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Strategies and Tactics: Minimize Biases That Allow Others to Influence

Strategies and Tactics: Minimize Biases That Allow Others to Influence
So let’s start with our first strategy. Strategy of how do you protect yourself from the unwanted influence of other people? The first strategy that we’re gonna talk about is how do you minimize the biases, the psychological biases that all human beings have that enable others to influence them? In our earlier segment, you talked about a number of influence tactics. To illustrate or demonstrate this particular strategy of how to minimize those biases, I’m gonna give a few examples. Using some of the very specific strategies and tactics that you talked about and learned about in the earlier segment.
We’ll talk about social proof, for example, we’ll talk about the availability tactic that you can use, and we’ll talk about the liking tactic that is used to influence other people. So, let’s dive in. Let’s dive into some of these examples so we can illustrate, how do you specifically minimize the biases that enable others to influence you? Especially when that influence is unwanted or undesirable for yourself or for your group. So here’s the first tactic that we’re gonna illustrate with. You’ll recall, you talked about social proof and conformity, this is the Asch Experiment from 1956.
You’ll recall that individuals were brought into a room and asked to indicate which of these lines, A, B, or C, was the same length or distance as the line on the left. Interestingly, when individuals were given the opportunity to compare these lines, participants provided the correct response in more than 99% of cases. So, when it was left up just to the individual, asked alone by yourself, 99% plus of the cases, you got the answer correct. However, when we put you in a group where other people are giving their answers, and then you’ll recall in the Asch Experiment it was such that other people were giving the incorrect answer.
So in this case the correct answer would be C, and other people were giving either A or B as the same distance or length as the other line. Under group pressure, 76% of participants gave the wrong answer at least once. So that’s the tactic, social proof using this peer pressure, if you will, to influence the minority, the lone individual in this case. To give a wrong answer to what is seemingly a really objective task with a clear right answer. So how do we protect ourselves from that group pressure, from the use of social proof to influence us?
Well, you have to remember that in the Asch Experiment, when participants wrote down their opinion or their answer independently from the group, the number of wrong answers actually dropped by over two-thirds. You also have to remember from that Asch Experiment, that when there were at least two people in the group that gave the correct response, 95% of participants gave the correct answer. So, if, given the opportunity to write down your opinion independently, privately, you’re much less susceptible to the peer pressure or the group pressure of that social proof. It’s also true that if you have someone else in the group who supports your point of view, you’re much less likely to fall trap to that group pressure.
So what do we learn from that? Well first is, a tactic that we can use to protect ourselves from the pressure of social proof is to minimize that pressure by asking individuals, in the group, in your team, to record their opinions independently. This is the power of the private vote. This is also exactly why current research on brainstorming and creativity is finding that if you ask people to document their ideas independently, privately, prior to any group discussion or group brainstorming, the creativity of the ideas actually increases significantly.
So you can minimize this group think, this social pressure, by really taking advantage of the opportunity to record your opinions, record your decisions independently with a private vote, or a private documentation, prior to that group discussion which then applies that group pressure. So that’s a very clear strategy that you can use to protect yourself from that group pressure, that social proof. Another one is to ensure you are not the single minority. This is the idea of building coalitions in advance of any group discussion.
You wanna make sure that there’s at least someone in that room, someone in that group who, even if that person doesn’t entirely share your opinion, is willing to play devil’s advocate to the majority, or is willing to support your idea before actually making a decision of his or her own. You wanna build your coalitions in advance of any group discussion so that you are not ever the single minority in a group, because it’s when you’re that single minority that you are most susceptible. Let’s look at another example that you talked about. You learned about the availability heuristic that can be used to influence people.
This is the idea that we as human beings tend to be particularly influenced by extremely vivid, extremely salient, or readily available information. This is why in many cases people are afraid to fly, for example. What do we remember about flying? Well, it’s the accidents that we remember, it’s not the millions of people that fly every day safely. It’s that one accident, or those couple of accidents that we’ve seen on the news, is in many cases a reason why people are afraid to fly. Or the example that I give you here, which is why are people so afraid of sharks, when the prevalence or the rate of shark attacks is actually really, really low?
One of my favorite examples of the availability approach or tactic to influencing people, is what happened in 2001 in the United States. In 2001, prior to September 11th, the third most important news story in the entire country was what was happening on the coast of Florida. Where you had news helicopters flying above the beach in Florida, videotaping sharks swimming in the water around people. Every night when you turned on the news in the Unites States, and this was nationwide, every night on the news, all you saw were videos of sharks swimming in the water, off the coast of Florida, near human beings swimming and playing in the water. The result was dramatic.
