This is the oldest trick in the book: give your target reasons to do what you want. This doesn’t have to involve money: sometimes praise, a sense of belonging, even a smile can work as well or better than cash, as can negative social emotions like shame. Letters sent out by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that said most people had already paid their tax achieved 15 per cent higher payment rates. The UK government’s new Behavioural Insights Team, or ‘nudge unit’, works on this principle.
When someone thinks about a belief, their brain is active in a particular pattern. When they’re not thinking about it but still believe it, that pattern is stored in networks of neurones, which strengthen when activated by a stimulus and weaken when not used. One way to exert influence is to trigger the beliefs you want In someone by ensuring the right stimuli are present in their environment. But make this seem natural: a viral video or a casual remark work better than blatant advertising or instruction.
Most of what our brains detect, we never notice. You can use this to make yourself seem more likeable and boost your influence. At work, for example, subtly mirroring colleagues’ body language can make you seem more similar to them, which they’ll like – as long as it’s done subtly! They’ll also be cued not only by how you look, speak and dress, but by how warm and well-lit your office is, whether or not there are potted plants, whether you offer your visitors a hot drink and how your desk is positioned.