Back in 1958, Herbert Kelman discovered tweaking the source of a message changed how an audience reacted to it.
When the audience felt the source had power (to reward or punish), they complied.
You comply when you do as you’re told even if you don’t believe in the behavior. You comply because you want the reward or to avoid the punishment the source is able to deliver. The catch is you only comply when you might get caught.
Compliance works great for short-term actions which mean a lot to you and little to them.
When the audience felt the source was one of them, they identified with him. When you identify with the source, you consider him or her one of you. You like them. You perform the behavior to maintain a favourable relationship. You want to feel part of the group.
Identification works well when you’re in constant contact with the other group. But when group salience is low, the behavior is minimal.
When the audience felt the source was a credible expert, they internalized the information. When you internalize, you adopt the viewpoint of the source. You change your opinions and attitudes to match. You perform the behavior because you want to perform the behavior in response to a relevant issue.
Knowing Your Influence
You can spot the problem.
If you don’t have the power to reward or punish, if you’re not considered one of them, and if you’re not a credible expert, it really doesn’t matter what you say (think, for a second, which emails you’re most likely to open right now).
And even if you do have the power to reward or punish, people will only compromise their own behaviour so far. People might fill out a profile if you threaten them, but they’re not going to regularly contribute their best ideas.
And even if you are one of them and very likable, you face competition from conflicting voices. People might share good ideas if you ask them to. But you can only ask them so often before they begin to avoid you.
The key then to changing the behavior of a group is to shoot for the big win, internalization. Internalization means two things. First, genuinely doing the hard work to be perceived as a credible authority within that field. Second, you usually need to change the behavior to as closely align with the values of the audience as possible.
If you’re sending out messages to your audience and not getting the response you want, it could be a message issue. But it’s more likely to be a source issue. You’re not scary, one of them, or perceived as a credible expert.
Final thought, be honest about your own influence.
If you only have the power to reward or punish, then take this route when soliciting the single-action behaviors you want.
If you are one of them, then invoke the group identity or your relationship (“can you do the group a big favour?”) when asking people to take action.
If you are perceived as a credible expert, emphasis the truth of the argument when asking for the behavior.
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