# of Tactics?
You, the reader, may be an influence expert. You may work
in politics, advertising, sales, law, or any number of other
careers that require you to persuade people in the course of
your daily life. You may be very successful, too. If so, you
have an intuitive feel for what moves people. And you probably
enjoy thinking about how persuasion works.
You may occasionally
find yourself in the situation of the lawyer in the following
story. Several years ago, California brought the issue of "no
fault insurance" to a vote. (It was soundly defeated, due
to a brilliant influence campaign led by a group of true influence
experts: attorneys.) Using the auto accident as an example, no
fault insurance proposes that when an accident occurs between
two insured motorists, driver A is covered by his insurance and
driver B is covered by her insurance. No suing, no lawyers. Without
getting into the many arguments surrounding the issue, I'm sure
it's easy to see why most lawyers were opposed to no fault insurance.
During the weeks before the vote, attorneys were volunteering
to speak to just about any group of people who would lend them
an ear. I happened to hear a lawyer addressing a room full of
physicians, explaining why no fault insurance was a bad idea.
He looked sharp, and he spoke rapidly and authoritatively. Let's
assume this lawyer was a successful influence agent, and that
he was also interested in the process of persuasion. Now, let's
listen in on his thoughts as he walks out of the lecture hall:
I guess that talk went O.K. But I got a lot
of arguments and disagreements from those physicians. Some were
arguing points that I refuted thoroughly in my talk. I wonder
why? When I started giving this talk to physicians a month ago,
I didn't have as many good reasons and examples as I do now.
Yet now, with my stronger arguments, I seem to get as much or
maybe even more disagreement. Maybe I should pick up the pace
of my talk, and thereby present more and better arguments.
Our lawyer friend is asking the right questions, but coming to
exactly the wrong conclusions.
He is guessing that rapid speech makes one sound credible.
That's a plausible hypothesis. Someone who knows what he's talking
about would be able to speak rapidly, whereas an inexpert speaker
would have to hunt for words and concepts.
What he doesn't know, however--what he can't know--is that
there are several variables in this scenario interacting with
each other that are making the relationship between his advocacy
and persuasion a complex one. Speaking rapidly can both enhance
and detract from persuasion, depending on the situation. Speaking
rapidly interferes with critical acceptance, which is good if
you have a weak argument, but bad if you have a strong one. As
the lawyer develops his talk, and uses stronger arguments, he
needs to speak more slowly--giving his audience a chance to cognitively
process his arguments.
The reason I used this example is to make a point: unless
our lawyer friend is willing to don his white jacket, grab a
clipboard and run about 200 subjects in a laboratory experiment,
this non-intuitive relationship between strength of argument
and rate of speech would remain a mystery.
It is the job of science, however, to examine seeming inconsistencies
and test them in the laboratory. And thanks to researchers Stephen
Smith and David Shaffer, we now know the answer to the lawyer's
question. It was to his advantage to speak quickly when his arguments
were weak, but to his disadvantage to speak rapidly when his
advocacy was supported by strong arguments.
Back to our original question: what does social psychology know
that isn't already known by those who use persuasion and compliance
tactics on a daily basis? Why doesn't one learn the general principles
of social influence in business, advertising, or law? Because
the goals of social psychology are different.
Social psychology attempts to generate general answers and
propose fundamental laws about how the human "hardware"
functions, to borrow a term from computer science. It wouldn't
ask, "What can we say to make people decide to buy a car?"
but rather, "What makes people decide to say yes to all
sorts of requests--to buy a car, to contribute to a cause, to
take a new job?" Then, as a science, social psychology puts
its hypotheses to the test.
The result is a body of knowledge that contains a constellation
of repeatable, verifiable facts regarding human thought and behavior--and
how those thoughts and behaviors may be changed.
Unfortunately, many of what I call "persuasion peddlers"
have no scientific background and no systematic training in,
or understanding of, how influence may be systematically applied
(although many of them are savvy enough to make themselves sound
scientific). And this leads to our next topic, Bad
Copyright © 1997 by Kelton Rhoads, PhD
All rights reserved.
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