Have you ever allowed people to move you from your favorite cubical at a work station or found yourself in possession of unwanted magazine subscriptions? Don’t worry. It has happened to a lot of us. Let me show you how the process works.
A few months ago I was in the middle of a research project on the Internet at a computer-training center. The supervisor approached my cubical. “Excuse me Thabo,” she said, “You have to move because your name isn’t on the list of people who can use the computer and someone on the list needs it.” I left without complaining. I now know that the supervisor used the commitment and consistency principle to gain my compliance.
What is the commitment and consistency principle?
My action can be explained by the fact that a year earlier the same supervisor had gotten me to put my name on a sign-in sheet as a condition for using the computer; she also put the sheet on a table for others in the room to see. Once I had made the initial commitment, by signing the sheet, I was more willing to accept any other condition in the future that was consistent with the commitment.
The fact that the commitment was made public only served to reinforce it. (Cialdini 2001)
How the principle works
Because I had failed to sign the user sheet for the computer I had no choice, if I were to be consistent with my commitment, but to make room for someone who had followed the rules. As Cialdini points out, “Certainly, then good personal consistency is highly valued in our culture-and well it should be.” (Cialdini P. 55)
How can this hook for magazine subscriptions?
Persuasion is pervasive throughout our culture (Glass and Seiter 1999). Once again someone used a tool of influence on me; this time it was the reciprocity rule. A few weeks ago I received address labels from a community organization even though I hadn’t asked for them; nevertheless I felt obligated to send a donation. Cialdini (2001) has an explanation for the effectiveness of the reciprocity rule. He states, “One of the reasons reciprocation can be used so effectively as a device for gaining another’s compliance is its power. The rule possesses awesome strength, often producing a yes response to a request that, except for an existing feeling of indebtedness, would have surely refused.”
I am all for a more civil, literate, and generous public. That said, I think we should all be more aware of the tools of influence.
Cialdini, Robert B. (2001). Influence: Science and Practice. Massachusetts: Allyn and Becon.
Glass, H. Robert and Seiter S. John. (1999). Persuasion, Influence, and Compliance. Massachusetts: Allyn and Becon