When Social Pressure Fails To Persuade

Let’s take a tour of a cigar factory.

That was the plan organized for the boys in our group. My immediate thoughts centered around legitimate excuses to say no. I hate the smell of cigars and knew it would make me miserable.

I spent two hours avoiding any kind of decision, hoping at least one other person would say no. That would have made it a lot easier. Being an outlier takes some guts.

Unfortunately, I was the only one who voiced any sort of opposition. You’ve probably been there before yourself. Your group decides to do some activity or go somewhere. Out of obligation you go along.  It seems a safer, easier choice than declining and being the odd man out.

Never underestimate the power of social pressure. It took every ounce of willpower I could muster to politely say “no, I’ll sit this one out.”  

If a friend said to you: “A bunch of my friends are going to [anyplace] and I really don’t want to go but feel obligated. What should I do?”

Of course, you would tell them not to go. When we give advice from a distance it’s easy. When we need to follow our own advice or someone else’s it becomes hard. It requires overcoming eons of human evolutionary conditioning.

Conforming to social pressure helped us when we lived among small tribes in caves. It doesn’t quite fit our needs now that we live in a civilized society. Keeping up with the jones’s, peer pressure, online reviews, even littering all have roots in social influence and social pressure. We see others doing something so we do it too, often unconsciously.

Many guru’s tout social pressure as the king of persuasion and influence. Is it a sure thing? Sometimes. In almost every piece of training on persuasion and influence, appealing to social pressure is a holy grail. In most cases they’re right, but not all.

Overcoming social pressure takes tremendous conscious effort, just like my experience in saying no to the cigar factory. I struggled with it and almost gave in.

Where Social Pressure Fails

In some markets, your prospects may consciously look to go against the grain and do the opposite of whatever everyone else does.  I stress the word “consciously” because it takes cognitive effort to fight that primal human urge.

For example, if you’re selling something to multi-millionaire entrepreneurs who made their fortunes acting in opposition to social norms, then attack your piece from that angle. Sometimes you can even frame it so that the social norm behavior belongs to an out-group, not one your prospect belongs to.

Let me throw in one more wrinkle to make your job just a tiny bit harder. Your high flying multimillionaire prospect may act in defiance of social pressure and social norms in business but in private life may be just as prone to it as everyone else.

When you research your customer, look for evidence to determine if they naturally conform to social pressure in some situations or if they’re the outliers who consistently act against it. You may find that your prospect plays the renegade in business but feels the need to buy fancy cars and be seen at exclusive clubs because that’s what his peers do.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but I promise you, your competitors probably don’t dig this deep.

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