How To Get People To Do Stuff

bookcoverAre you good with people? Do you know how to get them to do stuff? Are you using tips and techniques you picked up from others or experimented with? If so, I bet that sometimes your strategies work and other times they don’t.

There are 7 basic drivers of human motivation. And if you understand what motivates people you’ll be better able to figure out how to get people to do stuff. That’s the premise of my new book that just hit the shelves. Some of my previous video posts are topics from the new book, and I’ll be posting more video blogs as time goes on. In the meantime, here’s a summary of the 7 drivers of motivation:

The Need to Belong

Have you ever felt left out? Not part of a group you wanted to be part of? It probably made you feel sad, depressed or angry, or all of the above. We are ultimately social animals, and our desire to connect with others is a strong, innate drive. We’re not meant to live alone, and we’ll work hard to be socially accepted. We need to feel that we have a place in the world where we belong.

You can use the need to belong, and the longing for connectedness, to get people to do stuff.

For example:

  • If you use nouns when making a request, rather than verbs – for example: “Be a donor” versus “Donate now” –  it results in more people taking action. That’s because nouns invoke group identity.
  • People are more likely to comply with a request if they trust you.
  • The best way to get others to trust you is to first show that you trust them.

Habits

It might surprise you to learn how much of everything we do in a typical day we do out of habit without even thinking about it. We don’t even remember how those habits got formed.

We hear so much about how it takes months to create a new habit. How could that be, when we seem to have created hundreds of them easily without even realizing it? It turns out that it’s actually very easy to create a new habit or even change an existing one, if you understand the science behind habit formation. You can use the science of habits to help other people create or change habits, so you can get them to do stuff. Here’s a little bit of information about the science of habits:

  • The easiest way to create a new habit is to anchor it to an existing habit.
  • If you use anchoring you can get people to create a new habit in less than a week.
  • An important part of getting someone to create a new habit is to break things into really small steps.

The Power of Stories

What kind of person are you? Are you someone who helps those in need? Do you keep up on the latest trends and fashions? Are you a family person who spends time and energy to nurture family relationships?

We all have self-personas. We tell ourselves, and other people, stories about who we are and why we do what we do. Some of our self-personas and our stories are conscious, but others are largely unconscious.

If you understand these self-personas, then you can communicate in a way that matches those self-stories and thereby get people to do stuff. For example:

  • If you can get people to take one small action that is in conflict with one of their self-personas, that one small step can eventually lead to big behavior change.
  • You can prompt someone to change their own story by having other people share their stories. If someone hears the right story you can get people to change their own self-stories in as little as 30 minutes and that one change can alter their behavior for a lifetime.
  • Writing something down (in longhand, not typing) activates certain parts of the brain and makes it more likely that people will commit to what they wrote.

Carrots and Sticks

Have you ever been to a casino? Think about this: You spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to do stuff; you may even offer rewards or pay people to do stuff. And yet a casino gets people to pay them!

Casinos understand the science of reward and reinforcement. Here are just a few things the science of reward and reinforcement tells us about how to get people to do stuff:

  • If you want consistent behavior don’t reward people every time they do something, just some of the time.
  • People are more motivated to reach a goal the closer they get to it.
  • Let’s say you own a coffee shop and give people a stamp for each cup of coffee they buy. After 10 stamps they get a free coffee. Did you know that as soon as they get that free coffee their coffee buying and drinking behavior will slow down for a while?
  • When you punish someone it only works for a little while. Giving rewards is more effective than punishment.

Instincts

Imagine you’re driving down the road and there’s an accident ahead. You tell yourself not to slow down and look, and yet you feel the irresistible urge to do exactly that.

Being fascinated by danger is one of our basic instincts. Instincts are strong and largely unconscious. They affect our behavior. Sometimes you can get people to do stuff just by tapping into these instincts. For example:

  • People are more motivated by fear of losing than the possibility of gaining something.
  • We are basically all “control freaks”. The desire to control starts as young as 4 months old.
  • When people are sad or scared they will want is familiar. If they’re happy and comfortable they’ll crave something new.

The Desire for Mastery

Even stronger than giving an external reward is the desire for mastery. People are very motivated to learn and master skills and knowledge.

Certain situations encourage a desire for mastery, and others dampen the desire for mastery. You can use what we know from the research on mastery to set up conditions that will encourage and stimulate the desire for mastery, and, by doing so, get people to do stuff. For example:

  • Giving people autonomy over what they are doing will stimulate them to master a skill and will motivate them to work harder.
  • If people feel that something is difficult they will be more motivated to do it.
  • Don’t mix praise with feedback if you want to stimulate the desire for mastery. Just give objective feedback.

