“We all fool ourselves from time to time in order to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided. …In most circumstances, consistency is valued and adaptive. …The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill. On the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength.” (Robert Cialdini)
People have a desire to look consistent through their words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds and this tendency is supported or fed from three sources:
- Good personal consistency is highly valued by society.
- Consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to daily life.
- A consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. That is, by being consistent with earlier decisions we can reduce the need to process all the relevant information in future similar situations. Instead, one merely needs to recall the earlier decision and respond consistently.
The key to using the principles of Commitment and Consistency to influence people is held within the initial commitment. That is, after making a commitment, taking a stand or position, people are more willing to agree to requests that are consistent with their prior commitment. Many compliance professionals try to induce others to take an initial position that is consistent with a behaviour they will later request.
Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, effortful, and viewed as internally motivated and not coerced. Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand. The drive to be and look consistent constitutes a highly potent tool of social influence, often causing people to act in ways that are clearly contrary to their own best interests.
Commitment decisions, even erroneous ones, have a tendency to be self-perpetuating. They often “grow their own legs”. That is, those involved may add new reasons and justifications to support the wisdom of commitments they have already made. As a consequence, some commitments remain in effect long after the conditions that initially spurred them have changed. This phenomenon explains the effectiveness of certain deceptive compliance practices.
To recognize and resist the undue influence of consistency pressures upon our compliance decisions, we can listen for signals coming from two places within us, our stomach or “gut reaction” and our heart.
A bad feeling in the pit of the stomach may appear when we realize that we are being pushed by commitment and consistency pressures to agree to requests we know we don’t want to perform.
Our heart may bother us when it is not clear that an initial commitment was right. At such points it is meaningful to ask a crucial question, “Knowing what I know now, if I could go back, would I have made the same commitment?”
How to Apply the Rule of Commitment and Consistency (in coaching)
- Once someone has made a decision they stubbornly defend it. You can use this self-validating process to up-sell and cross-sell additional products and services. It’s well known that people are highly likely to re-purchase within a short timeframe of their initial purchase. Try selling a client into a workshop series within 7-days of entering a coaching contract (or vice-versa). They’ll be highly compelled to do so and you can increase your net margin of a sale by multiples.
- Soon after a sale, ask for referrals. Have a structured, automated system to ask clients for referrals within a short timeframe of them buying. Or invite friends of clients to an event where your client will validate their decision to purchase to their friends, serving as a powerful sales influence.
- Carefully structure your selling strategies and scripts to invoke incremental “yeses” to taking up your service. If you have a client say “No” at any point throughout your sales process, and then ask them why, they will validate their “No” and defend their position. This is why coaches that are sensitive or defensive about their service find it almost impossible to convert prospects. They allow prospects to self-validate their negative pre-conceived notion of the coaches’ service.
- Act consistently. Everything you say, do, deliver and imply must be consistent. The moment you deviate in consistency you’ll lose credibility.
- Once you finish running a session with a client or group of clients, be sure to reset a date and time for the next session before you finish. Clients will be far more committed to your services at time of delivery, and this is the best time to ask for future commitments.