How To Get People To Do Stuff: #2 — Break Through A Confirmation Bias

A confirmation bias is a form of “cognitive illusion”. People tend to pay attention to what they already believe and filter out information that doesn’t fit with their opinions and beliefs. You can breakthrough these biases, however. Watch the video to find out how:

For more information check out:

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast And Slow

and my new book (when it comes out in March 2013 — available for pre-order now at Amazon) How To Get People To Do Stuff

In order to get through a confirmation bias, start first with something you know the person or your audience already believes. That way they will let the information/communication in through their attention gate. Once you’ve made it past the confirmation filters you can then slip in a new idea.

What do you think? Have you tried this to break through a confirmation bias?

How To Get People To Do Stuff: #1 — Use Nouns Instead Of Verbs

"I am a voter"This blog post is the first of a new series called “How To Get People To Do Stuff”. It features nuggets from the book I am writing by the same name due out in March of 2013.

I’m also starting a new format of doing video blogs. So first is the video, and then below it is the text that I talk about in the video.

Let me know what you think about the new topic series and whether you like the video format!

Here’s the research:

Walton, Gregory and Banaji, Mahzarin, Being what you say: the effect of essentialist linguistic labels on preferences, Social Cognition, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2004, pp. 193-213.

In a survey about voting, Gregory Walton at Stanford sometimes asked  “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” versus  “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?”

The first sentence was phrased so that the emphasis was on the noun, “voter”. The second sentence emphasized “to vote”. Did the wording make a difference?

11% more voted — When the the noun (be a voter) was used instead of the verb (to vote), 11% more people actually voted the following day.  Why would nouns affect behavior more than verbs?

Needing to belong — I had always learned that using direct verbs resulted in more action. But if using a noun invokes group identity, that will trump a direct verb. People have a strong need to feel that they belong. People identify themselves in terms of the groups they belong to and this sense of group can deeply affect their behavior. You can stimulate group identity just by the way you have people talk about themselves or the way you phrase a question. For example, research shows that if people say “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot” it will affect how strong their preference is for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb.

When you are trying to get people to do stuff try using nouns rather than verbs. Invoke a sense of belonging to a group and it is much more likely that people will comply with your request.

What do you think? Have you tried nouns instead of verbs?

7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendation: #6

Newton's First Law Of Motion
Newton's First Law of Motion

This is the 6th post in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations.

Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations

Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”

Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report

Tip #4 was Use The Word “Because” And Give A Reason

Tip #5 was  Add research or statistics to bolster your recommendations

Now for Tip #6. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #6: Point out the consequences of the Status Quo — When you are asking people to listen to and follow your recommendations you are essentially asking them to change their course. They were perhaps standing still, or even if they were moving, they were rolling along on one track. Now you are asking them to get going on a different track. Change is not easy.

Inertia is powerful — As Newton’s first law of motion says, it can be hard to get people moving once they’ve stopped.

Movement in a particular direction is powerful too — Physics also teaches us that once a body is in motion in one direction it will keep going that way unless something hits it and gets it going in another direction. In order to get people to move in a diferent direction, or move at all, you have to jolt them out of their curent state. There are a few options about how you do this:

Show them the consequences of staying still. If they don’t do anything differently, what is the result? You’d think people would have thought this through, but often they haven’t. For example, let’s say that a product is hard to learn and so there are many calls to the help desk after it is released. You’ve pointed this out, but people are still not willing to make the changes you are recommending. You’ve already shown them how you can make the product easier to use. Instead,  focus on what happens if they keep the product the way it is. Calculate how many calls to the help desk that really means in a month. Calculate the % turn over each month, or the new people coming on board. Show that there will be an xx% increase in calls over a 1 year period. Make it concrete.

Make use of a catastrophe. It’s unfortunate, but true, that sometimes it takes a catastrophe to get people to change course. If a catastrophe happens, make use of it. That is the time to speak up. One of my clients had been trying to get an online form improved, but no one was willing to spend the time and money to fix it. She worked at a large insurance company that owned commercial property. The form was for appraisers. They would go online and fill out an appraisal form. That appraisal form would be used to compute the selling price of a large commercial building. Because the form was hard to use, the appraisers sometimes entered incorrect information that led to a property being appraised at an incorrect value. Someone would later review the appraisals, realize that there was an error, and the mistake would be corrected. But one day an appraiser filled out the form incorrectly and the building sold the next day before anyone noticed or fixed the error. The company lost several million dollars overnight. It was a catastrophe, and my client seized the opportunity. She said, “NOW we are going to fix this form!” Inertia was gone.

