14 psychological tricks to get people to do what you want

14 psychological tricks to get people to do what you want

You don't need to be the CEO to get people to listen to you.

Psychological research suggests there are plenty of ways to motivate people to do what you want — without them even realizing you've persuaded them.

We've rounded up 11 science-backed strategies for getting people to like you, to buy stuff, and to give you what you're after.

All of them will leave you feeling more powerful.

1. Use a 'decoy' option to get people to buy your product

In his TED Talk, behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains the “decoy effect” using an old Economist advertisement as an example.

The ad featured three subscription levels: $59 for online only, $159 for print only, and $159 for online and print. Ariely figured out that the option to pay $159 for print only exists so that it makes the option to pay $159 for online and print look more enticing than it would if it was just paired with the $59 option.

In other words, if you're having trouble selling the more expensive of two products, consider adding a third option whose only function is to make the “expensive” product look more enticing.

2. Tweak the environment to get people to act less selfish

“Priming” is a powerful psychological phenomenon in which one stimulus produces a particular response to another stimulus, often unconsciously.

One study, cited in the book “You Are Not So Smart,” found that participants playing the ultimatum game opted to keep more money for themselves when they were seated in a room with a briefcase, a leather portfolio, and a fountain pen than when they sat in a room with neutral items. Even though none of the participants were aware of what had happened, the business-related objects may have elicited competitiveness.

This tactic could potentially work when you're bargaining with someone — instead of meeting in a conference room, consider convening in a coffee shop so your partner is less inclined toward aggression.

3. Mimic people's body language to get them to like you

Google used to be a big example of this, with high standards and head-scratching questions.Google used to be a big example of this, with high standards and head-scratching questions.

The next time you're trying to impress a hiring manager or the object of your affection, try subtly mimicking the way they're sitting and speaking — they'll probably like you more.

Scientists call it the “chameleon effect”: We tend to like conversation partners that mimic our postures, mannerisms, and facial expressions.

The strangest part of this phenomenon is that it happens largely unconsciously. Most participants in the “chameleon effect” study weren't even aware that they were being copied.

4. Speak quickly to get an argument opponent to agree with you

How you communicate your ideas can be just as important as the substance of your argument. Research suggests that when someone disagrees with you, you should speak faster so they have less time to process what you're saying.

On the contrary, when you're delivering an argument that your audience agrees with, it helps to speak more slowly, so they have time to evaluate the message.

5. Confuse people to get them to comply with your request

The “disrupt-then-reframe” technique is a sneaky way to get people to cooperate.

One study found that when experimenters went door-to-door selling note cards for charity, DTR helped them make twice as much money as when they simply told people they were selling eight cards for $3. In the DTR scenario, they told people it was 300 pennies for eight cards, “which is a bargain.”

Researchers say that DTR works because it disrupts routine thought processes. While trying to figure out how many dollars 300 pennies comes out to, people are distracted, and so they just accept the idea that the price is a deal.

People are more likely to comply with your request when they're tired. flickr / Hugo Bernard

6. Ask people for favors when they're tired to get them to cooperate

One candidate tried to read the interviewer's fortune - and refused to take no for an answerOne candidate tried to read the interviewer's fortune - and refused to take no for an answer

An alert mind may express some doubt when approached with a request. Yet someone who's tired or distracted will likely be less critical, and will simply accept what you say as true.

So if you're planning to ask a coworker to help out with a project, it's best to ask at the end of a workday. That way, they'll be drained from the day's tasks and won't have the mental energy to realize that they'd rather be doing something else.

Make sure you return the favor by helping them with a project next time, so you aren't simply taking advantage of hardworking colleagues.

7. Display an image of eyes to get people to behave ethically

In one study, people were more likely to clean up after themselves in a cafeteria when they saw an image of eyes than when they saw an image of flowers. The study authors say that eyes typically indicate social scrutiny.

Whether you're trying to prevent littering or encourage people to return the books they borrow from the office library, it helps to give people the impression that they're being watched.

8. Use nouns instead of verbs to get people to change their behavior

Participants in one study were asked two versions of the same question: “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow's election?” and “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow's election?” Results showed that participants in the “voter” condition were more likely to cast their ballots the next day.

That's likely because people are driven by the need to belong, and using a noun reinforces their identity as a member of a specific group.

9. Scare people to get them to give you what you need

Research suggests that people who experience anxiety and then a sense of relief usually respond positively to requests afterward. For example, people who heard an invisible policeman's whistle while crossing the street were more likely to agree to complete a questionnaire than people who didn't hear anything.

That's possibly because their cognitive resources were occupied thinking about the potential danger they encountered, so they had fewer resources left to think about the request that was just posed.

It probably wouldn't be wise to blow a whistle in the middle of your office. Consider scaring a coworker more subtly by reminding them about a project due later that day (Just kidding! It's due tomorrow!) and then asking them if they'd mind helping you out.

In a negotiation, focus on what you're giving your partner. Flickr / Brian Teutsch

10. Focus on what your bargaining partner is gaining to get them to agree to your offer

While negotiating, research suggests you should emphasize to your partner what they're about to gain as opposed to what they're losing. For example, if you're trying to sell a car, you should say, “I'll give you my car for $1,000,” instead of, “I want $1,000 for the car.”

That way, you'll persuade your partner to see things from a different perspective, and they'll probably be more likely to concede.

11. Show people the extreme versions of their views

It seems obvious that, if you want to change someone's point of view, you should make them realize it's wrong. But when it comes to politics, science suggests that a less intuitive strategy might work better.

In a 2014 study, Israelis of different political beliefs were exposed to a series of video clips that portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a positive experience that underlies Jewish identity.

After a few months, Israeli rightists (who are generally less sympathetic than leftists are to Palestinian concerns) were more likely to have changed their political opinions than rightists who watched apolitical video clips. They were even more likely to say they'd voted for more “pro-peace” political parties.

The researchers suspect this strategy works because it doesn't threaten people, so it reduces the activation of defense mechanisms, and allows them to reconsider their positions.

12. Don't come off as too certain

Fascinating research published in 2016 analyzed activity on ChangeMyView, a reddit forum where people pose arguments and ask others to challenge them.

One counterintuitive finding from the study is that people who hedge their arguments — for example, by saying, “it could be the case,” — are ultimately more successful in changing the original poster's mind. The researchers say that's possibly because it softens the counterargument's tone.

13. Touch them gently

A 1991 study found that bookstore shoppers who were greeted with a light touch on their arm spent more time in the store and purchased more items than shoppers who were greeted without being touched.

Interestingly, other research suggests that men who touch women lightly on the arm while asking them out are more likely to get the women's phone numbers.

14. Tell them they're free not to comply

It might sound counterintuitive, but reminding people that they have the option not to do what you want can often motivate them to oblige your request.

A recent review of studies highlighted the effectiveness of the “but you are free” technique: Reaffirming someone's freedom to choose can double the chances that they'll do what you want, whether that's donating to a specific cause or taking a survey.

The exact phrasing doesn't matter so much; you can say something as simple as, “But obviously do not feel obliged.”

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