Tricks of the Mind

You’ve probably seen visual illusions—where your eye and brain think they’re seeing something different than they really are. What you may not realize is that there are cognitive illusions, too. There are several biases in how we think. Our brains are wired to jump to quick conclusions. This is useful in reacting quickly to our environment, but sometimes these fast conclusions and decisions lead to cognitive illusions. You can use these tricks of the mind to get people to do stuff. For example:

  • If you mention money then people become more independent and less willing to help others.
  • People filter out information they don’t agree with, but you can get past those filters by first agreeing with them.
  • People are more likely to do something if you can get them to phrase it as a question to themselves (Will I exercise each week?) than if you get them to say a declarative statement (I will exercise each week.)

If you understand what motivates people, then you can change and modify what you do, what you offer, and how and what you ask of people. You can change your strategies and tactics to get people to do stuff.

I hope you’ll consider buying the book! If you are interested, my publisher, Peachpit, is offering a 35% coupon code to purchase the book in print or as a PDF. The code is DOSTUFF and you can use it at the book website.

Or, if you prefer Amazon, here’s a link to the Amazon page:

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?

5 Reasons Why Online Video Is So Persuasive

picture of videogenie testimonial
Video Genie lets customers record video testimonials

Let’s say you are browsing for shoes at your favorite online shoe store. You see a pair that looks like what you are looking for, but you aren’t 100% convinced. Then you notice that in addition to the regular reviews written by other shoppers, there is a video you can click on. You click on the video and watch a stream of customers show you the shoe and talk about why they like it. Persuasive? You bet!

Video is one of the most powerful media choices for online persuasion. Here are 5 reasons why:

#1 — Movement in peripheral vision grabs attention — In a previous post I talked about why movement in your peripheral vision is so powerful at grabbing attention. Video online is movement, and so will automatically grab attention more than anything else on the screen.

#2 — Speakers and listener’s brains sync up — In a previous post I talked about the research by Stephens (Stephens, Greg, Silbert, L., & Hasson, U., 2010. Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 27, 2010.) that shows that the brain patterns of listeners synch up with the brain patterns of the speaker they are listening to. This means that a video of someone talking  is going to be more powerful than just reading words on a page.

#3 — Video compensates (somewhat) for the asynchronous problem — In a previous post I wrote about the research by Wiltermuth and Heath (Scott S. Wiltermuth  and Chip Heath,  Synchrony and Cooperation, Psychological Science, Volume 20 Issue 1, Pages 1 – 5) on how synchronous behavior bonds people together. A lot of online communication is asynchronous — the communication is not occurring simultaneously in real time. Emails, Facebook posts, twitter posts, are asynchronous. Chat is synchronous. Synchronous communication is, in general, more persuasive. Video can be synchronous (think Skype) or asynchronous (think TED talk or YouTube). But video does have the advantage of allowing you to hear and see an actual person, rather than the more removed reading of text. In this regard it is the most powerful of the asynchronous media.

#4 — Video can convey emotional info, not just factual — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about how important it is to speak to the emotional mid-brain if you want to get your message across and have your message be remembered. Video has the advantage (over just reading text) of communicating social and emotional information, not just facts.

#5 — Video testimonials combine all the powerful elements together — If you haven’t seen Video Genie in action, I suggest you go to videogenie.com and check out their example videos. This is a new technology that allows customers to easily make a video testimonial and post it to your site (you get to moderate it, i.e. watch it before it gets posted). I’ve talked a lot (in books and other posts) about why testimonials and reviews are so powerful (it’s the principle of social validation). Video testimonials are social validation on steroids. Social validation, brain syncing, emotional content… you just can’t beat this for persuasion.

The technology for video is finally getting easier and easier to create and integrate online. (Another interesting example is Vokle.com — it allows anyone to host their own video talk show, live, with people calling in.)

What do you think? Are you using video at your site?

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #67 — Anecdotes Persuade More Than Data

pie chart with a "No" red slash through it
No Data!

Let’s say you have to make a presentation to several department heads at work about your latest conversations with your customers. You interviewed 25 customers and surveyed another 100, and have lots of important data to share. Your first thought might be to present a summary of the data in a numerical/statistical/data driven format, for example:

  • 75% of the customers we interviewed….
  • Only 15% of the customers responding to the survey indicated…

Perhaps you are thinking about pie charts vs. bar charts.

Don’t present the data first — A data based approach will not be as persuasive as anecdotes. You may want to include the data in the presentation at some point, but your presentation will be more powerful if you start with and focus on one or more anecdotes, for example:

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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Thumbs Up: Credo mobile email hits 5 Persuasion hot buttons


I get plenty of marketing emails, and this one that came the other day really stood out. Credo Mobile… it’s a cell phone service provider that also promises political change! They use 5 different persuasion techniques, all on one page:
1. The word “Free” is very powerful and they use it several times
2. Scarcity — “Offer Expires…”
3. Association — They are a politically active company, and they talk about Barack Obama on the page… they are associating themselves with Obama… like Obama, then you will like them
4. Consistency — The message is: If you are someone who cares about being progressive, then you want to (be consistent) and use a progressive cell phone service provider.
5. Social Validation – -The bottom ofthe page has a customer testimonial, with a name and photo.

Good job hitting persuasion marks Credo!