There is only one way . . . to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.
Most of us feel more harmony in our lives when everything is consistent: our jobs, our homes, our habits, even our soft drinks. Consistency is the glue that holds everything in our lives together, thereby allowing us to cope with the world. Think of all the people you admire. I'll bet, by and large, most of them are consistent, congruent people. What they believe, what they say, and what they do (even when no one is watching) flow together seamlessly. Typically, a high degree of such consistency in one's life is indicative of personal and intellectual strength.
People are naturally more inclined even subconsciously to gravitate toward and follow individuals who are consistent in their behavior. The converse is also true: Inconsistency in one's personal and professional life is generally considered undesirable. The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don't consistently match up is seen as hypocritical, two-faced, confused, or even mentally ill.
Leon Festinger formulated the cognitive dissonance theory in 1957 at Stanford University. He asserted, "When attitudes conflict with actions, attitudes or beliefs, we are uncomfortable and motivated to try to change." Festinger's theory sets the foundation for the Law of Dissonance, one of the twelve laws of Maximum Influence.
The Law of Dissonance states that people will naturally act in a manner that is consistent with their cognitions (beliefs, attitudes, and values). Therefore, when people behave in a manner that is inconsistent with these cognitions, they find themselves in a state of discomfort. In such an uncomfortable state, they will naturally be inclined to adjust their behaviors or attitudes to regain mental and emotional consistency. When our beliefs, attitudes, and actions mesh, we live harmoniously. When they don't, we feel dissonance at some level that is, we feel awkward, uncomfortable, unsettled, disturbed, upset, nervous, or confused. In order to eliminate or reduce such tension, we will do everything possible to change our attitudes and behavior, even if it means doing something we don't want to do.
Imagine that there is a big rubber band inside you. When dissonance is present, the rubber band begins to stretch. As long as the dissonance exists, the band stretches tighter and tighter. You've got to take action before it reaches a breaking point and snaps. The motivation to reduce the tension is what causes us to change; we will do everything in our power to get back in balance. We seek psycho-emotional stasis at all times, much like we experience the ever-present, driving need for food and water to satisfy our physical being.
When we feel cognitive dissonance, we have to find a way to deal with the psychological tension. We have an arsenal of tools at our disposal to help us return to cognitive consistency. The following list outlines different ways people seek to reduce dissonance.
Consider how each of the above strategies could apply if the following experience actually happened in your own life: Your favorite politician, the local mayor, for whom you campaigned and voted, is in trouble. You spent your own time and money convincing family, friends, and neighbors to vote for this candidate. You thought he was a family man, a man of values, somebody who could be trusted. Now, after two years in office, he's been caught red-handed having an affair with an office staff member, who is barely older than his daughter. The news creates dissonance inside you. To alleviate the dissonance, you might react in any one or combination of the following ways:
Listed below are some situations that might create dissonance.
We find what we seek. If we can't find it, we make it up. In politics, members of different parties will refuse to peaceably or tolerantly listen to opposing party commercials. Smokers won't read articles about the dangers of smoking. Drug users don't spend much time at clinics. We don't want to find information that might oppose our current points of view.
A study by Knox and Inkster found interesting results at a racetrack.
They interviewed people waiting in line to place a bet, and then questioned them again after they'd placed a bet. They found people were much more confident with their decisions after they had placed their bet than before the bet was made. They exuded greater confidence in their decisions and their chosen horses after their decisions were final and their bets were firmly in place.
Younger, Walker, and Arrowood decided to conduct a similar experiment at the midway of the Canadian National Exposition. They interviewed people who had already placed bets on a variety of different games (bingo, wheel of fortune, etc.) as well as people who were still on their way to place bets. They asked each of the people if they felt confident they were going to win. Paralleling the findings of Knox and Inkster's study, the people who had already made their bets felt luckier and more confident than those who had not yet placed their wagers.
These studies show that to reduce dissonance, we often simply convince ourselves that we have made the right decision. Once we place a bet or purchase a product or service, we feel more confident with ourselves and the choice we've made. This concept also holds true in persuasion and sales. Once the payment is given for your product or service, your prospects will usually feel more confident with their decisions. Have them make the payment or finalize the choice as soon as possible! This will increase their confidence in their decision and they will look for reasons to justify that decision.
Many times, even when we have made a bad decision, we become so entrenched in our belief that it was right that we will fight to the bitter end to prove it. We can't handle the dissonance in our minds, so we find anything to prove our decision was right. We become so embroiled in justifying our actions that we are willing to go down with the burning ship.
