Jeremy Maclin, Jack Nicklaus and the Power of Commitment

Jeremy Maclin might not be a familiar name to many of you but he’s certainly a rising star in the NFL and adored by the football fans in Philadelphia.  In early August he was not in the Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp because he’d been battling an undisclosed illness. The story came to my attention in late September as I was watching Chris Berman talk about Maclin on ESPN’s Sports Center.

What really caught my attention was near the end of the story when Berman declared Maclin his new “favorite player” because of his outlook in the midst of what he was dealing with. Then Berman shared that despite the uncertainty of his future Maclin participated this summer in a couple of youth football camps. Berman relayed that when he asked why he did that Maclin said, “Because I made a commitment.”
Commitment is a powerful, powerful thing when it comes to influence. Why is that the case? Because of something Dr. Cialdini coined “the principle of consistency.” Consistency alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure to remain consistent in word and deed. Very few people like to say one thing then turn around and do another. It’s not just the public pressure because of perception; it’s rooted in how we are raised. People who don’t do what they say are quite often the recipients of negative labels: flip flopper, liar, wishy washy, inconsistent, and unreliable, to name just a few.
Here’s another example of the power of consistency. This one comes from the book Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive (Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini). On March 2, 2005, Jack Nicklaus’ 17-month-old grandson Jake accidentally drown in a hot tub accident. The tragedy was only one month out from the biggest golf tournament in America, The Masters. Jack Nicklaus has won more green jackets (6) than any other golfer in history but when asked if he would play Nicklaus said the chances were between “between slim and none.” However, not only did he play, he played in two other tournaments as well. When asked why he did so in the midst of the family tragedy he said, “You make commitments, and you’ve got to do them.”
Wow! Two high profile people dealing with personal and family tragedy and yet they feel compelled to do what they said they would do. If consistency is such a powerful psychological principle the question for us is, how can we ethically tap into this principle to help move our agenda ahead? It’s actually pretty simple and can be summed up in one word – question.
Too often people tell each other what to do instead of asking. Here are a couple of examples:
“I need the board report by Friday.”
“Clean your room before lunch.”
Simply turning these statements into questions taps into consistency:
“Can you get me the board report by Friday?”
“Will you clean your room before lunch?”
There are a couple more things that can be done with each statement to increase your odds of success: 1) give yourself a fall back option, and 2) use the word “because” to tag each with a reason. Here’s how I’d approach the board report request incorporating both:
“Can you get me the board report by Tuesday because I have to get it to communications for proof reading before I finalize it?”
Notice I moved the date up from Friday to Tuesday. If the answer is “no” then I can retreat by saying, “Can you get it to me by Friday?” This taps into reciprocity because people usually respond with a “Yes” immediately after telling you “No.” Studies also show the odds of hearing “Yes” go up rather significantly when the word because is used and a reason given.
So here’s my take away and something I share in workshops – stop making statements and start asking questions. Do so and you tap into the power of consistency because an affirmative answer creates a commitment on the part of the other person just as it did with Jeremy Maclin and Jack Nicklaus.
Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear
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