5 Cues to Consider When Trying to Influence Someone’s Habits

I recently watched a very interesting interview with Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit. I read the book
several years ago and was fascinated by the subject matter and scientific
research Duhigg shared throughout the book. Watching his interview renewed my
interest in the subject and started me thinking about how habits and influence
I’ve personally seen how forming good habits
can be extremely beneficial. As a teenager I got in the habit of working out
because I wanted to get in shape for football. The habit of weightlifting
stayed with me because I enjoyed it and I eventually I added running to my
fitness mix. For decades my days have consisted of getting up very early to
read, then workout or run. For me that morning habit is as regular as eating
breakfast or showering before work. Duhigg would call this a “keystone” habit
because it positively affects other things I do. For example; in addition to
being a little smarter and more fit, by the time I get to work I feel ready to
tackle just about anything because of my morning routine.
The great thing about habits is they remove the
burden of thinking. That frees us up to devote energy to other items competing
for our attention. If you pause for a moment to consider your habits you’ll
probably realize almost all of them occur with little or no thought. When
habits are good that’s wonderful. However, when habits are poor it can be tough
to change them.
As a persuader it’s important that you
understand this because quite often you’re not looking to persuade someone into
a one-time behavioral change. After all, you don’t want to have to persuade
your child every day to do their homework do you? If you’re the boss at work
you don’t want to have the same conversation over and over to influence an
employee to show up on time, do you? Wouldn’t it be great if those behavioral changes
took hold and were lasting? It’s my goal to help you learn how to Influence
PEOPLE into lasting change.
Let’s look at the example of trying to
persuade an employee to show up to work on time. You could use every principle of
influence in this effort.

Liking – Appeal to the
relationship you have with them and ask them to do a personal favor for you and
start showing up on time.
Reciprocity – Leverage something
you’ve done for the person in the past by referencing it and asking for their help
in return.
Consensus – Let them know
everyone else makes it to work on time so there’s no reason they shouldn’t also.
Authority – While not always
advisable, you can reference you’re the boss and this is the expectation.
However, beware that playing on your positional authority can cause resentment
and that usually doesn’t lead to lasting change.
Consistency – After having some
conversation about why they’re late so often ask them if they’ll commit to
start showing up on time rather than telling them that’s what they need to do.
Scarcity – There is probably a
downside to continually showing up late – no bonus opportunity, no raise,
possibly losing their job – so appealing to this potential loss is certainly an

In The
Power of Habit,
Duhigg shares scientific research that every habit has
three parts: a cue, the routine and a reward. The cue is the trigger that
starts the routine and it’s almost always one of five things:
  1. A certain location (some people only smoke in bars)
  2. Time of day (morning prompts many to exercise)
  3. An emotional state (loneliness causes some to drink)
  4. Other people (someone who pushes your buttons)
  5. An action that immediately precedes the routine (this could be a
    song triggering memories).

The reward can be many things – pleasure, pain
avoidance, feeling better about one’s self, feeling a sense of control, etc.
Remember, we all get something out of our habits, even those that appear

In some cases your attempts to change
someone’s behavior can be very difficult because old habits die hard. In fact, Duhigg
suggests, based on research, that you never really get rid of old habits, you
only replace or change them. This is why so many smokers gain weight when they
try to quit because they replace their smoking routine with eating when their
cues trigger them.
In the case of the late employee, you know
it’s possible for them to get to work on time because the vast majority of
people do it every day, even those who might have more hectic and stressful
home lives than your chronically late employee. So what are you to do?
You can help them identify the triggers that
tend to make them late. For some people time is like money – they’ll use up every
last penny or every last minute no matter how much extra time or money they may
have. So getting up a little earlier may not be the solution.
Help the person establish a new cue that will
allow them to get to work with at least 10 minutes to spare. That could be
another alarm clock going off, the coffee maker brewing a cup of coffee for
their drive in or something else that alerts the person it’s time to stop everything and head to the car.
If it’s a spouse or kids that are part of the
problem then the person needs to let them suffer their own consequences for
getting up late, not coming to breakfast on time or whatever else it might be.
That won’t be easy but if they don’t do that they’ll forever be a slave to
other people’s behavior and they, not the others, will pay the cost.
The principles of influence can certainly come
into play when you have this conversation with the employee. The conversation
turns from “You need to get to work on time” to “How can I help you figure out
what you need to do in order to get to work on time?” The more principles you
use in that conversation the more success you’re likely to have.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Cialdini “Influence”
 Would you like to learn more about
influence from the experts? Check out the Cialdini “Influence” Series featuring Cialdini
Method Certified Trainers from around the world.


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