Humans are social creatures - We percept other people's facial expressions and personality traits, deliver messages to one another, learn from each other, love, hate, tease, argue, explain, and even imagine scenarios with other people. But one of the most important things people do in the business world is influencing - buying, selling, using, changing, they're all about influence and persuasion.
What is Social Influence and How Are We Affected by Other People?
Social influence is a change in a person's thoughts, feelings or behaviors that results from the behavior of others. There are three types of influence on other people - conformity, obedience and compliance.
- Conformity- a change in an individual's beliefs or behavior in response to an overt or covert pressure of others.
- Obedience - accepting the demands of someone whose status or social power is higher than ours.
- Compliance - responding to a person's requests, regardless of their social status.
In this article, we will review conformity - what it is, why do we do it, what causes it, and how we can use it positively in the business world.
What is Conformity and Why Do We Tend to It?
Conformity is a change in the behavior of an individual intended to make him or her more similar to another person or group. A well-known classic case of conformity is Solomon Asch's conformity experiment. Asch gathered several men in a room, all collaborators except one who didn't know about it. He presented these men with several lines of different lengths and asked them to choose the longest one. The task was very simple and you could clearly see which line was the longest. Collaborators were instructed to deliberately choose incorrect answers over and over again and say them out loud. After several rounds of the task, the subject also began to give an incorrect answer when it was his turn to speak. Of course, that person didn't doubt his ability to identify the longest line - the whole experiment was a matter of conformity, he just didn't want to be different and strange. The experiment was performed several times, and only 25% of the subjects withstood social pressure during the entire experiment! There are two types of conformity, each stemming from a different need we have as human beings - normative conformity and informational conformity.
- Normative Conformity- the need to belong and follow the norms of a specific group. The "normal" ones are more "part of the group", and people love people who act like them.
- Informational Conformity - the need to be right and make decisions based on the "just" majority (like rating a movie 5 stars even though you didn't really love it, but most people did).
What Causes Conformity?
Both the situation and the person affect the tendency to conform. Situational factors include ambiguity, lack of experience, unity of the group, and group size. In 1969, a cool experiment related to group size and conformity found that more pedestrians on a busy street tend to look up if the size of the "stimulus crowd" (collaborators) who looked up was larger. Personal factors of conformity include age (picks in 9th grade), gender (women are more prone to conformity), and culture (collectivistic cultures, like Asian cultures, are more conformity). If we take it to the business world, we can say that inexperienced, united or large teams are more prone to conformity. This is something to pay attention to, as conformity can be both positive and negative for your business.
- Persuasive argument - We are exposed to new arguments that we haven't thought of, and the very exposure creates extremism of opinions.
- Social comparison - We're always trying to be "more" than others, in every aspect. When others in our team express similar views to ours, we take a more extreme position to differentiate ourselves.
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Is Conformity Good or Bad and How Can We Control It?
On the one hand, conformity is great! We have education systems, we follow our country's rules, we eat with a knife and fork, we cooperate and maximize profits, and these are wonderful examples of conformity in real life. But on the other hand, conformity can cause not-so-nice things like herd behavior, fear of people different from us, fixation, and a profound and unconscious change in the way we experience life. We know, for example, that we shouldn't use drugs; it's illegal and unhealthy, and this is an injunctive norm - a thing we must or must not do. However, in real life, many people do use drugs, and this is a descriptive norm - a thing we actually do. These norms often conflict, but we can use this insight to our advantage! In an experiment conducted in 2009, two types of signs were hung in showers in hotel rooms - one asked guests to be pro-environmental and not wash their towels every day, and the other stated that a large percentage of hotel guests do not wash towels every day (an example of a descriptive norm). The results showed that more subjects presented with the second sign listened to it! This is a great example of how we can use conformity in a good way and help our environment. You can do it too. Just find one thing you want your employees or customers to do, present it as a descriptive norm (for positive purposes only !), and let them know that everyone else acts this way. Now you're one step closer to using psychology in your everyday life and making great things out of it!