Influence Your Relationship Using the 6 Principles of Persuasion

influence

(Image/justinmarroquin.com)

Most divorce and breakups could be avoided if the partner most dedicated to the relationship could effectively persuade or influence the other to adjust their behavior or communication habits in relationship-strengthening ways.

You know—theoretically.

In real life, the problem often lies in one person believing their ideas, opinions and ways of doing things are right while their partner’s hare-brained ideas, opinions and stupid way of doing things are wrong.

Sadly, it frequently breaks down along gender lines.

It’s good for all of the people who can benefit from the whole Mars/Venus, Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti concept.

It’s bad for all of the people who don’t fit neatly into those molds, and value things like equality and not being pigeonholed by stereotypical labels.

I think most rapists and serial killers are white men. It would be awesome if people didn’t assume I’m a threat to rape or kill someone based on my gender and skin color. I think other people with different skin colors and gender profiles probably feel the same.

Yet, mountains of Gottman Institute data has demonstrated that the top predictor of divorce has direct ties to gendered behavior, and that is: A husband’s willingness to accept his wife’s influence has the greatest statistical correlation to, and is the No. 1 predictor of, whether or not a marriage will last.

Sorry guys.

Understanding What Influences Human Behavior

That’s a powerful word.

Influence.

I like it. I like how it sounds, what it means, and the idea of people being influential (if you’re not an evil dickface planning a poison Kool-Aid® party or whatever).

Setting aside my belief that many men are accidentally sexist because of their Father Knows Best upbringings where they were exposed to women catering to, or being belittled by, men who were the bosses, primary decision makers, and group or organizational leaders by virtue of their stoic manliness and not being slaves to their emotions and menstrual cycles like all those diaper-changing, laundry-folding, lunch-packing women… setting all that to the side for a moment…

Human beings, regardless of gender or any other categorical label, often believe things or react emotionally to things in ways that are radically different than another person. It happens all the time, every day, in every conceivable type of relationship or life scenario.

First, something happens.

Then one person thinks and feels one way about it. And another person thinks and feels something different. It’s common for the two people to debate whose thoughts and feelings are better, or right, or most accurate.

Sometimes the debates are reasonably friendly and/or professional.

Other times, such disagreements can lead to name-calling, or fist fights, or divorce, or homicide, or violent riots and rebellion, or one country bombing another country.

It’s a problem.

An incalculable amount of human misery is generated by the equivalent of someone with colorblindness identifying something as being green (the color they accurately see) fighting with someone who sees the same object as being red.

When we tell people that their feelings and life experiences are wrong, and deny honoring their wants or needs simply because they’re not the same as ours, we end up breaking a lot of things AND being stupid assholes. Because if we had the same eyes and brain as the person we’re talking to, we’d see the color green, too.

The 6 Principles of Influence and Persuasion

The most sensible solution, I believe, is to master the skill of empathy and teach it to our children at home and in schools.

But that’s like saying the most sensible solution to our financial problems is finding hidden pirate treasure or riding our pet unicorns to Leprechaun McGee’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The transformation of the current human race into a more empathetic version that won’t fight and troll one another on the internet at every opportunity will probably take longer than it takes my 8-year-old to put his shoes on before school. (An inexplicably and painfully long time.)

So, we turn to the next-best thing: Persuasion.

We develop the ability to influence those within our influential sphere—the most important being our marriage/relationship partners, our children, our co-workers, etc.

The long-time thought leader in the psychology-of-persuasion space is a man named Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and author of the classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini spent 35 years studying what moves people to change behavior, and broke it down into six basic principles.

Cialdini wrote the book to help people protect themselves from manipulative mind tricks (from con artists and shady sales pitches), and to help marketers tap into the human psyche ethically to succeed in their profession.