What do you think? Have you been using any of these techniques to overcome inertia or change course?


7 Tips To Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #4

The word becauseThis is the 4th in a 7-part series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your Top 3 Recommendations. Tip #2 was Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I”. Tip #3 was Give Them A Presentation, Don’t Send Them A Report. Now for Tip #4. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #4: Use the word “Because”, and give a reason. Have you heard of the “Because” study? In 1978 three researchers (see reference below), conducted a research study. Ellen Langer, Arthur Blank and Benzion Chanowitz used a busy copy machine at on a college campus (remember that this is in the 1970’s — there weren’t computers and printers. People did a lot more copying back then). The researchers tried out three different, carefully worded requests to break in line:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?”
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Here are the results:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?” [60% compliance]
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”[93% compliance]
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” [94% compliance]

Using the word “because” and giving a reason resulted in significantly more compliance. This was true even when the reason was not very compelling (“because I have to make copies). The researchers hypothesize that people go on “automatic” behavior or “mindlessness” as a form of a heuristic, or short-cut. And hearing the word “because” followed by a reason (no matter how lame the reason is), causes us to comply.

(Two interesting side notes here — if the request was large (copying 20 pages rather than 5), then only the real reason, “I’m in a rush” resulted in compliance. And Elizabeth Langer, who was one of the researchers in this study as a grad student, later went on to study mindlessness and mindfulness in her career, becoming famous for her research on reversing the effects of aging with mindfulness — See the book Counterclockwise).

What this all boils down to is this: When the stakes are low people will engage in automatic behavior.  If you want a team to implement your recommendations, then a) make as small a request/recommendation as you can, and b) use the word because and give a reason as to why you want the change to be implemented.

What do you think? Have you tried this technique?

And if you want to read the original research:

Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.




7 Tips to Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #2

Red outline circle with the letter I in itThis is the 2nd in a series on how to get a team to implement your recommendations. Tip #1 was: Hide Your top 3 Recommendations.

Now for Tip #2. The context is that you want to see your recommendations implemented. How can you present them to a team so that they will be acted on and not dismissed?

Tip #2: Say “You”, “They”, “Customers”, “Users”, or “Research”. Don’t say “I” — The wording you use when you present your recommendations can have a subtle but important impact. Let’s say you are going to suggest that the information architecture be changed so that there are fewer choices to make from the home page. You could say,

“I think that there are too many items on the top level menu. I’d like to see us pare that down to a smaller number.”

Instead use one of the words above and reframe the recommendation so that it’s not actually YOU making the recommendation. It’s not about you. If you use the word “I” then it becomes your opinion rather than an expert source

Here are some phrases to use instead:

  • “You want to be sure that people don’t have too many choices to make at the top level. If you change the information architecture to have few items, then it will be easier for customers to make a decision quickly about where to go at the site.”
  • “Users will get confused if there are too many choices at the top level of the menu.”
  • “Research shows that if you offer too many choices, then people won’t choose anything. Sheena Iyengar and Barry Schwartz are two researchers who have some interesting studies on this. You want to limit the number of choices at the top level.”

In each of these examples you are not stating your opinion. If team members disagree they aren’t disagreeing with you. They are going against users, research, and customers. They will feel the need to present their own evidence if they are going to ignore or object to your recommendation. You are framing recommendations as being from a larger and more important source. It will be harder to push your idea aside this way. You will be more persuasive.

What do you think? Have you tried altering your wording this way? What was the result?

And in case you are interested in Sheena Iyengar or Barry Schwartz’s work, I have links to the books on Amazon below.




7 Tips to Get A Team To Implement Your Recommendations: Tip #1

Cartoon picture of a meetingHave you ever found yourself in a meeting trying to convince a team to implement your recommendations? Perhaps you are a web designer who wants the team to move ahead with your design, or you are a user experience professional who has recommended a re-design to make a product more usable.

You work hard and put your skills and knowledge to use to come up with solutions. It’s frustrating if you can’t see those ideas actually implemented.  It’s often hard for teams to come to agreement about how to fix a problem, or even to agree that there is a problem at all that needs fixing. Even if others agree with you, that’s not the same as actually taking action.

If you want your ideas to be implemented you can’t just talk about them and expect that others will automatically get excited and start implementing changes.

