Friday, February 20, 2009

Feel the Force of Labeling someone

(From my archives:an article from The Sunday Times, CAT)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker gained the ultimate form of compliance: he persuaded Darth Vader to turn against the evil emperor, saving his own life and restoring hope and peace to the galaxy. What social-influence principle did he use to secure this compliance, and how can that principle be used to help your attempts to be a major Force in your industry?

The movie Return of the Jedi, the final part of the Star Wars series, includes a scene in which Luke Skywalker turns to Darth Vader and says, "I know there's still good in you. There's good in you, I can sense it". Is it possible that these simple words could have persuaded Vader to come over to the Light Side? If we look at social psychological research, the answer appears to be yes.

The strategy demonstrated in these words, known as the labeling technique, involves assigning a trait, attitude, belief or other label to a person, then making a request of that person that is consistent with the label.

In an effective demonstration of this strategy, two researchers, Alice Tybout and Richard Yelch, showed how the labeling technique could be used to increase the likelihood that people would vote on an election day. They interviewed a large number of potential voters and randomly told half of them that, based on their responses, they could be characterised as "above-average citizens likely to vote and participate in political events". The other half of the interviewees were informed that they could be characterised as "about average" in terms of these interests, beliefs and behaviours. Those respondents labeled as good citizens and having a high likelihood of voting not only came to see themselves as better citizens than those labeled as average, but were also 15 per cent more likely to vote in an election held a week later.

Of course, the labeling technique isn't limited to political domains. There are a number of ways in which you can use this technique in your business dealings and other interactions. For example, let's say that someone in your work team is struggling with a particular project that you have asked him to manage. Perhaps this team member is losing confidence in his ability to provide what the project requires.

A useful approach, assuming that you still believe him to be capable of the task, would be to remind him how hard-working and persevering he is. You should even point out examples of previous times when he has triumphed over similar challenges and delivered successfully.

Teachers, trainers and parents can apply this labelling strategy to sculpt desired behaviours by pointing out to their audience that they regard them as just the type of person who would thrive when given this sort of challenge.


Anonymous said...

So it's best to label our opponents as nice & hope that they come around?

CAT said...

Its called positive reinforcement I think !

Animesh said...

Dear CAT,
I know that, deep down, you are a very destructive person. Therefore, I strongly urge you to throw that keyboard out the window!

/evil grin

CAT said...

Dear Animesh,

That is a dangerous path to tread! When that deep down destructive person emerges, then it is not keyboards that get thrown out of the window!!

Animesh said...

/installs trampoline outside CAT's window ;)

CAT said...

as long as the bouncing is "outside" the window...nice entertainment!