When buying and selling shares of stock, investors commonly stick with stocks that have recently slumped in price, with no prospects of recovery. Rationally, the best decision is to cut their losses and invest elsewhere. Irrationally, however, investors often hang on, ensnared by their initial decision.
McDonald's sued five London activists for libeling them in a leaflet entitled "What's Wrong with McDonald's?" The pamphlets asserted many claims, including that the franchise's food was unhealthy and that the company exploited its workers, contributed to the destruction of rain forests through cattle ranching, produced litter, and sought to target children through its advertising. While three of the activists backed down, two of them went on to fight McDonald's in court. The case evolved into the longest court proceeding in the legal history of Britain. It came to be considered "the most expensive and disastrous public relations exercise ever mounted by a multinational company."
Spreading negative publicity across the globe, two million copies of "What's Wrong with McDonald's?" went into circulation. An Internet site following the case received seven million hits in its first year. Having publicly asserted its stance that the company would challenge its antagonists, McDonald's was trapped. Forced to remain consistent to its position, McDonald's fought to the bitter end. This case took two-and-a-half years and cost McDonald's over $10 million to fight before the company finally won the case. Given the ramifications, perhaps it would have been better if the company had just cut their losses and moved on.
R. E. Knox and J. A. Inkster, "Post-decision Dissonance at Post-time," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 18: 319323.
J. C. Younger, L. Walker, and A. S. Arrowood, "Post-decision Dissonance at the Fair," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 3: 284287.
David Mitchie, Invisible Persuaders (New York: Bantam Books), p. 95.
Dissonance is a powerful tool in helping others make and keep commitments. In one study, researchers staged thefts to test the reactions of onlookers. On a beach in New York City, the researchers randomly selected an accomplice to place his beach towel and portable radio five feet away. After relaxing there for a while, the accomplice got up and left. After the accomplice had departed, one of the researchers, pretending to be a thief, stole the radio. As you might imagine, hardly anyone reacted to the stage theft. Very few people were willing to put themselves at risk by confronting the thief. In fact, over the course of twenty staged thefts, only four people (20 percent) made any attempt to hinder the thief.
The researchers staged the same theft twenty more times, only this time with one slight difference repeated in each scenario. The minor alteration brought drastically different results. This time, before leaving, the accomplice asked each person sitting next to him, "Could you please watch my things?" Each person consented. This time, with the Law of Dissonance at work, nineteen out of twenty (95 percent) individuals sought to stop the thief by chasing, grabbing back the radio, and in some cases, even physically restraining him.
Most people try to follow through when they promise they will do something especially if it is in writing. This is why corporations sponsor writing contests about social issues or their products. They really don't care about your writing style. What they're really looking for is consumer endorsement. The writer puts down, in her own words, what she thinks the company wants to hear about its issue or product. Having made a written commitment to supporting and endorsing a product or issue, the consumer will now support the sponsoring company in their cause or will willingly buy their product.
In one particular study, 100 high school students were asked to write an essay on whether or not the voting age should be lowered. Half the students were told the speeches would be published in the school newspaper, while the other half were told the essays would be kept confidential. After completing the essays, researchers exposed the students to a persuasive speech arguing that the voting age should not be lowered. Of the students assuming their papers were going to be published, very few of them changed their original position. Of the students who believed their papers were confidential, most altered their stance on the issue to agree with the persuasive speech.
If you can get someone to mentally commit to a product or a decision, he is likely to remain committed even after the terms and conditions change. This is why when stores, for example, advertise very low prices on a television set, they include in small print, "Quantities Limited." By the time you get to the store, all the bargain televisions are sold, but you are mentally committed to buying a new TV. Luckily for you, there are more expensive models available. So, you go home having spent $300 more on a television set than you originally planned, just because you needed to maintain a consistency between your desire for a new TV and your action of being in the store.
This tactic is also often used when goods and products go on sale. For example, a customer may be lured to a store by an incredible deal on a pair of nice dress shoes. Upon inquiring, the disappointed customer learns from the salesperson that her size is not in stock. Just as the customer is about to leave, the salesperson miraculously displays another strikingly similar pair but this pair is not on sale.
Think of a time when you purchased a new car. Have you ever noticed that when you're about to sign the contract the price is $200 more than you expected? Well, someone conveniently forgot to tell you about the advanced suspension or some other feature found in your car. You pay the extra $200 anyway because you're mentally committed to that car, and you don't want to go through the whole hassle and headache of trying to renegotiate the deal.