Over the years of my career I have faced the task of influencing a team to implement my recommendations hundreds of times. From my experience, and ideas from my mentors and colleagues, I’ve collected 7 tips to get a team to implement your recommendations.

Tip #1: Hide your top 3 recommendations — Let’s say you have 10 changes you are recommending to the team. Instead of presenting all 10, decide which 3 are the most important for the team to implement. Put those 3 LAST on the list to talk about. Start with the others. Present each of the ideas and be willing to negotiate or even “cave”. Then when you get to the 3 you think are the most important, you can stand firm on those. Don’t expressly say that those 3 are the most important. Instead say, “Hey, I’ve been willing to compromise on all of these other items, you’ve got to give me at least these 3”.

Concession at work — The reason this technique works is because of the principle of concession. In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about the principle of concession. Robert. Cialdini was the first person to identify concession as a powerful influence. In the example above we are using concession in this way:  When you ask someone for something and they don’t say yes, they make you negotiate or compromise, or they outright say no (the first 7 items on your list of 10), they actually set up an indebtedness. They now owe you. So then you ask for your last 3 items on your list and they (largely unconsciously) feel that it’s their turn to say yes.

What do you think? Have you tried this technique? Did it work for you? Did you see more of your recommendations being implemented?

Stay tuned for the rest of the 7 tips in upcoming blog posts.

For more information:

Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? by Susan Weinschenk

The Psychology of Influence by Robert Cialdini

100 Things You Should Know About People: #40 — "You're Easily Influenced, but I'm not"

Woman looking skeptical
Photo by Katie Ricard

I have been doing a lot of public speaking about my book and the ideas of persuasion. Early in my talks I often discuss John Bargh’s research on how much we are influenced by factors that we are not aware of. Bargh had people unscramble sets of words to make sentences, for example, he would ask people to choose 4 out of 5 words and make a sentence out of them:

he florida today lives now in

would become: “He now lives in Florida”.

Some people would get sets of words that had a theme of old: such as Florida, retired, old, elderly. Other people would get sets of words that had a young theme: such as youth, energy, lively.  A third group would get neutral words that were neither old nor young. After unscrambling the words and making sentences he would then have them walk down the hall to find him. Bargh measured how long it took each person to walk down the hall. People who had been using the “old” words, took much longer to walk down the hall. They had been unconsciously affected by the words. But when asked if they thought the words had influenced them they said no, and when I talk about this study I get the impression that most people in the audience believe that others would walk slowly, but that these words wouldn’t have affected them.

“I’m not that influenced” — In another example, I share in my talks about the power of social validation: how ratings and reviews at websites have a huge influence over what people decide to do (it’s because when we are uncertain we look to others to decide what to do). And everyone in the room nods and talks about how this is true, that other people are very influenced by ratings and reviews, but most people I am speaking to think that they themselves are not very affected. I talk about study after study on persuasion and how much we are affected by pictures, images, words, and that we don’t realize we are being influenced. And the reaction is always similar: “Yes, other people are affected by these things, but I am not.”

The third person effect — In fact, this belief that “others are affected but not me”, is so common that there is research on it, and it has its own name: the “third person effect”.  The research shows that most people think other people are influenced by persuasive messages, but that they themselves are not, and that this perception is false. The “third person effect” seems to be especially true if you think you aren’t interested in the topic. For example, if you are not in the market to buy a new TV, then you will tend to think that advertising about new TVs won’t affect you, but the research says that it will.

Why do we deceive ourselves this way? — So why the self-deception? It’s partly because all this influence is happening unconsciously. We literally aren’t aware that we are being influenced. And it’s also partly because we don’t like to think of ourselves as so easily swayed, or so “gullible”. To be gullible is to not be in control, and our old brain, the part of our brain that is concerned with survival, always wants us to be in control.

What do you think? Why do we believe that others are so easily influenced but not ourselves?

For those of you who like to read research:

Bargh, John A., Mark Chen, Lara Burrows. 1996. Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 71(2), 230-244.

Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.

Bryant Paul; Michael B. Salwen; Michel Dupagne, The Third-Person Effect: A Meta-analysis of the perceptual hypothesis. Mass Communication and Society, 1532-7825, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2000, Pages 57 – 85

Perloff  Third-Person Effect Research 1983–1992: A Review and Synthesis.
Int J Public Opin Res.1993; 5: 167-184


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