People expect other people to be predictable. People like to be predictable, too. Usually, this works pretty well, except when it doesn’t. When things change, for example, people don’t always change with them. As a result — and even when presented with overwhelming evidence — we often are faced with opposite numbers who cling to their outdated positions even when doing so appears to be ridiculous.
When was the last time you were in a focus group where “rational man”, the guy who always tells you how all his decisions are made using purely rational criteria, finds himself painted into a corner by his own rigid logic? Usually, this guy identifies himself (usually a “he”, too) with sage words like, “advertising never sways me” and other signs of self-unawareness.
A wonderful example of this took place the other day, where the authors in the crosshairs of the Marketing Prof’s Book Club group discussion found themselves defending a position almost to the death and certainly beyond what a reasonably aware business person might expect. As the planks of their position became less and less supportive, they increasingly threw out larger and larger opinions, each with less supporting evidence than the last.
The authors are not alone. We do this all the time. Robert Cialdini’s wonderful “Influence: Science and Practice” points us to the psychology and many extraordinary examples of consistency in our everyday lives. A favorite vignette illustrated how people who agreed to put a small decal in front door of their homes were significantly more likely, as a result, to accept a massively large billboard put on their front lawn promoting the same civic message.
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> Consistency is a double-edged sword, as you can probably tell by now. We have opinions, and if we’re smart and passionate, we probably share them. So let’s all be vigilant about how we defend them as circumstances change. By increasing our awareness of “consistency” as a compliance technique, we can defuse this problem if we’re careful.
> On the other hand, using consistency to our advantage is a strategy we’d all be foolish to ignore. By telling the chief negotiator across the table in front of the assembled companies and management that his or her company has a reputation for fairness and judgment, we can almost assure ourselves that they’ll be fairer and thoughtful and probably compliant than if we hadn’t.
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How can we all use “consistency” in our work and daily lives? How can we allow customers, channel partners, negotiating parties, competitors and others to simply agree with their previous statements and actions?
(Warning: transparent compliance technique engaging in three… two… one… ):
You’re a smart person with a deep network of likewise smart and passionate people, many of whom would love to weigh in on this, aren’t you? Because as active members of the blogosphere, you believe in sharing best practices and making sure your voice is heard… you’ve never been shy about voicing your opinion on a blog and you’d never be shy about commenting on this post. So go ahead and do what you always, consistently, do. Tell me what you think…
(Thank you. Test complete).
Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny
stephen, the border between consistency and stubbornness (this is probably an uncommon word but my thesaurus did not help much this time) is thin like a razor blade. probably you cross the line when take pride in your ideas and stop the process of questioning them.
I couldn’t have said it better than Gianandrea. I think the key to remaining nimble is anchoring yourself to a core set of values — the stuff in your gut — and staying flexible and available to the conversation.
Then you begin to go places (read = grow).
Gianandrea & Valeria: thanks to both of you. The ‘consistency trap’ is a funny thing — reading about some of the protests that have happened recently in Washington DC and elsewhere, with both anti-war and pro-administration proponents doing things in public that they normally would never do (I would have to imagine), one can only imagine how differently they would choose to behave if only they had a socially acceptable, “face saving” way of backing up and doing something else.
I don’t think anyone really believes that burning the flag is a true illustration of their beliefs (maybe I’m wrong), but I think they may feel emboldened to do so because of the ‘little steps’ they have taken along the way that have made this possible, all in the name of being
‘a protester’, ‘an activist’, etc.
(Still not going political, Cam. Still not doing it. This is only an illustration to animate a point… that’s it).
stephen, oddly enough politic is the place where most people stop questioning and go for basic beliefs.