to politics, research suggests that a less intuitive strategy might work better.
In a 2014 study, Israelis of different political beliefs were exposed to a series of video clips that portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a positive experience that underlies Jewish identity (bit too serious really).
After a few months, Israeli rightists (who are generally less sympathetic than leftists are to Palestinian concerns) were more likely to have changed their political opinions than rightists who watched apolitical video clips. They were even more likely to say they’d voted for more “pro-peace” political parties.
The researchers suspect this strategy works because it doesn’t threaten people, so it reduces the activation of defence mechanisms and allows them to reconsider their positions.
Don’t come off as too certain
Fascinating research published in 2016 analysed activity on ChangeMyView, a Reddit forum where people pose arguments and ask others to challenge them.
One counterintuitive finding from the study, is that people who hedge their arguments — for example, by saying, ‘it could be the case’, — are ultimately more successful in changing the original poster’s mind. The researchers say that’s possibly because it softens the counterargument’s tone.
Touch them gently
A 1991 study found that bookstore shoppers who were greeted with a light touch on their arm spent more time in the store and purchased more items than shoppers who were greeted without being touched.
Interestingly, other research suggests that men who touch women lightly on the arm while asking them out are more likely to get the woman’s phone number.
Tell them they’re free not to comply
Funnily, reminding people that they have the option not to do what you want can often motivate them to oblige your request.
A recent review of studies highlighted the effectiveness of the ‘but you are free’ technique: Reaffirming someone’s freedom to choose can double the chances that they’ll do what you want, whether that’s donating to a specific cause or taking a survey.
The exact phrasing doesn’t matter so much; you can say something as simple as; “But obviously do not feel obliged.”
So, once you have mastered the techniques above you will have the power to bend all and sundry to your will, but, as with all superpowers, you must learn to use it sparingly and for the greatest good, or you will expose yourself as a complete charlatan who doesn’t deserve to able to delegate so much as a cup of coffee from a Starbuck’s barista (minimum wage slave).