Nov 13, 2021


We are more influenced by people we like, even if we’ve never closely interacted with them.

An interesting display of this rule is research done by communicators trying to get people to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution. Through means of facts and logic, very little was able to be accomplished. However, when people were led to believe that George Clooney had made favorable comments about a book that took a pro-evolutionary stance, they became significantly more accepting of the theory.

For would-be persuaders, the message is clear: to change feelings, counteract them with other feelings by someone who is liked by the people you are trying to persuade.

Commercial exploitation of this rule is effectively used by Tupperware in their “home party” setup. They make it possible for anyone to host one and have their friends over to purchase their products. By providing the host with a percentage of the take, Tupperware arranges for its customers to buy from and for a friend rather than an unknown salesperson.

Other compliance professionals have found that the friend doesn’t even have to be present to be effective. Often, just the mention of their name is enough. 92 percent of consumers trust product recommendations from someone they know, such as a liked friend, which is far more than any other source and 22 percent more than the next highest source, online reviewers.

When already formed friendships are not present to be employed, you can make use of the liking bond by getting customers to like you.

One path to likability is physical attractiveness. This quality creates a halo effect that extends beyond the way you look. People also assume other positive qualities about your competence and character.

Another path is similarity. We like people who are like us. Consequently, those who want us to like them so we will favor them can accomplish their purpose by appearing similar to us in a variety of ways. Dressing similarly is one way. Another is to claim to have similar interests.

In a related piece of research on similarity, it was found that changing the name of a survey-taker to be similar to that of the survey recipient nearly doubled completion of the survey.

Compliments are one other simple way to get people to like you. On the Internet, these take the form of “likes” and have a similar effect of generating positive feelings. Those working in the service industry know this well and frequently use compliments with great effect to increase the size of their tips.

It doesn’t matter if these compliments are made earnestly either. In one study, individuals who worked on a digital assignment received flattering feedback from the program regardless of how they performed. Even though the participants were told this, they still had more favorable feelings toward the machine and remarkably became prouder of their performances after receiving the hollow praise. 

We are phenomenal suckers for flattery. In another experiment, it was found that praise does not have to be accurate to work. Positive comments produced just as much liking for the flatterer when they were untrue as when they were true. As a manager or employer, use praise as a tool to drive towards the outcomes you desire.

Contact is another path to liking. We like things that are familiar to us. Good marketers know this and it is the reason why they repeat their message often. We don’t realize our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it, but the more we engage with something, the more we tend to like it. 

Yet another way to induce liking is cooperation. Compliance professionals are forever attempting to establish that we and they are working for the same goals. One setting in which this is used is Good Cop/Bad Cop. The purpose of the routine is to establish that the Good Cop is on your team so that you are more likely to cooperate with them.

One key way to prevent people disliking you is to avoid being the bearer of bad news. As Shakespeare wrote in Antony and Cleopatra, “The nature of bad news infects the teller.” People associate you with your message. This association process works so well and unconsciously that corporations regularly rush to link their products to the current cultural rage. Right now, “naturalness” is such a hot feature that it’s applied even to products that don’t make any sense. 

Linking celebrities to products is another way advertisers cash in on the association principle. The connection doesn’t have to be a logical one; it just has to be a positive one. What does Matthew McConaughey really know about Lincolns after all?

In the famous experiment, Pavlov trained his dogs to get the typical response to food (salivation) to be directed toward something irrelevant to food (ringing a bell) merely by connecting two things in the animal’s experience. This mechanism similarly exists in our brains and is used all the time by advertisers.

This post is a summary of a chapter from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. The book discusses 7 principles of persuasion, one of which is Liking.