But since only a small percentage of people work in marketing and since I believe marriages and families matter more than product sales, I thought it might be interesting to explore how we could use persuasive behavior to positively influence our partners in an effort to strengthen our relationships.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

We feel indebted to people who give us gifts or do nice things for us. And we are societally conditioned to think of people unwilling to reciprocate favors as assholes. And since we don’t want to be assholes, we are much more likely to do things for people who have done things for us.

“The implication is that you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return,” Cialdini said.

I know what many of you are thinking: “But Matt!!! That’s bullshit!!! I do EVERYTHING for my spouse and children, and they don’t do anything for me!!!”

I get it.

Your partner and/or family takes you for granted. Welcome to the human experience.

This exercise isn’t about what feels fair.

It’s about influencing another human being to do something we want them to do. When we are willing to go first, and give before we try to get, we have a MUCH greater chance of cooperation from anyone.

What nice thing could we do for our partners that they don’t expect that might earn us a kind and empathetic ear when we want to ask them to do something for us?

Principle #2: Social Proof

When people are uncertain about a particular course of action, we tend to look around for cues from others to help guide our actions and decisions.

Cialdini and a research team conducted an experiment to see what type of messaging on hotel room signs would result in hotel guests reusing their bathroom towels.

Sign #1 cited environmental reasons.

Sign #2 said the hotel would donate a portion of laundry savings to an environmental cause.

Sign #3 said the hotel had already made the donation and asked “Will you please join us?”

Sign #4 said the majority of hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay.

When guests were told that most other hotel guests were reusing their towels, they were more likely to comply with the request. Sign #4 got 48 percent of experiment participants to reuse their towels.

I would STRONGLY discourage someone from telling their spouse that “So-and-so does all these great things for his/her spouse! Why can’t you do them for me, loser?” and contrasting undesirable behavior with something that looks more attractive. That will prove counterproductive.

But, how might we use proven, successful relationship behavior from other people to help influence our partners to change a harmful behavior?

Principle #3: Commitment and Consistency

Obviously, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do. That probably includes more than half of everyone who has ever made a public marriage vow.

However, the science is the science. People are more likely to do something after agreeing to it verbally or in writing.

People strive for consistency in their commitments, and prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions, Cialdini said.

How might we (with kindness and good intentions) get our partners to reaffirm their commitments to our relationships in ways that might foster more connection and positive love- and intimacy-related feelings?

Principle #4: Liking

“People prefer to say yes to those they know and like,” Cialdini said.

Physical attraction, shared traits, and being paid compliments MAJORLY influences who we like.

People struggling in shitty relationships often love, but don’t really “like” being around, their partners. Try to look beyond that for a minute.

In the context of this psychological principle, something super-subtle like having a similar name nearly doubled the likelihood of someone responding to a survey request by actually participating in it.

For example, someone named Robert James was almost twice as likely (56% to 30%) to comply with a request if asked by someone with a similar name like Bob Ames, than he was by someone named Matt Fray.

The key takeaway for relationships, I believe, is learning how to be knowledgeable about our partner’s existing preferences.

Sales people greatly improve their chances of making a sale by demonstrating that they understand their customer’s personal preferences.

Couldn’t that same principle work in our behavior toward our spouses?

Principle #5: Authority

Most people tend to respect authority figures. Not just our bosses at work or police officers, but even people like the medical office workers checking our insurance cards and asking us to fill out sign-in sheets at our doctor appointments, and others, such as flight attendants.

That’s why con artists commonly pose as company officials via email, on the phone, or by wearing some type of uniform when they knock on doors. It’s to appear “official” and authoritarian.

We tend to follow the lead of real experts.

There are an endless amount of helpful resources on improving relationships and marriage, with one of the most obvious being the Gottman Institute, and their science-based approach using big data to uncover the secrets of happy marriages, and the hallmark traits of relationships that are doomed.

How can we cleverly use an authentic expert to influence our partner to take a certain action?

Principle #6: Scarcity

Ahh. Good ol’ scarcity.

