How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Styles of Agreement
When we want people to decide, there are a number of ways people may agree.
When seeking to create agreement, the way that people are deciding is of course a matter of great interest, either to understand and play to it, or to change the criteria they are using.
At the lowest level of agreement, the person will concede to any demands or requests, without the need for reason and without considering the benefits and harm that could result from agreeing.
This is common where the demands are unimportant or everyday accepted requests such as 'pass the sugar' and 'hold this for a moment'. If we required reason for everything we did for others then life would be a lot slower and more difficult.
Some people will give in to many demands, even quite onerous ones. This can be because they are timid or perhaps have been cowed by the person making the demand. Demands are often made in the workplace by managers who feel that phrasing these as requests would be weak.
Sometimes people just want to be given a reason of some sort before they agree. The subject of agreement is typically not very important to them but they need to retain some dignity and sense of control, so they ask 'why' but then go along with whatever reason is given, even if it is unrelated.
In a famous experiment, Langer et al (1978) tried getting to the front of a queue to a business photocopier. A remarkable finding was that all you need to do is give any reason, even an ostensibly non-persuasive one like 'because I want to photocopy this'. The key word 'because', indicated that a reason was being given, which was sufficient for many people to concede.
Sometimes people will accept any argument provided that it does not cause any harm. For example if I ask you to tell your mother something, then before agreeing you may consider any problems that doing this would cause you or your mother.
When considering personal harm is important, the person may be persuaded by a simple threat, even a relatively simple one, such as suggesting they will lose out if they do not agree.
An acronym that may be used at this level is WAMI, which stands for 'What's Against My Interests'. In other words, we will oppose things that will somehow make things worse for us, although not necessarily oppose things about which we have no interest.
Many of us do not think hard about the reasons we are given when people make requests to us. Just as long as it seems to make sense without too much thinking, then we will trust the other person and accept their argument.
Much advertising is like this, for example in using pseudo-science to make vague claims for the products being promoted. One reason why such weak argument is successful is that we are too busy to investigate or challenge the reasoning.
Plausible arguments often have a notable emotional content as they seek to pull people away from rational thinking. Storytelling is a common method here and can be very powerful.
WIIFM means 'What's In It For Me' and epitomizes the basic selfishness that we all have (although some have it more than others). Whether or not we admit it, we all, very often, make judgements based on the benefits we will personally gain (or not).
Sometimes reason needs to be given, but it must be a logical argument, rather than something plausible or even more obviously fake. This is the position of the scientist, engineer or academic, who demands proof, references, scientific laws and so on.
A person who needs logical reason will probe and challenge until they are satisfied, even if this seems socially unfriendly.
Understand how other people agree, perhaps by watching them or testing them with requests. Then target the style and content of your arguments at the levels where they seem likely to agree.
Langer, E., Blank, A. and Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of
ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of ‘‘placebic” information in
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