So, my New Year’s resolutions were these two:
- Be more easy-going and less critical, less imposing.
- Read 200 books in 2016.
My average for the last two years has been around 15 books a year – just over one a month. This is a sad statistic for someone that can speed-read, and it’s disheartening for someone that has over 300 books on his to-read list. (If you wan’t to see what I’ve read or what I’m reading or planning to read, you can check out my Goodreads profile. I don’t really leave reviews and when I do, I do it in Croatian, but that might also change one day.)
Thus I started the year off with a book a day (or almost a book a day). I read them in no particular order, as they spark my interest at the time. It is mostly non-fiction, books I can extract useful information quickly and discard the rest, but I don’t discriminate against fiction. Somehow it happened that, after reading How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie, a book that has been recommended to me time and time again, I got interested in “people skills” – and so I started reading Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
Now, this book is really good. It is based on scientific research on human psychology and how we make the decisions we make, and also how people use flaws in our decision making processes to make us do what they want us to do.
Naturally, I had a feeling that this was nothing new. We all know, at least intuitively, that salespeople have their “tricks” that make us comply with their sales requests. But the problem is we see their techniques as tricks, not as well-tested, research-based methods that use our weak spots to hack our brains. Simply put, as it so happens very often in life, we do not take certain things seriously enough. We just buzz past them, without noticing how deliberate, how studied, how professional – these techniques really are.
Anyway, the whole point of the book seems to be how to protect yourself from the bad effect these techniques might have on you. What I have done is the opposite: I have compiled a list of techniques based on fixed action patterns that can be used to influence and manipulate people into doing things they wouldn’t have done before. This is real grey area here, but it’s the same thing as learning to punch someone in the face.
I will not go into detail here; for that, you have to read the book. The author lists all the studies that he bases his conclusions on and you can check the studies out too. What I will explain is what fixed action patterns are and how they can be exploited to manipulate people, and I will list out all the possible practical applications of these findings. It is on you to decide if you will ever use them. I plan on field-testing them – not using them on a daily basis, but on trying them out and seeing how they work for me, and if I am able to use them in an efficient manner.
So, what are fixed action patterns?
Fixed action patterns are actions that a certain species does in presence of a certain stimulus, and rarely (or never) differs from the fixed course of action. These are so called “instinctive responses”, but them being instinctive is not enough. They are simply fixed. If a certain stimulus is present, the animal does exactly the same thing over and over again, despite it not being a good decision. For example, some birds will roll any egg-shaped object into their nest because they have a fixed action pattern that says: “I always have to roll eggs back into the nest.” They simply cannot decide otherwise. They just perform an action without any will of their own. It just happens, the pattern takes over the brain and any brain processing whatsoever.
Needless to say, humans have also exhibited fixed action patterns in their behaviour. Despite it being a bit more complex and despite our wonderful ability to rationalize afterwards, we have our own ways of turning off the thinking brain and just completing the pattern that has been ingrained into our nervous system by evolution.
Here are the ways a knowledgeable person can exploit these fixed action patterns:
- Use the word “because” often, even if your reasons are just repeating something you just said, or saying something non-related. Science says that if you hear the word because, you are more likely to comply to whatever was needed, even though the reason itself might not be a good reason. It just suffices to have A reason.
- Do favours and give small gifts that are difficult to turn down. People are more likely to comply to your requests if they feel they owed you something, even though your original gift might be an order of magnitude smaller and insignificant compared to what you’re asking for.
- Make people commit to things. If they commit to what you’re asking them, however small it may be, it makes larger commitments possible. Want not to be robbed while you use the toilet in the café? Ask somebody to watch over your stuff. That way, they commit to a certain role they have now assumed.
- Commitment is best achieved not through spoken word but through action. If your commitment makes people DO something, anything, just writing a couple of lines of text for example, it is a much stronger commitment than without the action.
- “Lowballing” – if you want to enforce or sell something, you offer it for a small price (monetary or any other kind). After a test period, you raise the price, saying that you’ve mistakenly thought the price was lower. Because of the test period, people have committed themselves to a certain product or whatever it may be you were trying to sell/enforce. They are much more likely to accept the raise in the price. Car dealers routinely lowball people.
- If you want someone to do something, be as similar to them as possible. Profess to have the same hobbies, wear the same clothes, speak in the same way. The more you are similar, the more people are likely to comply with your request.
- Look good.
- Flatter. Flattery, even when perceived as flattery, is often just as effective.
- Create an image of authority, be it through the way you speak, through a title you might have, through the clothes you wear. People are more likely to comply if they feel a request is coming from an authority, despite it not being an appropriate authority.
- The less something is available, the more people want it. The less the information about the unavailability of something is available, even more the people will want it. This is amplified if this something was previously in abundance.
There you have it, ten techniques to manipulate people into doing things you want them to do. Statistically, they should work with most people. Naturally, this information is of greatest interest to people that want to sell things, but many other uses are possible. Read the whole book for additional information and for greater understanding and appreciation of these techniques.
A final word of caution: be wise in your use of these techniques. It is better to tell the truth instead of lies. It is better to work in the open instead of plotting. And it is better to be honest instead of manipulating people’s fixed action patterns. But as you go through life, you will undoubtedly find yourself in situations where lying is necessary, where plotting is necessary and where using fixed action patterns is necessary. You might still decide not to use them but when you find yourself there, it’s better to know these things than not to know them.