The genesis of all “Act fast! These deals end soon!” messaging and the reason why those brilliant countdown clocks on Amazon and Living Social products sometimes prompt us to click that “Buy Now” button sooner than we might otherwise.

It’s the most basic premise of economic theory: The less there is of something, the more valuable it is.

People are drawn to, and willing to overpay for, rare and uncommon things that other people also want.

Cialdini didn’t need to conduct any new experiments to prove that people OFTEN want what they can’t have.

This bears out in shitty marriages all the time. Husbands frequently demonstrate indifference in their romantic relationships with their wives, and fight with her when she calls him on it, but then freak out and cry a lot when she finally decides to leave him.

That’s kind of how it went for me, too.

While it might be tempting to threaten divorce or withhold sex in a misguided effort to manipulate our partner in a reverse-psychology sort of way, I think any relationship-damaging behavior (which any type of cruel or unloving manipulation would be) defeats the purpose of using persuasion and influence to strengthen our connections with those we love.

But the question remains: How can we use the SUPER-powerful “Fear of missing out” phenomenon to influence our partners in healthy ways to adjust a behavior that might save or strengthen our marriage?

Influencing others isn’t about luck or sorcery. It’s science.

It’s simply caring about something enough to figure out how it functions, and how best to care for it to keep it operating at a high level for a very long time.

It’s simply caring enough about the people we love to figure out how best to care for them in a way that keeps their hearts, minds and spirits functioning at high levels for a very long time.

Like, longer than my son’s putting-his-shoes-on process.

Like, forever.

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29 thoughts on “Influence Your Relationship Using the 6 Principles of Persuasion

  1. chubaoyolu says:

    No matter what you do in life, you’ll have to deal with people at least some of the time. Those people will come in different shapes, sizes, temperaments, fundamental motivations, etc. A lot of the battle is learning how to deal with each one and realizing that the same formula rarely works for different people. To be able to do this effectively, you have to get beyond yourself and put yourself completely in their shoes to understand what makes them tick. Hard to do because like all of us, I’m a bit selfish. With time and practice though (like everything else), you can get better. You cannot scoff at relationships… there is no getting around having to deal with people so might as well get good at it and use it to your advantage.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Matt says:

      That was a very powerful realization for me. When it finally hit me a few years ago that the thing which impacts us most in life is our human relationships. At home. At school. At work. In our various groups, whether that be religious, or sports teams, or military, or any type of hobbyist group.

      It’s exactly what you said.

      Everyone is different. While we may subjectively prefer one type of human personality or behavior over another, no person is objectively more valuable or more “correct” than another (outside of verifiable fact-based stuff).

      Thus, a major component of living a happy, fulfilling life is to develop the skill of trying to understand the world through the perspective of people much different than ourselves.

      It would change everything, everywhere. Beautifully, I think.

      Thanks for contributing, sir. Really appreciate your thoughts and time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Christine says:

    Love this. I look forward to every new post. You’ve not disappointed me yet Matt.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “The transformation of the current human race into a more empathetic version that won’t fight and troll one another on the internet at every opportunity will probably take longer than it takes my 8-year-old to put his shoes on before school. (An inexplicably and painfully long time.)”

    I agree with everything you wrote here, but especially the above. Ye, GODS, it can take for ever for the shoes to get on the feet!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Quinn says:

    This is so well thought-out and well phrased. I’m going to read it again in the morning because I think we can all do with a reminder and my brain is too tired to type out an eloquent comment right now…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Natasha says:

    “Caring enough about people we love to figure out how to best care for them”.

    This is great. It’s pretty much the ultimate realization when it comes to relationships. Some people get this from the beginning, some after failed attempts and some never do.

    As for the length of time my eight year old takes to put on his shoes, he’s pretty fast. Getting water tor himself and throwing his trash away on his own though, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “It’s simply caring about something enough to figure out how it functions, and how best to care for it to keep it operating at a high level for a very long time.”

