Mar 04, 2022

The credible authority

In previous posts, authority has been described as a persuasion lever that leads to increased compliance. However, it is important to distinguish between a credible authority and an uncredible one. Merely being in charge and commanding orders can have the opposite intended effect because people generally don’t like being told what to do. Instead, an authority who promotes willing cooperation and is viewed as being highly informed is the kind that people are eager to follow the recommendations of.

A credible authority possesses two distinct features: expertise and trustworthiness. Expertise appears to create a halo effect for those who possess it. For example, a therapist’s office with multiple diplomas and professional certifications made visible to the client has been shown to produce higher ratings not only of the therapist’s proficiency but also of his or her kindness, friendliness, and interest in clients.

Besides wanting our authorities to give us expert information, we also want them to be trustworthy sources of information. Being perceived as trustworthy is an effective way to increase one’s influence. A communicator can rapidly acquire perceived trustworthiness by employing a clever strategy. Rather than succumbing to the tendency to describe all the most favorable features of a case upfront and reserving mention of any drawbacks until the end of the presentation (or never), a communicator who references a weakness early on is seen as more honest.

The effectiveness of highlighting your own weaknesses can be seen in the case of Domino’s “NEW DOMINO’S” campaign of 2009 admitting to the past poor quality of its pizza. After this campaign, sales went sky high. Another example of this is the famous investor Warren Buffett’s annual letters to shareholders. Near the start of his annual reports, usually in the first page or two of text, he describes a mistake he’s made or a problem the company has encountered during the past year and examines the implications for future outcomes. Rather than burying, minimizing, or papering over difficulties, which seems to be the tack taken all too frequently in other annual reports, Buffett demonstrates that he is first, fully aware of problems inside the company and, second, fully willing to reveal them.

The persuasiveness of online reviews is also influenced by perceived trustworthiness. Five stars is too good to be true. When the average rating moves past the optimal 4.2 to 4.7 range, purchasers become suspicious that ratings are phony and are less likely to buy. Negative reviews establish credibility. In fact, if a site includes some negative reviews, the conversion rate jumps by 67 percent. Additionally, verified buyers are gold as reviewers.