Often car dealers promise an incredible price, even a few hundred dollars below a competitor's price, all the while knowing it's not actually going to go through. The deal is offered only to motivate the buyer to purchase from their dealership. Once the customer decides to buy, the dealer sets up several conditions, each of them causing the customer to feel increasingly committed before finding out the real price: lengthy forms are filled out, great lengths are taken to set up specific financing terms, the customer is encouraged to take the car home and drive it to work, to run errands, to cruise the neighborhood. The dealer knows that while the customer is out joy riding, she is thinking of all the many reasons her purchase is justified.
These tactics are even used when high school students and their parents are narrowing down the colleges they should attend. Just like car dealers, colleges often give a low estimate on your costs, and it's not until after you've signed up and registered that you discover your actual costs.
It's a challenge getting consumers to remain loyal to a particular brand. Unlike the good old days when brand loyalty was a given, times have changed. As a society, we no longer feel compelled to stick with a certain company or product. I grew up with Crest, Cheerios, and Tide being staples in my home. Now I change brands much more easily. I'm not likely to remain loyal to a brand unless they reward me for my commitment to them, for example, with frequent flyer miles, with the little cars you can buy for your kids at Chevron, or with a Unocal 76 ball to swing from your car antennae. Acquiring consumer loyalty is the reason the tobacco industry spends over $600 million giving away paraphernalia with tobacco logos.
 We constantly see companies putting their logos on coffee mugs, T-shirts, pens, and mouse pads, to name just a few promotional items. Even though you might not have paid for these items, owning them creates loyalty to the product advertised on them. Most people who wear a Budweiser T-shirt don't drink Coors beer.
C. I. Hovland, "Reconciling Conflicting Results Derived from Experimental and Survey Studies of Attitude-Change," American Psychologist 14, 1: 817.
J. Brockner and J. Z. Rubin, Entrapment in Escalating Conflicts: A Social Psychological Analysis (New York: Springer Verlag).
Public commitments and dissonance go hand in hand. Even when we feel an action is not right, we still go through with it if we have publicly committed to such a course of action.
For example, when you ask that young lady to marry you and she says yes, there's a commitment. The announcement of the engagement is a second commitment. All the other actions that follow suit increase your public commitment: telling your friends, getting the rings, asking the parents, setting the date, taking the pictures, sending announcements, paying the deposit for the reception location, etc. Each step closer to "I do" results in a greater level of commitment. Even if one or both of you decide you want to call it off, it actually feels easier to go through with the wedding than to stop the whole procession created by so much public commitment.
The more public our stand, the more reluctant we are to change it. A now famous experiment conducted in 1955 by social psychologists Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard demonstrates this principle. A group of students were divided into three groups. Each group viewed some lines and had to estimate their length. The students in the first group had to privately write down estimates, sign their names to it, and hand it in. The second group of students also had to privately write down their estimates, but they did so on a Magic Writing Pad. They could lift the plastic cover on their notepad and their figures would instantaneously disappear. The third group of students did not write down their estimates but just kept them privately in their minds. Not surprisingly, even when new information was presented contradicting their estimates, the students who had written down their estimates, signed their names to them, and handed them in remained the most committed to their choices, while those who had never committed anything to writing were the most readily swayed to change their responses.
Procedures, customs, and traditions are often specifically established for the purposes of creating psychological commitment. Consider fraternity initiations, military boot camps, political rallies, protest marches, and demonstrations. When we make our vows, beliefs, statements, or endeavors public, we feel bound to them. We can back out on commitments and claims we've made public, but we will pay a psychological and emotional price. What's more, the more public we made those commitments, the greater the emotional price tag will be.
A pair of researchers, Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, claimed that "persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort." Additional research confirmed their assertion when coeds who were required to endure pain rather than embarrassment to get into a group desired membership more than their counterparts. In one particular case, the more pain one young woman endured as part of her initiation, the more she later tried to convince herself that "her new group and its activities were interesting, intelligent, and desirable."
Another study of 54 tribal cultures found that those with the most dramatic initiation rituals also have the most unity and commitment, and these groups oppose any attempts to undermine or destroy these customs, which render so much strength to their tribe and their culture.
Understanding the psychology of commitment through publicity can be used to bring about good societal changes. Many organizations exist to help individuals conquer bad habits, patterns, or abuses. For example, weight-loss centers commonly encourage clients to share their goals with as many friends, relatives, and neighbors as they can, understanding that this public commitment and pressure often works when other methods don't.
