There are many social factors that can affect a person’s behaviour – be it the company they keep, the culture they live in, their upbringing or friend circle. However, is behaviour entirely dictated by uncontrollable factors such as these, or is it possible to influence the behaviour of those you encounter in a working day in such a way as can have a positive effect for you and your company?

Why do we make the choices that we make? What motivations guide us in our behaviour? Marketing psychologist, Robert Cialdini, suggests that a behavioural model might be presented as follows:

Behaviour = Motivation x Ability x Trigger

To elaborate further: Behaviour = Motivation (what are the push/pull factors involved?) x Ability (how easy is it to perform the desired action?) x Trigger (the real-time situation that spurs on a certain action).

Using this formula, Cialdini claims that you can influence the behaviour of others in ways that can hugely benefit your business. However, before you can start achieving results, it is imperative that you begin nurturing the client or customer’s motivation and ability levels before attempting to trigger a result.

Conscious vs. unconscious behaviour

A crucial fact to acknowledge when considering this process is that only 5% of our cognitive activities are conscious. Therefore, 95% of our actions are dictated by unconscious decisions meaning that many of our responses are fully automated without us even realising. In retrospect, we can be surprised by our own responses when they are taken out of context and assessed.

Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer performed an experiment to investigate the ‘power of automated response’. This involved a situation where the same question was posed in three different ways, in attempts to skip a line for a copying machine. Results of this test were quite surprising. To illustrate this: When asked ‘excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the copying machine’ 60% of the respondents agreed, however, when changing the request to ‘Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the copying machine because I have to make some copies?’ 93% agreed.

The power of persuasion seems to lie with reason here; embodied in the word ‘because’. Despite the obvious outcome of all requests being to make copies, the word ‘because’ sets up a positive automated response, as the request instantly seems justified. The lesson learned here? Create a situation which encourages a default positive response.

Boost motivation and ability

Cialdini advocates that motivation can be generated through the following six key principles:

  1. Social Proof (consensus) – others around you are already doing it.
  2. Commitment & Consistency – people tend to honour any initial agreement they make (orally or in writing)
  3. Reciprocity –  if you offer something, the favour is normally returned
  4. Liking –   good manners go a long way
  5. Authority – your experience and expertise increases trust levels
  6. Scarcity – limited time/space available can increase demand

Using any of these principals to different degrees can impact your outcome. You could rely simply on social proof for example; ‘join the likes of X, Y, and Z in signing up for our awesome product today!’, or you could pursue a combination of social proof and scarcity; ‘join the likes of X, Y, and Z in signing up for our awesome product today – but hurry, this deal ends at midnight tonight!’.

Assuming that your clients/customers are busy people it is highly unlikely that you are a priority to them. Therefore, it is crucial that you provide them with a ready-made, well thought out plan in which the level of decision making is brought to a minimum. Make it as easy as possible for them to co-operate, and present an agreement that will be attractive to them. Remember, the question on their mind is unconditionally going to be: ‘What is in it for me?’

Influencing behaviour in terms of ability can be achieved by following two general rules:

Do not make me think: build a personalised case for each person that you contact. Let them know that they are valued, and not merely a name on a list. Make the benefits involved extremely clear, and refrain from providing too many choices. The less time required to think, the more likely you are of getting the results you desire.

Do not make me do: Whoever you are contacting should have as little to do in this arrangement as is humanly possible. Be sure to supply all necessary information, providing links to any pages for further information (if communication is by e-mail, opt for a straight forward ‘click here’ hyperlink as opposed to full links).

At this stage, you can finally start thinking about your trigger: ‘Sounds good? Let’s give it a shot’

Before you attempt a trigger, always make sure the benefit is clear, and that you have made the action as easy as possible. Make ‘yes’ the easiest option, the only option.

Stay ahead of the game

Once the golden equation has been completed, remember that your work is not done. Be sure to decide upfront with the customer/client what exactly you are hoping to achieve together, and decide on a later date to get back in touch and move things forward. Set reminders in your agenda, and show initiative by adding them on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. This way, you will stay in that person’s field of vision, demonstrate a desire to keep in contact (again, not just a name on a list!), and you can slowly begin to build a strong, trusting relationship.