Leading From Good To Great – Planning Persuasion

June 11, 2010

Let me share with you this persuasion article from Noah Goldstein of the co-authors of the book, “YES” together with Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini. I am conducting a workshop on the Principles of Persuasiaon (POP) at the Park Royal Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from July 1-2, 2010. The POP brochure for this workshop can be accessed from this website. Write to info@kairospl.com to register.

Yes” might just be the most beautiful word in the English language when we’re trying to persuade someone to take a particular course of action. But all too often, in cases in which there is a delay between Yes and when the course of action must be taken (e.g. “Yes, I’ll be sure to bring up your proposal in the meeting next week”), the person saying it fails to deliver on his or her promise. Fortunately, a new study points the way to a simple but often ignored strategy to encourage people to follow through with their initial commitments: Have them form a specific plan for where, when, and how they will go about accomplishing task, which researchers call implementation intentions.

Behavioral scientists David Nickerson and Todd Rogers wanted to know whether asking potential voters to form a specific plan for how they would get to the polls on Election Day would actually influence whether these voters made good on their intention to vote. To answer this question, they conducted an experiment in which a large sample of individuals eligible to vote in the 2008 presidential primary were called at home using one of several different scripts:

1. The Standard Script encouraged people to vote by reminding them about the election and suggesting that voting is an important responsibility. 

2. The Self-Prediction Script was the same as the Standard Script except it also asked whether the person intended to vote. This script was based on previous research suggesting that asking people to simply predict whether or not they will perform a socially desirable behavior increases the likelihood that they’ll do so by encouraging them to say yes, which leads them to feel committed to that course of action.

3. The Voting Plan Script (i.e. implementation intentions script) was identical to the Self-Prediction Script but also asked three follow-up questions designed to encourage individuals to create a voting plan on the spot. These questions were, “What time will you vote?” “Where will you be coming from?” and “What will you be doing beforehand?” The notion here is that by answering these questions, individuals will be able to generate a concrete plan that actually takes into consideration all of their other obligations that day, one that will be simple to follow come Election Day.

There was also a Control Condition that did not involve any contact with the potential voters whatsoever.

Realizing that asking people to report whether or not they voted after the election could produce a whole host of biases and inaccurate data, the researchers instead examined the official voter turnout records to see who did and did not end up actually voting in the election. The results clearly showed that the most effective script was the Voting Plan Script, which increased turnout by at least 4 percentage points compared to control. What’s more, the researchers found that this script had the most impact among households in which there was only a single eligible voter, increasing their turnout by 9.1 percentage points. Although there are several possible explanations, the evidence appears consistent with the possibility that multiple-eligible-voter households are much more likely to spontaneously generate concrete voting plans than single-eligible-voter households because they have more schedules to juggle, which means that the single-eligible-voter households have more of an opportunity to benefit from being asked to generate a plan by an outside party than do multiple-eligible-voter households.

This research makes it very clear that simply hearing “Yes” from another person is just a starting point, rather than an ending point, for persuasion. To optimize the likelihood that others will follow through with their intentions, consider specifically asking them how they plan to go about accomplishing the goal they’ve promised to pursue. This doesn’t need to be done in a micro-managing or demanding way. Rather, you could ask about the details as they relate to whether or not there are specific aspects of the tasks with which you can help.

 

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