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Persuasive Strategies: Liking or “In the Eyes of the Beholder”

Article by: Nancy Tobler
April 1, 2015

To understand the “Power of Persuasion” we can look at currency as an example. Money holds value for almost everyone and most individuals can be persuaded to action if there is a monetary reward. Similarly, if your expertise, or gift, or relationship holds value for someone, they are more likely to be persuaded to action by you. “Liking” is one of those persuasive strategies that can best be understood by looking through the eyes of the recipient (or beholder).

As part of the persuasive process, two types of “liking” occur. The first type of liking occurs in the initial phase and superficial relationships. A considerable amount of research in marketing and advertising indicates that we are more persuaded by likable people. When someone new approaches us with a “great opportunity,” if we are suspicious we start to be critical of their message. However, if we think he/she is attractive, cooperative, or similar to us, we are more likely to be persuaded by them. Certainly in direct selling, we need to consider if we come across as likable in initial interactions.

There are several ways to increase initial liking. Obviously, do what you can to be attractive. Next, think about how what you are selling helps the other person. People who are seen as “cooperative” are not trying to make a “quick sale.” Finding out a little bit about your audience is one way to find common ground and be seen as similar. Another way to increase likeability is to compliment others. It is interesting to note that even outrageous compliments from sales people can have a positive influence on likability.

The second liking type is in long term relationships. We are more likely to be persuaded by those we like and those that we perceive like us. The use of hosts is one way that direct selling uses the liking strategy. The host invites people she likes and that like her. The party is one situation where you can see both types of liking occur. If the consultant is “likable” and the hostess has invited people she likes, persuasion is more likely.

There are several aspects that make long term relationship liking different. Once we have become close to someone and have a more in depth relationship, the rules change. We often will do things for our friends that we would not do for the most attractive, cooperative and similar stranger. Friends are unique because we choose the other person. In a family, we often feel “stuck” with some of these people. In friendships, we want good things to happen for the other person. We also know that the other person has us in mind when they make decisions. When it comes to buying products or services, we often want to share with our friends our experience or love for a product.

In initial liking, we don’t get a second chance to make a “likeable” first impression. The bank is not deep, and it is easy to spend over our limit. Friendships typically have give and take. This give and take is where liking can start to work against us. If we try to persuade others too often it may make a person less likable. Friends will often give us many chances to act like a friend. However, eventually, if you take more than you give, you are seen as overdrawn on the friendship account. The bottom line is that nice people tend to be more persuasive over the long term. However, “nice” is in the eye of the beholder.

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Nancy Tobler

Nancy Tobler has a PhD in communication from the University of Utah. She specializes in research on how organizations change,...

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