    Ha! Loved this, Matt. Well said. There are several things I do for my husband that don’t make a whole lot of sense, but they keep him “operating at a high level.” I suspect he does the same for me, except my needs are far more rational :)

    “When guests were told that most other hotel guests were reusing their towels, they were more likely to comply with the request.”

    This is true, we see that bit of social engineering play out in advertising, polls, politics, everything. People want to follow the herd. So, our negative societal views of marriage, our myths like how half of all marriages end in divorce, influence the whole picture. Half of all marriages do not end in divorce and never have, that was a prediction once made in response to declining marriage rates. There have been books written, studies done debunking this myth and yet it persists. Regardless, something that I think is so critical to remind ourselves of, you are not a statistic. What applies to some, may not apply to you at all.

    They, the towel people, told me my marriage wouldn’t last, I was too young, I’d never amount to anything, this whole slew of negativity. Don’t ever believe the negativity, it usually lies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OKRickety says:

      ” People want to follow the herd.”

      I found the following video on another blog. It’s a little long but it clearly demonstrates the willingness of people to follow the herd.

      Human Conformity Experiment

      While some of the negative claims about marriage are untrue, I wonder how many divorces result from the frequent claims, often untrue, that the initiator is better off, the kids will soon get over it with no real long-term negative effects, etc. Personally, I think people lie through their teeth. Because misery loves company? Whatever the case, it seems that divorce is contagious. When one divorce occurs in a group of married friends, it often happens that one or two other marriages in the group divorce soon afterward.

      Like

  7. NurSerial says:

    Wonderful post. As entertaining as insightful. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. begeltherapy says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful piece. As a family therapist, I see many many couples who have the problem outlined by the Gottman folks: when a man doesn’t let his wife influence him–I prefer the word “change”–trouble ensues. In general, chronic (unconscious) emotional stubbornness has a way of keeping a relationship from developing. This often spells the end for the couple. Thanks for your blog. It’s great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I’m just some guy. So it means a lot to me when educated and experienced professionals say nice things about something I thought/said/wrote.

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read and leave a thoughtful comment. (And also for spending your life helping others. Kind of a big deal.)

      Like

  9. As always, solid piece :) A brief comment on the “withholding sex” concept. Physical disconnection is a big issue and a difficult concept is the “men feel connected through intimacy, women need to feel connected to be intimate” conundrum. I’ve edited out a barf of personal catharsis you all don’t need to hear and boiled it down to this : both partners need to be unselfish and to feel solid and satisfied within themselves and be prepared to care for the marriage as they would a child – encouraging growth with boundaries and safety, risking pissing off and accepting brief upset, loving unconditionally and not tolerating demanding behaviour and tantrums. What does this have to do with sex you ask? When a partner feels perpetually parental despite all the interventions to “encourage” adult engagement of the other in the partnership the sex is weird and strangely incestual (honestly) and perhaps an understanding that it’s not “withholding” in anger but just not particularly satisfying for a woman (or man depending on the situation) and becomes yet another thing on the to do list of unreciprocated effort that doesn’t seem valued or important or is to “keep the other happy” and results in frequent repainting of bedroom ceilings as one partner is noticing the cracks instead of engaging wholeheartedly. Love sex and miss it a lot – husband I know misses it and we’ve talked this plainly about it. Apparently if I was more warm and fuzzy he’d engage more in the marriage. Stalemate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apologies that I cannot edit to add some more punctuation. I’m a talker by profession not a writer and I write the way I think. So I met my husband with coffee made as he got out of shower (he leaves for work a few hours before me) a gentle tone and acknowledgement that I am working hard on being softer. No expectations – just modelling behaviour I would like and practising compassion without judgement. Once again Matt, I thank you for the directions you send my thoughts and actions. I wish he read your blog – you have an impact 🙏

      Liked by 2 people

    • Matt says:

      I’m on your side on this one.

