The Small Big BookBy: Steve Martin, CMCT

In the recently published book THE SMALL BIG co-authored by Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein and myself, we make a bold claim. Despite there being hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individual persuasion strategies used across the workplace, nearly all of the techniques that have been scientifically demonstrated to successfully change the thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors of others gain their persuasive power by leveraging just one of three simple underlying human motivations;

  1. The need to make effective and efficient decisions
  2. The need to affiliate with and gain the approval of others; and
  3. The need see ourselves in a positive light.

These motivations are, in themselves, not that surprising. What is surprising, though, is how small the changes in your approach can be that engages them and the big results that can follow. In the next three INSIDE INFLUENCE REPORTS I’ll review each of these motivations in turn and provide some examples of the small changes that you can make that can lead to big differences in your influence.

Here’s the first.

Motivation #1 – The need to make effective and efficient decisions

Simply put, in today’s crazy, information overloaded world people need to achieve their goals in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Anything less can mean the difference between choosing well or wasting time, effort, and resources. Interestingly, one of the most common strategies that people will use to make an efficient and effective decision is not to focus on what is being offered at all, but to instead focus on an alternative or comparison—even if that comparison has little to do with the decision at hand.

This insight, when used ethically and wisely, can pay big dividends.

Vespa parked near an outside cafe.

The Carluccio’s Restaurant Group has over 70 cafes across Europe and the Middle East serving a range of authentic Italian foods such pastas, salads, gelatos, and motorcycles. That’s right. Prominently displayed on each menu is a Vespa Primavera 50 that diners can order, in a color of their choosing, for around $4,500. Compared to salads and sandwiches, Carluccio’s doesn’t sell that many motorcycles. But it’s not included to sell. After all, who goes to a restaurant to buy a motor scooter? (Although you should feel free to leave examples in the comment section of any interesting or odd items you or someone you know may have purchased when dining out). The motorcycle is included to help make the target items (the salads and sandwiches) appear a more effective and efficient (i.e. cheaper) decision for its customers.

The strategy is founded on a basic concept in psychology—perceptual contrast. This is the idea that one way we can make an efficient and effective in this crazy information-overloaded world is to compare what we are being offered with something else. Assuming we’re not a wine buff, a $35 bottle of wine might appear a less efficient and effective decision after being told about the $15 house wine but much more efficient when we are offered a $60 bottle first.

Nothing changes about the wine, just the order it is presented.

Notice how this subtle addition of a comparison is not the motivating factor itself. Instead it acts as a trigger that unleashes the motivational force that already exists. Notice too that because this trigger unleashes a motivation that is fundamental to us all it should work not just on diners choosing wines in restaurants but in lots of different environments and for lots of different influence targets too. For example, imagine you are presenting a proposal to a client or to your financial board. One way you can activate this motivation is to ensure that your proposal is accompanied with a legitimate comparison—even if, as in the case of Carluccio’s Restaurants—your audience will likely reject it.

Is the takeaway, then, for you to invent favorable comparisons simply so your proposals become potentially more persuasive? Certainly not. To do so would be both unwise and unethical. There is another approach, however.

When constructing proposals you will almost certainly, during the course of your investigation, weigh several alternative approaches and, through a process of elimination, fix on a single optimal recommendation. Any ideas deemed to be legitimate but unsuitable—perhaps because they are too costly or would take too much time to implement— are then consigned to the trash. This is a common mistake and should be avoided. Why? Because those options when presented, in brief and first, will serve as legitimate comparisons that allow your target recommendation to shine. They serve as an authentic trigger that unbridles this core motivation in your influence target to make effective, efficient and rewarding decisions.

Split screen: Woman looking disappointed while looking at a price tag & woman looking excited when looking at a price tag.

But isn’t there a downside if one of your comparisons is selected instead? Perhaps, but it is unlikely for two reasons. First, because the options you presented first are legitimate ones they should still serve to provide value to your client or your organization. Second, by providing alternatives, you avoid the potential to be labeled as someone who deliberately sweeps options under the carpet in an attempt to always get your own way. As a result aligning your influence strategy to this fundamental motivation not only increases your influence in the short term, it also serves to build your longer term persuasiveness too.

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Martin, S.J, Goldstein, N.J., & Cialdini, R.B. (2014) The Small Big – Small changes that spark big influence. New York. Hachette


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All Rights Reserved.

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