No one enjoys a holding pattern. Not when planes circle and wait to land and not today, while we wait for a virus to pass.
Yet this is exactly the place most of us have found ourselves over the past six weeks.
We’re restlessly awaiting the moment when health and political authorities loosen restrictions and allow us to feebly attempt to reopen businesses and perhaps travel freely once again.
But how did we get here? How have we been so easily persuaded to abandon our livelihoods and embrace the protocols deftly being handed down, with barely a question?
Perhaps scholars will write about this level of worldwide influence in the years to come. History is no doubt being written.
Fear is a great persuader. It motivates us to resist unpleasant circumstances. Fear causes us to buy insurance, security alarms and, in the case of this COVID-19 pandemic, hoard toilet paper.
But fear doesn’t always work as a catalyst for persuasion. If we were solely motivated by fear, we would never speed, get dangerously drunk or ingest caustic drugs.
However, when a threat is believed to be imminent (shelter inside, our hospitals are about to be overrun by the sick) and current activities cause individuals to feel like vulnerable victims, it has immense power.
Getting people to do what you want, and all at the same time, isn’t an accident nor coincidence. Messages need only leverage proven techniques of persuasion and influence. The messages should offer a modicum of hope that a change in behaviour will negate the risk while garnering active participation.
The more actively involved in the solution someone is, the more committed they become to the strategy.
As a species, we really don’t spend much of our time second guessing decision-makers. Most of the time our minds get stuck on cruise control. Thinking takes up time and requires lots of energy. Imagine having to think about every decision we make – it wouldn’t leave us much time to accomplish anything else.
Staying connected and building spirit in isolation by Gerry Chidiac
So most of us have developed a bit of comfort when it comes to letting others do the heavy lifting. We assume our leaders will stay informed and we assume our media (or leaders of the opposition) will point out any shortcomings to their ideas. This tendency leaves us perfectly primed for persuasion.
Once a course of action has been decided upon, adding public declarations will amplify commitment. The more frequent those messages, the stronger our convictions, even if the evidence appears to point in a new direction.
Why does this work?
We subconsciously accept many ways of behaving that are determined by our surroundings and the actions of others, such as raising our hands to speak in class, how we behave at a concert or how we act at work because of corporate culture.
If most people agree with what we’re doing or about to do, we feel social validation. Inherently, we’re conformists. We tend to do what the crowd does.
So what’s the point in writing about these influence and persuasion strategies?
To provoke a thought. Or, as American author Seth Godin might say, maybe it’s just time to start a ruckus.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.