An experiment conducted by Pallak, Cook, and Sullivan in Iowa City used an interviewer who offered free energy-saving hints to natural gas users. Those residents who agreed to try to conserve energy would have their names publicized in newspaper articles as public-spirited, fuel-conserving citizens. The effect was immediate. One month later, when the utility companies checked their meters, the homeowners in the publication sample had each saved an average of 422 cubic feet of natural gas, a decrease of 12.2 percent. The chance to have their names in the paper had motivated these residents to put forth substantial conservation efforts for a period of one month.
Even during the months when their names weren't in the paper, the families continued to conserve gas. When a letter went out stating that their names would no longer be printed in the paper, the families did not return to their previous wasteful energy usage, as was expected; rather, they continued to conserve energy.
M. Deutsch and H. B. Gerard, "A Study of Normative and Informational Social Influence upon Judgment," Journal of Abnormal Psychology 51: 629636.
E. Aronson and J. Mills, "The Effect of Severity of Initiation on Liking for the Group," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 59: 177181.
H. B. Gerard and G. C. Mathewson, "The Effects of Severity of Initiation on Liking for a Group: A Replication," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2: 278287.
F. W. Young, Initiation Ceremonies (New York: Bobbs-Merrill).
M. S. Pallak, D.A. Cook, and J.J. Sullivan, "Commitment and Energy Conservation," Applied Social Psychology Annual 1: 235253.
One aspect of the law of dissonance is the urge to remain consistent with our commitments. Even if someone begins with a small request then follows it up with a larger request, we still tend to remain consistent in our behavior and answers. This technique of capitalizing on such a principle has been called by several names, including "foot-in-the-door" (FITD), self-perception theory, or the "sequential request." Basically, it is a means of using a person's self-perception to motivate her to partake of the desired action. When an individual complies a first time, she perceives herself to be helpful.
If she is asked to comply a second time in an even greater way, she is likely to consent. In an effort to maintain consistency with the first impression and with her own self-perception, she agrees to give even more of themselves.
The following outline highlights three key principles in learning how to use this technique:
The key to using FITD is to get the person to initially grant a small request. For example, if you were to ask someone, "Can I have just thirty seconds of your time?" most individuals would respond affirmatively. According to self-perception theory, the person would observe his own behavior and, in regard to this interaction, consider himself to be a helpful person. The second step in the FITD principle is making another, more involved request. "Can I try this on the stain on your carpet?" The person feels he should consent to the second request because he is "that kind of person." He has already seen himself do other behaviors in support of the product or service, so he willingly complies with the second request.
A 1966 study by psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser highlights just how effective FITD is. In their study, a researcher posing as a volunteer canvassed a California neighborhood, asking residents if they would allow a large billboard reading "Drive Carefully" to be displayed on their front lawns. So they'd have an idea of what it would look like, the volunteer showed his recruits a picture of the large sign obstructing the view of a beautiful house.
Naturally, most people refused, but in one particular group, an incredible 76 percent actually consented. The reason for their compliance was this: Two weeks prior, these residents had been asked by another volunteer to make a small commitment to display a three-inch-square sign that read "Be a Safe Driver" in their windows. Since it was such a small and simple request, nearly all of them agreed. The astounding result was that the initial small commitment profoundly influenced their willingness to comply with the much larger request two weeks later.
With another group of homeowners, Freedman and Fraser sent petitions requesting their signatures in support of helping to keep California beautiful. Of course, nearly everyone signed. Two weeks later, another volunteer went around and asked them if they'd allow the big "Drive Carefully" sign to be placed in their yards. Amazingly, about half of the homeowners consented, even though their previous small commitment was to state beautification and not safety.
Freedman and Fraser were also interested in discovering whether or not they could persuade homemakers to carry out a very large request. They asked the women of the house if they would permit a group of five or six strangers to freely look through their cupboards and storage spaces for two hours, for the purpose of classifying the women's household products. Prior to this request, however, researchers had asked some of the women to take a survey about household products. Of those surveyed, approximately 50 percent consented to allowing the men to go through their household products. Of the women who had not been surveyed, only 25 percent agreed to let the men examine their storage spaces.
Another study involved testing to see whether introductory psychology students would rise early to take part in a 7:00 ?.?. study session on thinking processes. In one group, the students were told at the beginning of the call that the session would begin promptly at 7:00 ?.?. Of these students, only 24 percent agreed to participate. In the second group, the students were first told what the study was and that their participation was desired. The 7:00 ?.?. time was not mentioned until after they had consented to take part, which 56 percent of them did. When the opportunity to change their minds was presented to them, however, none of them took advantage of it. Ninety-five percent of students actually followed through and showed up for the 7:00 ?.?. session.
