A couple years ago, while writing an economic policy paper, I read Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow – a must-read on human behavior, rationality, and the lack thereof. This book validated my own professional experiences doing business with a diverse lot of characters, and opened my eyes to so much I didn’t realize about decision-making. Kahneman won a nobel prize for defining prospect theory, which evolves the longstanding utility theory, by finding that we make decisions not merely by seeking economic rationalization, but by allowing behavioral biases to envision prospective value.
Kahneman’s research also finds that we are more likely to act to avoid losses rather than seek gains. When our motive is to convince and motivate action, the trust first approach seeks a quick, low-risk initial commitment that opens the door to a relationship – bypassing the decision-making gauntlet required by high stakes decisions.
I highly recommend you read Thinking Fast and Slow, which defines two distinct thought processes (system 1 and system 2) and a series of heuristics and biases. If your success relies on being a strong influencer, here are some tips for converting just three points from Kahneman’s award-winning research into professional influence techniques:
1) The anchor effect – people are naturally prone to distraction. If they’ve made up their mind about what an outcome will look like, they will use that outcome as a benchmark, an anchor, against which they will assess risk and measure success. Try to control or set the anchor so the distance between your desired outcome and the other person’s perceived outcome is minimized.
2) The availability heuristic – the consequences that are easiest and most vividly envisioned will have an outsized influence on decisions. Even if more likely consequences exist, we tend to take the easiest resolution – the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. So, make credible information available as early as possible to influence a well-informed decision.
3) The confirmation bias – when it’s time to do some thinking, we naturally default to what Kahneman terms the “system 1” thought process. This is the fast, automatic, emotional, subconscious thought process that relies on the easiest to access knowledge, information, and understanding of the world. While system 2 is characterized as slow, logical, calculating, and conscious. Because we default to system 1, we are likely to make decisions quickly, particularly lower stakes decisions, then justify our decision based upon what we already know. Understanding this, as long as people feel that they are up against a low stakes decision, they will default to what they know, relying more on a “gut feeling” than objective facts. Consider providing facts up front, and dispelling common stereotypes and emotions associated with the matter you’re attempting to influence.