Ancient Survival and Modern Day Complexities

The more I teach others about persuasion, the
more clearly I see the principles of influence as a survival tool. Not only did
they help our ancestors live day to day, they help us deal with the
complexities of life in this information-overloaded society in which we live.

Let’s consider the principles in relation to
our ancestors.

Liking – One way to engage liking is through
similarity. In ancient times someone who looked like you was probably friendly
whereas someone who looked different might be an enemy. It became easier to
trust those with whom you could quickly tell you had something in common.
Reciprocity – If someone helped you it would
be wise to help him or her when the opportunity presented itself because you
never knew when you might need his or her help again.
Consensus – There’s safety in numbers so it
was probably a good survival bet to go along with the crowd instead of opposing
it. If everyone was in favor of some action your optimal choice was to go along
with the group or you’d find yourself ostracized.
Authority – We place a lot of confidence in
those with superior wisdom and knowledge. It paid to go along with the leader’s
direction because opposition could end your life in a multitude of ways.
Consistency – To do what you promised would
gain you favor most of the time. In turn you learned to rely on those with a track
record of coming through as expected whether it was on the farm or on the
Scarcity – When good opportunities, like food
and drink, came along it was a wise choice to take advantage of the opportunity
because you never knew if such an opportunity would come around again.
In the modern world we may not have life and
death decisions very often but the principles help us keep our sanity. In my
presentations I like to share a quote from William C. Taylor’s article Permission Marketing, which was written for the magazine Fast Company.
“This year, the average consumer will see or
hear one million marketing messages – that’s almost 3,000 per day.”
Can anyone possibly take in 3,000 marketing
messages every day, sort through them all, weigh the pros and cons and make the
best rational decision? Of source not! You’d need a super computer to do that.
But here’s a scary thought – Taylor’s quote is
more than 15 years old! A more recent article on the New York Times, Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad, puts the number of
daily marketing messages we’re exposed to closer to 5,000!

To help us deal with the complexities of
modern life we use the principles of influence as mental shortcuts. They help
us wade through all the noise and when we hear something that resonates with us
quite often that’s all we need to make a quick, satisfactory decision.

Liking – A friend tells you the company they
used to put in their new kitchen floor and after a few questions you like what
you hear so you decide to call the company for a quote. That saves a lot of
time because you don’t have to do a lot of research.
Reciprocity – You do something that’s helpful,
something another person truly appreciates. You sense they appreciate you and believe
you want the best for them. It’s only natural for him or her to say, “Yes” if
you need their help in return. Now you’re building relationship.
Consensus – If everyone is doing it then it
must be worth considering. After all, quite often the wisdom of the crowd is
better than a few smart people. Therefore best-selling items can usually be
relied on over new products or services.
Authority – With the crush of modern life it’s
easier to turn to accountants for our taxes, lawyers for legal questions and
doctors for our health. We find it easier to pay these people for their
expertise because it gives us time to focus on things we’re good at and things
that are more important to us.
Consistency – As society becomes more
inter-dependent we rely on each other. A big part of the reliability is banking
on someone doing what they said they would. We may be more pleased with a “steady
Eddie” worker over the person who sometimes does great work and other times
does poor work or misses deadlines.
Scarcity – “Sale ends Sunday” is a classic. We
don’t want to lose out on the possibility of a great deal so we get off the
couch and get to the store before the end of the weekend. Much of the time this
is an open door for us to get better deals.
So there you have a comparison of the
principles of influence in ancient versus modern-day survival. They don’t explain
all of human behavior but if you pay attention you’ll see they do explain an
awful lot of why people do what they do. Look for ways to ethically and
correctly tap into them and you’re sure to be a more effective persuader.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Cialdini “Influence”
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influence from the experts? Check out the Cialdini “Influence” Series featuring Cialdini
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