      The term “withholding,” for me, means to deliberately deny your partner something he/she wants or needs in a manipulative or vengeful way.

      When we love people, we don’t manipulate and act out in spite. It’s the polar opposite of what makes real love and real marriage what they are.

      When a spouse feels fundamentally unloved, disrespected, neglected, unwanted, etc. due to a long stretch of shitty husbandry or whatever, it makes perfect sense to not feel “safe” sexually.

      I don’t think wives owe husbands sex, or vice versa.

      I think humans naturally crave sex, and it’s incumbent upon all people (and spouses particularly) to behave in ways that evoke sexual desire from the other.

      Wives don’t owe husbands sex.

      Husbands owe their wives the behavior that that makes them WANT to.

      Treating any human like a masturbation device is gross and depraved.

      Treating one’s spouse that way requires an even deeper level of sickness.

      Like

      • “When a partner feels perpetually parental despite all the interventions to “encourage” adult engagement of the other in the partnership the sex is weird and strangely incestual (honestly)…”

        Guys really don’t get this, Matt. And some women don’t get it either, so they blame themselves.

        Flat out, women can have romantic love going on or they can have maternal love. Maternal love is non sexual. If a guy through his behavior is making her feel like the only grown up in the relationship, like his mom, she’ll have little or no desire what so ever.

        It’s tragic but somewhat comical, but what do men often do when they’ve killed her libido by flipping the maternal switch? Have a tantrum, whine, act like sex is a chore she owes him, basically act like a child mad at mom.

        Your commenter nailed it, it feels incestuous, because your emotions, body, mind are now all responding as they would to a child and maternal feelings are simply not sexual feelings.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Matt says:

          This remains one of my favorite things I’ve written for all the reasons you just said:

          “She Feels Like Your Mom and Doesn’t Want to Bang You”

          https://mustbethistalltoride.com/2016/02/10/she-feels-like-your-mom-and-doesnt-want-to-bang-you/

          Liked by 1 person

          • meridda says:

            OMG—THIS is where I’ve (jokingly) said the term motherfucker comes from! On a serious note, I’ve recently been reading some VERY old school stuff on transactional analysis (I’m OK, You’re OK) and it explains the Parent-Adult-Child roles—and how and why we get into (and out of) them…it’s helped me stay out of the child role with my boss, and stay out of the parent role with my spouse. Still working on getting him into the adult role (he’s the youngest of six—old patterns die hard)…fascinating stuff.

            Like

        • Natasha says:

          Yes, yes, yes.

          Those two types of love cannot be mixed in a woman’s mind. Once a woman has crossed over into the frame of mind that she’s a maternal figure or even a breathing masturbation tool, it is hard to get any semblance of aching, sexual passion back.

          Liked by 2 people

  10. Now all those questions you raised, I’m mentally turning to the back of the book to find the answers, I don’t want to figure them out by myself LOL. I loved what you said there in the beginning: ‘In real life, the problem often lies in one person believing their ideas, opinions and ways of doing things are right…’ I’ve always been a bit of a bossy boots and my hubby so laid back so we have both had to adjust our thinking and behaviours. I know if I was single I’d be a right PitA! Thanks for all your hard work, you say you are just a regular guy but you’re not really, you’ve put so much time and effort into research and writing about the most important human relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lindsey says:

    Excellent stuff here, sir.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Was it waffles and spaghetti toy compared men and women to? LOL. Tell me more oh wise one!

    Like

  13. Interesting ideas. The book just made my reading list. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The Guat says:

    YES! Color blindness. That is a big issue in neck of the woods. You’re definitely on point with your principles. BUT I definitely loved this … “It’s simply caring about something enough to figure out how it functions, and how best to care for it to keep it operating at a high level for a very long time.” If two of us were on this page things would work better. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Daniel Nash says:

    I’m going to have to take a look at this. It sounds fascinating.

    Like

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