Influence 5: Social Validation

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sheepCialdini’s fourth principle of persuasion is in my view one of the most powerful. When people are trying to work out what to do, they look around them and see what other people are doing, and join in. For all we human beings pride ourselves on our individualism, in times of uncertainty we retain a strong affinity with the sheep.

This is why it can be so hard to change a choir’s habits.

You may advertise your rehearsal as starting at 7.30, but if people see each other turning up at 7.35-7.50 each week, they’ll join in. ‘Oh but everybody else does it,’ is a rationale that operates at such a basic level of awareness that it is rarely put in so many words. People don’t really think through why they join in with other people’s behaviours, they just feel more comfortable when what they are doing is affirmed by other like behaviour in others.

On the bright side, this can be a good way to maintain and propagate good habits too. If a new choir member sees everyone making light pencil annotations in their music when they get instructions from the director, they will turn up at the next rehearsal armed with their own pencil. Likewise, it isn’t hard to train a choir to adopt a good sitting posture when the conductor indicates it’s time to sing, but the practice will only become automatic when enough of the singers adopt it as their own to persuade the rest to join in.

Cialdini points out that, while social validation will go on whatever you do, you can intervene so as to engage it for your own purposes. If you frame your desired behaviour not simply as something good to do in its own right, but as something that is validated by others, it is much more likely to be adopted. So, you can point out that another choir (preferably one your singers will recognise as successful!) does something as a matter of course: they all learn their parts at home to save rehearsal time, or they all take concert tickets into work to sell to their friends, or they pride themselves on having no chatting on the risers. (This is related to the argument by authority, but is less about doing what someone you respect says, and more about doing what they do.)

Or you might want to persuade by sheer statistics. Did you know that 93% of people can extend their vocal range by regular sirening? Did you know that 70% of people who spend 10 minutes a day focusing on deep breathing report enhanced concentration and well-being? I made those ones up for the purposes of this post, but it’s the kind of thing that’s forever popping up in the news, so we may as well make use of them when they occur. Actually, I’m pretty sure that made-up statistics will work just as well as tools of persuasion, but the academic in me has this old-fashioned obsession with truth and accuracy which gets in the way sometimes.

In any case, if you find ‘do this because I’m asking you to,’ isn’t sufficient to achieve your rehearsal goals, then ‘join in with all these other people doing this,’ is a good one to try.

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