People, their fear of sharks went up, their willingness to go to Florida on vacation, their willingness to go to the beach and get in the water dropped dramatically, why? Because every night they were seeing sharks in the water off the coast of Florida. Very vivid, very salient, and readily available information when you’re planning where you’re gonna go for vacation that year, or whether or not you’re gonna get in the water. But here’s the irony, there were actually less attacks in 2001, nine in fact, less attacks in 2001 relative to the prior year in 2000. And if you look at years prior to 2000, there was no surge in shark attacks in 2001.
The simple reality is that it was a slow news cycle up until 9/11, and the news television stations simply had nothing better to cover, and so they covered the sharks swimming in the ocean. And that created a heightened sense of fear and anxiety on the part of people planning their vacations and so forth. So then the question is, well how do you protect yourself from this availability heuristic, or this availability strategy, so that you are not susceptible to the influence of this extremely vivid, salient information, even when that information should not be influencing your behavior? So here are a few strategies.
The first one is keeping a continuous record of relevant facts, data, events, for example, and making sure that you’re referring back to them. I work with a lot of my students and one of the things I often tell them is when you’re at work, oftentimes organizations have an annual performance evaluation that’s at the end of the calendar year, or the end of the fiscal year. And I often ask the question, if you want to influence your boss’ rating of you, and that rating is for the entire year, when during the year do you think you should be performing at your best? And the answer is clearly, as close as possible to that annual performance evaluation.
And you can actually influence your manager or your boss’ rating of you by maximizing your performance as close to that annual evaluation as possible, and so then if you’re the manager, the question is, how do you protect yourself from that availability heuristic? And one answer to that is keeping that continuous record of data on your employees over the course of the entire year so you can refer back to a full year’s set of information as opposed to just what was most recent. The second strategy that I want you to really internalize and understand is distancing meetings from events that are particularly vivid, salient, unexpected, or events that are extremely positive or extremely negative.
Those events that are extremely vivid, unexpected, or extremely positive
or negative, they can overweight how we think about the decisions that we’re making or have a significant influence on those decisions. And so what you wanna do is you wanna think about, you have the event and then instead of having the meeting to make a decision about it, right after that event, you wanna create some distance between those. So that your decision making, your processing of what happened, why it happened etc., is not influenced in a significant way by the event itself. And then thirdly is ask questions. But in particular, what questions do you ask? So if you’re working with your group and they’re giving you some information, and that information is extremely vivid, salient, readily memorable or available.
What you wanna do is ask some questions that get at what we call counterfactuals, counter-examples, or alternative explanations. So in my shark example, what data do we have to suggest that shark attacks are actually increasing over time, would have been a very valid question to ask. As opposed to just paying attention to the media reports that there are a lot of sharks in the water. So you wanna ask questions like, what if, alternative explanations, what about counter-examples? Somebody tells you this happened, you might ask, well, are there times when that didn’t happen, or are there times when something else happened?
So ask those challenging questions so that you are defusing the power of that information that’s so available at that particular moment in time. So that gives you least a few strategies that you can use in terms of dealing with availability. And then in the last one I’ll give you as an example is on liking. In our earlier segment we talked a lot about liking as an influence tactic. And one of the data points that’s always struck me as particularly interesting is, if I am gonna ask you a request, a favor, or ask you to do something for me.
Your compliance to that request goes up dramatically, two, three, almost four times, if we have a dialogue, a casual dialogue, before I actually make my request. So, if you’re the person who I am making my request to, how do you protect yourself from that influence? Well, one strategy that you can use is to minimize the amount or frequency of dialogue, especially face to face dialogue, where I can really connect with you. You wanna minimize that dialogue prior to the actual decision or the negotiation. So for example, when I go to buy a car, the car salesperson is trained to have casual dialogue with me, get to know me, etc.
I will purposefully minimize that dialogue so that I am not overly influenced by that liking effect that the salesperson is so sophisticated at using to influence me to want to buy that car from him or her.
So again, what’s the strategy that you’re going to use to minimize the biases that enable others to influence you? Okay, what are those biases? Each strategy is going to tap into some of those biases. Here we’ve talked about social proof and conformity, we talked about availability, we talked about liking. You want to figure out what are the biases that are really driving that influence tactic? And work to minimize those biases by, in the case of social proof, making sure you have a partner, making sure that people have the opportunity to individually record their answers. Availability, make sure you don’t pay attention to just the most recent data, make sure you pay attention to the full set of information.
Or liking, make sure you defuse the opportunity the people have to use dialog to create that liking effect, some very specific strategies to protect yourself. In the next segment, we’ll talk about how to flip the influence tactics on the other person, our second of three very powerful strategies to protect yourself from that influence.
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