Influence: the ultimate workplace advantage

Have you heard of the Law of Authority? Or the Law of Contrast? What about the Law of Social Proof?

You won’t find these laws in your country’s Constitution or legal writings, but whether you realize it or not they affect your life every day. That’s because these laws are being used to influence your thoughts and actions all the time, without your even realizing it.

We all know, of course, that the advertising industry is constantly “pushing our buttons” — that’s how they persuade us to buy the goods and services they are selling. We accept that. Sometimes we are aware of the tactics and consciously decide whether or not to respond, but for most of the time we’re oblivious to them. We simply react, and very often with the desired response — THEIR desired response!

These laws are psychological laws, and they work because we human beings are remarkably predictable. We may be different from each other in our personalities, our backgrounds, our belief systems, our characters and other ways, but our basic human psychological responses are surprisingly similar.

So advertisers and other promoters have found ways to use these psychological laws to shape our behavior. But why leave this advantage just in the hands of advertisers. Can’t we use these laws ourselves to influence others?

Yes, we certainly can! Let me give you just a small example, using the Law of Contrast to illustrate.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Everything’s relative.” I might think a particular car is expensive but Bill Gates probably wouldn’t, because our benchmarks vary according to our spending power. My car mechanic might tell me a small job will take “only two hours”, but if I had expected it to be a matter of minutes, I would think two hours is a long time.

The Law of Contrast purposely uses “benchmarks” to compare amounts of money, lengths of time or any other measures. In order to USE this law, you need to learn to set your own benchmarks, and to express them in a way that benefits you.

For example, maybe you’d like Bob to be part of your project team. You know he is busy and will be reluctant to commit a great deal of time to you. In this case, you could call upon the Law of Contrast to help you out.

You might say, “Bob, this won’t be one of those committees that meet for hours on end, or a long, drawn-out process like that project we worked on for the association. Boy, that was something, wasn’t it? But this project won’t be like that. It’ll be done in a month, and all we’ll need is a telephone conference once a week for half an hour or so, and perhaps one face-to-face meeting at the end. That’s all.”

By comparing your project against a larger one in Bob’s experience, emphasizing the smaller commitment needed for yours and ending with the phrase “That’s all”, you’ve made your request appear small in contrast, and there’s a better chance he’ll agree to be on your team. That’s the Law of Contrast in action.

Robert Cialdini wrote about this subject in his book, “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion”. There are, in fact, seven such laws, known as the Seven Laws of Influence, and if you learn how to use them they can give you a huge advantage at work and in other areas of your life.