In another case, social psychologist Steven J. Sherman wanted to see if he could increase the number of people who would be willing to collect door-to-door donations for the American Cancer Society. He called a sample of residents and simply asked them what their response would be if they were asked to volunteer three hours of their time to collect charitable donations for the American Cancer Society. Not wanting to seem uncharitable, many responded that they would indeed volunteer. The final outcome? When a representative of the American Cancer Society actually called and asked for volunteers, there was a 700 percent increase of individuals agreeing to participate.
When utilizing this technique, you must first determine exactly what end result you are seeking. This will be the big commitment you ask for. You should then create several small and simple requests that are related to your ultimate request, making sure they can be easily satisfied. As the examples above demonstrate, taking these measures will greatly increase the likelihood that your ultimate request will be granted.
Here are some more key points to remember in using FITD:
J. L. Freedman and S. C. Fraser, "Compliance Without Pressure: The Foot-in-the-Door Technique," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1966): 195203.
R. B. Cialdini, J. T. Cacioppo, R. Bassett, and J. A. Miller, "Low-Ball Procedure for Producing Compliance: Commitment Then Cost," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1988): 463476.
S. J. Sherman, "On the Self-Erasing Nature of Prediction," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: 211221.
C. Seligman, M. Bush, and K. Kirsch, "Relationship Between Compliance in the Foot-in-the-Door Paradigm and Size of First Request," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 33: 517520.
J. P. Dillard, J. E. Hunter, and M. Burgoon, "Sequential-Request Persuasive Strategies: Meta-Analysis of Foot-in-the-Door and Door-in-the-Face," Human Communication Research 10: 461488.
You can create or reveal commitments in your prospects by ensuring that the commitments are public, affirmative, voluntary, and effortful (PAVE).
Make your prospect's stand as public as possible. Get a written commitment and make that written commitment public. Involve family and friends in the proposed action. Engage your customer in a public handshake to seal the deal in front of other employees and customers.
You want to get as many "yes" answers as possible because yeses develop consistency within the person that will carry over into your major request. This technique reduces dissonance and makes it easier for prospects to say yes to your final proposal. Even if it is a watered-down, easy request, getting a yes to any request makes it easier to evoke the same response down the road. Close with a series of questions ideally six that all end with a yes. Desire increases with each yes, and decreases with each no. Every time we say yes to a benefit, our desire goes up.
When getting commitments, start small and build up to larger commitments later. You cannot force commitments. Long-term approval has to feel like it comes from your prospects' own will, something they want to do or say. They have to volunteer to test drive the car, write on the contract, or request more information. When they make a commitment, you can make the action more voluntary and solidify the commitment by saying things like, "Are you serious? Do you really mean that? You're not just pulling my leg, are you?"
The more effortful and public the commitment is, the more commitment it will create down the line. The more effort your prospects exert in making the commitment, the more it seals the deal. You don't want to ask a prospect to do something extreme but you do want them to exert extra effort.
Remember the car dealer example? Car dealers often offer a great deal on a car just to get people in the lot. The prospect then makes a commitment to come in and look at the car only to find that it's already been sold. Already committed to being there, they browse the lot and find another car they like. They then start to fill out the paperwork, talking terms and completing forms. These are all small effortful commitments that later lead to full commitment. Many times, the car dealer will continue obtaining these small commitments only to come back and say he can only give $2,000 for the trade in instead of $2,500 like he promised. At this point, the buyer has exerted so much effort and has created so many small commitments that the extra $500 won't break the deal.
Once you have the commitment, you can create the dissonance. You create that dissonance or imbalance by showing your prospects they have not kept or are not keeping their commitment. For example, "You said you needed this right away. Why do you have to think it over and come back tomorrow?" The person's self-image is squeezed from both sides by consistency pressures. The prospect feels great internal pressure to bring self-image in line with action. At the same time, there is pressure from the outside to adjust this image according to the way others perceive us.
As a refined persuader, whenever you create dissonance, you always need to offer a way out. You need to show, prove, or explain how your product or service can reduce the dissonance your prospect feels. For example, "If you donate right now, we can continue to feed the homeless children in Africa."
Keep in mind that the final solution or major request is what you ultimately want to accomplish. You prepare your whole persuasive presentation around the moment when you will ask for that major request. Once your prospects accept the solution, they have convinced themselves that they made the right and only choice. As a result, they feel great about their decision. This makes the cognitive dissonance disappear. The decision was their personal choice and they have solved the dilemma in their own minds. They know exactly what to do.
The solution is your call to action.