|10 years of the Research Digest|
Time your boasts. No one likes a show-off. But to get ahead in this world, you’re going to need to let at least some people know your successes. A 2010 study found that the key to bragging without looking like a big-head is to make sure you make your self-aggrandising claims in context. If the other person raises the topic (exam results, let’s say), it’s safe to go ahead and make your brag, even if you weren’t asked directly about your performance. In contrast, if you’re the one to raise the topic, it’s vital before boasting that you provoke a specific question about how you performed.
Avoid name-dropping. It’s incredibly tempting to piggy back on your successful friends or relatives by letting other people know about your close association to them. But the findings of a 2008 study suggest you should avoid the temptation. Participants rated a student who introduced himself as a friend of Roger Federer as less likeable and less competent, an effect that was due to the name drop being seen as manipulative.
Put your phone away. It’s a business lunch. You take your seat and almost without thinking remove your phone from your back pocket and place it on the table. Don’t. Put it away. A study published last year found that the mere presence of a nearby phone had an adverse effect on the chemistry between people, interfering with their feelings of social intimacy – bad news if you’re hoping to broker a deal or win over a new client. The researchers think the sight of the phone triggers distracting thoughts about friends and contacts located elsewhere.
Do your hair. We’re told from a young age not to judge books by their covers, but we do, and people will judge you by your appearance. Consider a 2009 study that found people were able to identify the winners in past French parliamentary elections merely based on the appearance of the candidates – a result that suggests the real voters had been influenced strongly by the candidates’ looks. Or witness the findings from a 2006 study of US murder cases. Suspects who looked bored or frightening were more likely to be be given the death penalty.
Mind your accent. If you have a heavy accent you may find that it affects your ability to influence other people. In a 2010 study, US participants rated statements uttered in English but with a heavily accented foreign voice as less credible than statements uttered in an American accent, even though they knew all the statements had been written by the researchers. It’s thought the effect is related not just to prejudice, but to the way we assume words that are more easily processed are more likely to be true.
Learn to fake a “genuine” smile. For years psychologists said that fake smiles were easy to spot due to the lack of crinkling around the eyes. They said that the creasing of the orbicularis oculi muscles associated with a genuine “Duchenne” smile was not possible to feign. A study completed last year suggests this isn’t true. Sarah Gunnery and her colleagues found that 71 per cent of participants were able to imitate a Duchenne smile in the absence of real positive emotion. You may already have this skill. If not, practice – it could prove handy for influencing others.
Use flattery and humour. The oldest tricks sometimes work best. Research published in 2010 found that waiters and waitresses received three per cent higher tips when they complimented their customers, telling them that they’d made an excellent choice. “A roughly 3 per cent increase may seem a small amount,” the researchers said, “[but] an additional $1 to $5 per shift could translate into hundreds of dollars per year for each food server.” Other research has shown how the use of humour lowers people’s guard, making them less resistant to marketing messages.
Tailor your style of apology. According to a 2010 study, there are three forms of apology and the appropriate one to choose depends on the nature of the person you’re saying sorry to. For an aggrieved person who is particularly individualistic, aim for a compensation-based apology (e.g. I’m sorry I broke your window, I’ll pay to have it repaired). If they mostly see themselves in terms of their relationships, aim for an empathy-based apology (e.g. I’m sorry I slept with your best friend, you must feel like you can’t trust either of us ever again). Finally, if their identity is most strongly tied to a large group, then an apology that acknowledges norm-violations will be most effective (I’m sorry I advised the CIA how to torture people, I’ve broken our profession’s pledge to do no harm).
Use the power of love. It almost sounds too simple but the French proverb had it right – “love begets love”. In 2011 Nicolas Guéguen and Lubomir Lamy found that bakery customers in France placed twice as much money into charity collection boxes that bore the sign “donating=loving” compared with boxes that said “donating=helping” or had no text other than describing the cause. “Given the high effect-size … we can conclude that evoking love is a powerful technique to enhance people’s altruistic behaviour,” the researchers said.
Demonstrate your potential. This nugget is actually from our Occupational Digest – an offshoot of the Research Digest that launched in 2011. Across eight experiments, researchers showed that all else being equal, people are wowed more by an individual’s potential for future success than by their record of past success. It’s thought that potential has this allure because it prompts us to think more deeply about the person with promise.
This is the fourth in a series of six self-help posts drawing on the Research Digest archive to mark the tenth anniversary of the Digest launch in Sept 2003. The first three were on studying, human attraction and happiness. Post compiled by editor Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer).