“We are phenomenal suckers for flattery,” writes Cialdini* in his book on influence. “The information that someone fancies us can be a bewitchingly effective device for producing return liking and willing compliance.” Liking is what drives the social media. It’s the glue between the zillion tweets, updates & posts. But liking is also in the analogue world an important source of influence and therefore a core element of leadership.
The liking rule states that we are more willing to comply to people we know and like. Simple. It’s why Tupperware is successful. Or why pyramid sales work. But what are the sources of being liked? How comes we like one person better than another? Social psychologists have unravelled the mystery into a number of factors. Nr. 1: it helps to be attractive. Attractive people sell better. Attractive children get more positive feedback in the class and they are also seen as smarter, more polite… The famous ‘halo’-effect.
Similarity is also important. “In sameness we connect…” says Virginia Satir. Dressing in the same way makes a difference: less than half instead of more than 2/3 of the students gave an experimenter a dollar when dressed in a different style. It’s also the reason mirroring and matching body postures makes people feel comfortable. Influential people always connect one way or another with their fans or followers. As Lady Gaga keeps on telling to her little monsters: “I’m like you.”
Liking is also determined by working together. An interesting experiment in the book tells about a boys’ summer camps where subgroups started hating each other because of competitive activities. Then the experimenters tried to restore the peace by mixing the groups. The adagio ‘if you get to know someone, you start liking him’ failed dramatically. What did work was creating situations in which coöperation was necessary for mutual benefit. The conjoint efforts bridged all the differences. This experiment inspired schools to create similar situations and organize team-oriented learning to tackle racism in the classroom. It’s also the power of creating a common enemy or the good cop/bad cop routine in interrogations.
Association works also to be liked. The fact that we have difficulty to separate the messenger and the message illustrates this nicely. Weather forecaster Frank Deboosere took for instance a lot of bad critics this summer, because it was a lousy summer. Association makes cars sell better with attractive women around. So: when we bring good news, people will like us more. When we are in good, attractive company, people will like us more. When our favorite sports team wins, we feel better. If we ask a favor during a nice dinner, it will be granted easier…
Last element of liking: give compliments. A manager I worked with was exceptional in thanking people for their contribution in an authentic way. After every meeting, after every presentation, after every one on one meeting, he thanked his colleague(s) for their time and effort. His leadership style was not dominant or high profile, but his influence was transformational.
*CIALDINI, Robert (2007). The psychology of persuasion. New York: HarperCollins publishers, 320 p.