Weapons of Influence, Part II

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

There are many ways of making people say “Yes”. Yes to buy a book, yes to vote for a political candidate, yes to do things to preserve the climate, and all the other yes’s in the world. According to Goldstein et al. (2009) latest book, there are at least 50 scientifically proven ways to make people say that one word. While some ways of making people say “yes” are well known and widely applied, others are less known. Here we present a few of the less known and perhaps surprising strategies of persuasion:

1. Sometimes all you have to do is just to ask.

We often underestimate the likelihood that the recipient will comply with our requests (Flynn & Lake, 2008). It is important to recognize this because it can potentially lead to productivity losses and prevent accomplishing your goals. Moreover, holding a correct impression of how many say “Yes!” may not only increase staff motivation, but by applying the simple principle of requesting what you want, you appear open and honest. If openness and honesty does not persuade people into doing whatever you want them to do, at least it does not create much resistance.

2. More options promote indecisiveness. Indecisiveness

Startup and small businesses often offer only few options and products. If successfully managed, the business will grow and attract new customers which open up the possibility for expanding the product portfolio. Most people usually consider having more choices to be a good thing. However, as research shows, and as many businesses often painfully have experienced, this is not always a good business idea. An abundance of choices most often overwhelms customers and leads to indecisiveness (i.e. fewer purchases).

3. Be the first to throw out the anchor.

During negotiations, the first meetings or first few minutes in a meeting, the parties often dance around the table reluctant to be the first to present their offer. Is this the right strategy for achieving the highest bid? No. Research shows that the one that first puts the bid out on the table achieves superior outcomes (Galinsky & Mussweiler, 2001). Why? The first offer “anchors” the negotiation and the parties tend not to move that far away from the anchor. Remember, though, that the first offer should be realistic!

4. Humor people. Dilbert

Humor brings people closer together and helps establish relationships (Kurtzberg et al., 2009). Moreover, humor seems to make people put down their guard in negotiations by proposing less extreme offers. In business, the possibility for using humor is very limited and not all people find all jokes, cartoons, and other fun stuff equally humoring. So attempts at making people laugh and come in good mood should be made with caution, however, there is no doubt that interaction with users and business outcomes can become more effective when using humor.

5. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but…”.

Have you ever found it difficult to say something and tried to get ahead of the situation by saying things like “I trust you will manage this situation, but don’t forget to…”? Well, guess what? Research shows that if you do say such things, you are going to be perceived as someone who doesn’t trust his co-workers or rude (see El-Alayli et al. 2008). In fact, it is better just to say things as they are: “Manage the situation and remember to …” or even better “I trust you will manage this situation.”

What are some of the practical implications of these principles?

First of all, if you want someone to participate in online projects, it can be more cost-effective just to ask people politely if they would like to join than spending a lot of time and effort finding clever ways to persuade them. No one really likes to be persuaded – they like to think it was a self-determined choice. Second, if you want users to start using or buying your online product, be selective about which products you wish to push. It is much easier for users to make a decision to buy or use products from a small sample than the entire range of your products. Third, as long as you are sensitive to what price people are willing to pay, you should not have to be afraid of displaying the price of your products. Most e-commerce sites already do this, however, a few do not. There is nothing that turns a buyer off more than seeing a price tag that is way beyond imagination at checkout. Do not quite know what people want to pay? Well, talk to them and find out what they are willing to pay – sometimes you will be happily surprised. Fourth, try using a bit of humor. Consider e.g. including a non-offensive and appropriate cartoon in your electronic meeting notice. Humor gives people something to talk about, loosens up the atmosphere, and brings people closer together. Fifth, avoid startups like “I don’t mean to sound rude, but…” when chatting with people regardless whether they are close and personal friends or professional relationships. It is very likely that you end up being perceived exactly the way you want to avoid being perceived. The same rule applies online as offline.


El-Alayli, A., Myers, C. J., Petersen, T. L., Lystad, A. L. (2008). “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but…” The effects of using disclaimers on person perception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 130-143.

Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.

Galinsky, A. D., & Mussweiler, T. (2001). First offers as anchors: The role of perspective-taking and negotiator focus. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 657-669.

Goldstein, N. J., Martin, S. J. & Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive . New York: Free Press.

Kurtzberg, T. R., Naquin, C. E. & Belkin, L. Y. (2009). Humor as a relationship-building tool in online negotiations. International Journal of Conflict Management, 20, 377-397.


How could strategies which aim to improve dissemination of and exposure to Internet-delivered interventions be tested on effectiveness?

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

It is recommended (Crutzen, De Nooijer, Brouwer, Oenema, Brug, & De Vries, submitted) to conduct experimental research in more controlled settings to increase evidence-based insight into effectiveness of strategies regarding dissemination of and exposure to Internet-delivered interventions, before applying these strategies in practice. Advantage of such a controlled setting is the minimisation of possible confounding effects. Disadvantage of these experimental settings, however, is the isolated way in which strategies are tested on effectiveness, which is less comparable with real-life implementation.

Even if strategies are immediately applied in practice, there are appropriate designs, such as a time series design (Chen et al., 2005; Murry, Stam, & Lastovicka, 1993), to test effectiveness of these strategies. In such a design, strategies are first applied separately. Subsequently, combinations of several strategies are applied. Intervention use is monitored during the whole period to determine which strategy or combination between them is most effective. Although this design is more sensitive to confounding effects (e.g. changing environment), strategies are tested in a less isolated way and this could give more insight into effectiveness regarding dissemination and exposure in real life.

If all methods described above are inapplicable due to limited resources, one could test the effectiveness of dissemination strategies by simply asking visitors where they came from and how they heard about the intervention (Gordon, Akers, Severson, Danaher, & Boles, 2006). Although this method is based on self-report and therefore less objective, it is easily applicable and less time consuming. Yet, this method remains a last resort (when all else fails).

Dissemination and exposure do not only depend on the intervention itself, however, but also on its users. There is evidence that the acquisition of skills to use a website may influence its adoption (Paswan & Ganesh, 2003). It has also been shown, however, that Internet self-efficacy is not a significant predictor of exposure (Steele, Mummery, & Dwyer, 2007). If familiarity with a website increases, then perceived usability influences loyalty to the website (Casal