The persuasion principle of commitment and consistency
You’re in a theater. The man next to you leans in to ask you to keep an eye on his kids as he goes to take a leak. You nod yes. Moments later, an announcement requires that the theater be evacuated. There’s no sign of the father. What do you do?
If you’re like most, you take responsibility for the kids. You may even risk your safety for them. Why?
Having made a commitment to the father, being consistent is more important to you than being pragmatic.
Once we make a commitment we cast ourselves in its mold. We do our best to stay consistent even when reason demands otherwise. Commitment and consistency make for a powerful lever of influence that businesses and job seekers alike use.
👉Toy companies short-supply their most popular products during holiday season. Harrowed parents who have promised their little ones their favorite toys buy domestic peace with substitute toys. A month after, the favorites are back in stores and the kids go “But mama, you promised!” Parents give in.
👉A candidate begins an interview with an innocuous ask: “What was it about me that attracted you to my application?” The interviewer rattles off all the good things. Now the interviewer has to stay consistent with her stated favorable view lest she be seen shifty.
The lever of commitment and consistency has such untapped power that foregoing it and using authority instead to ensure compliance is sometimes the harder thing to pull off.
💡Instead of top-down goal-setting backed by bonuses, how about getting people to identify as growth-minded and have them own up to goals consistent with that identity?
💡Instead of micromanaging, have people declare what they stand for in the presence of their team and let that declaration drive their subsequent efforts?
💡Even assigning someone a positive image has a telling effect. Calling someone “high on ownership” at project kickoff improves their performance over the course of the project, as they strive to live up to the assigned image. This is called 𝐚𝐥𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐜𝐚𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠.
As much as commitment and consistency can work as a lever of influence for you, it can work against you too. It sometimes manifests as sunk costs where present-you is forced to stay consistent with a path chosen by past-you. You’re so close to the end, you tell yourself, even though the end is something you do not believe in now.
Consistency conveys strength of conviction, but mechanical consistency is a trap.
When we make big decisions to stay on track with how we responded earlier to a situation, it is time to ask, as Robert Cialdini advises in his book 𝘐𝘯𝘧𝘭𝘶𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦: Knowing what I know now, if I could go back in time, would I make the same commitment?
Marketer, business owner, or parent, we all use consistency and commitment (or have it used on us). How do you use this principle at work and in life?