Advanced Business Writing
Influence and Persuasion

Essential Consistency

People have a deep need to behave consistently. We are conditioned by our families and the societies we live in to be agreeable (behave consistently with others) and to be reliable (behave consistently over time). Because of this, our thinking and behaviors are predictable in a variety of ways, but two of the most powerful are:

 • reciprocal obligation

 • consistent commitment

Reciprocal obligation

When someone grants us a favor, we feel compelled to return that favor at some time in the future. If the favor was granted in private, we feel internal discomfort if we do not return a favor. If the favor was granted in public, we feel external shame if we do not return a favor.

This is subtle and powerful, but it is only the tip of the psychological iceberg. It actually gets kind of weird:

• We tend to feel obliged to accept any favor just because it was offered to us.

• Our sense of obligation is so strong that the favor we return can be much larger than the favor we received, and we are okay with that because the most important thing is that we balanced out a favor with a favor.

• When someone makes us a concession we tend to view it as a favor. A classic example is the special price break: "Only today, and because we like you, the price is thirty percent off!"

• When someone offers us a hypothetical favor or invites us to imagine receiving a favor from them, we can be put in a frame of mind that easily accepts a small obligation to respond with a favor.

People can be more easily persuaded if we remind them of a prior obligation or if we create a new obligation, real or hypothetical. For example:

"I can really see myself helping you with Y if you were to accept X." The hypothetical favor can put them in a pliable state of mind, making them more likely to feel obliged to go along with X.

"You don't have to answer right now, but tell me what you think about X." The minor allowance about response time is felt as a tiny concession for which they take on a small obligation to return a favor.

"Do you remember when I helped you with X?" A direct reminder of a prior favor generates a strong obligation to reciprocate with a favor.

Consistent Commitment

To survive in complex societies, people have adapted to a common social contract of being consistent with past behaviors. This need to be consistent with commitments is most powerful if it is owned (freely chosen) and if it is public.

Reminding people of their commitments can help you persuade them. For example:

"You said X" or "We agreed that X" creates a weak reminder of a commitment to X.

"You wrote X" creates a stronger reminder because things written are more permanent and potentially more public.

"Others believed you when you wrote X" creates a very strong reminder of their commitment to X.

Lesson: Essential Consistency
Module: Influence and Persuasion
Course: Advanced Business Writing