As I was getting close to my exit I saw a large red truck coming up the left hand lane and it was apparent the driver was going to drive up as far as possible before cutting over to the right a couple of lanes to make the exit. I have no patience for people who continually barge ahead to save a few minutes at the expense of the rest of us who patiently and safely wait our turn. I was fairly close to the truck and my thought was, “He’s not getting in front of me.”
When it came time for him to make his move he did exactly what I thought he’d do. And what did I do? I let him in … and felt okay about it despite my initial angst. This all happened because a principle of influence suddenly made me react differently than I expected to.
The red truck had a Semper Fi sticker on the back and some other Marine stickers so it was apparent the driver served in the military at one time. I was not a Marine but my dad was, having served in Vietnam in the mid-60s. Also, my neighbor Dan, whom I’ve known since he was about three years old, is a Marine who did a tour in Afghanistan not too long ago. And to top it all off, my daughter Abigail loves the Marines because her grandpa served and Dan is like a big brother to her.
All of this ran through my mind in an instant and suddenly I found my attitude and intended behavior toward the other driver changed. It all had to do with the principle of liking. This principle tells us people prefer to say “Yes” to those they know and like. Oftentimes liking is initiated through something as simple as finding similarity with another person. While I wasn’t a Marine, as noted above, I have a special place for them in my heart. When I meet someone who is or was a Marine I always tell them I’m the son of a Marine. So you can see there’s a common bond there.
This shows us just how powerful liking is because I already shared I didn’t appreciate his driving behavior. Quite often the principles of influence override our logical thinking and change our behavior. When I explain this to people sometimes they resist the idea that something outside their conscious compelled them to do something. We want to believe we’re fully in control of our decision making and actions but in reality we’re not. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and more recently The Honest Truth about Dishonesty, explores in detail how we’re not logical beings and he shares many experiments in his books to back up that claim.
In Robert Cialdini’s best selling book, Influence Science and Practice, he points out several studies that show the influence liking has on sales. For example, when it comes to Tupperware sales, the social bond (i.e., liking) has twice as much impact on the decision to purchase than does the actual product preference. When it comes to insurance sales Cialdini wrote, “One researcher who examined the sale records of insurance companies found that customers were more likely to buy insurance when a salesperson was like them in age, religion, politics, and cigarette-smoking habits.” In each case, Tupperware or insurance, I’m certain a good number of people buying would adamantly deny the influence of liking but it’s hard to explain away the results.
I’m not going to encourage you to put bumper stickers on your car to let the world know your likes, dislikes and associations. Instead take this simple advice; when you get ready to meet someone, do a little homework to get to know them beforehand. When you learn you have things in common make sure you raise them to the surface early in the conversation because you never know, you may spot something like I did with the Marine and that might make all the difference between them saying “Yes” instead of “No.”