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Training Bulletin Issue 65

Why did you do that?

Think about something you recently bought or something you agreed to – why did you do it? I'm sure you have good, rational reasons for the purchase or the decision. I'm also pretty sure that a bit of clever marketing or persuasion might also have contributed, without your conscious awareness of it.

Why do charities sometimes include little gifts such as pens or cards in their mail shots? Why are celebrity endorsements so successful? Why do people do outrageous things with the defence that they were just obeying orders? For reasons that have been hard-wired in the human psyche for millennia.

Knowing a bit about how our decisions can be influenced is useful if you need to influence others, for example, to agree to a business proposal. It also helps you to recognise attempts to influence you. Here's a quick overview of six factors that influence our decision-making.

1. Favours

‘You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours.’ If you do someone a favour, or give them something, they will feel an obligation to return it.

This is extremely powerful: why do you think politicians are not allowed to accept high value personal gifts? Why do lobbyists make vast donations to political parties?

People are more likely to support your proposals if you have in the past been supportive of theirs.

2. Being seen as consistent

We have a strong urge to behave consistently, and to be consistent in our beliefs and actions. Nobody wants to be thought of as two-faced or untrustworthy. The press quickly howls about ‘U-turns’ if a politician dares change their mind from a previously-stated position.

Make sure your proposal or business case is consistent with the company's overall direction, objectives and image.

3. Being ‘on the same page’

We are more likely to do or think something if we think that people just like us, or like the kind of people we aspire to be, do those things or hold those beliefs. This is why advertisers love customer testimonials.

We are also more likely to be influenced by people we like, and to like people like us: this is what's behind party plan selling to friends, for things like jewellery, cosmetics, kitchenware…

In business, decision makers may be more likely to approve something if they think most of their colleagues will do so.

4. Pavlov's dog

We like things that we connect with other things we like, and tend not to like things we associate with negatives. Advertisers fall over themselves to link their products to successful people through endorsements by celebrities or winning sportspeople *ndash; and drop their sponsorship the moment that person does something unacceptable.

Everybody likes food, and we are more likely to agree to things suggested to us over a nice meal. How many fund raising events are based around dinners, how much advertising shows people enjoying meals together?

Try bringing some nice biscuits to a meeting where you need to get something approved. Have you noticed canny colleagues doing this?

5. Obedience

We've been trained since we were babies to do as we are told by a succession of authority figures: parents, teachers, doctors, police.

Can you find a senior manager or director who is prepared to give their authority to your proposal by sponsoring it or mentoring you?

6. Unavailability

You've all seen news reports of mayhem at huge sales, with shoppers desperately fighting over a limited supply of reduced price goods. If we think we can't have something, we want it more.

If we are told information is in some way restricted, something we aren't supposed to know, we are more likely to believe it's true and act on it. This is why advertising is full of limited time offers and &lsqou;secrets’ of this and that.

In a business context, argue for timely use of resources that may become more limited in future, or offer inside information to support a case.

These six ideas may help you plan your strategy and lay the groundwork for a proposal or business case, and we discuss them in more detail in these courses, where we also look at ways to ensure your writing is persuasive and believable:

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