When considering consistency as a persuasive technique, we’re looking at the frame of mind of the person whom we’re trying to persuade. People are more likely to be persuaded to act in ways that they perceive to be consistent with their beliefs and their past behavior.
Cialdini states that one of the best ways to use consistency to persuade is to get someone to verbally state the new behavior. For example, I am more likely to call 4 people and introduce them to the product, if at the end of the sales meeting, I make a verbal commitment to that goal. Of course, I am more likely to act consistently if the original statement was made voluntarily. For example at the sales meeting, if several alternatives are given as ways to contact new customers and I make a choice and then verbally commit, I am more likely to make those calls, take someone to lunch, or send out those catalogs.
The technique can work in more subtle ways as well. If I am asked if I like to help out good causes and I say “yes,” the next good cause to come along and ask for my help is more likely to get my help. This simple persuasive effect occurs because people want to appear consistent.
It also helps if I have made the statement in public. So if I sell a product that is designed to make me healthier and I have stated that I want to be healthy, the sale of the product will be easier. If one is persuading someone to join a direct selling opportunity and the person wants to be their own boss and thinks being one’s own boss is a good thing, then the persuasion can be consistent with and reinforce that belief. The person already agrees somewhat with our statement. If we can build on that belief, we are more likely to persuade.
Another way to create consistency is through a small request. If I sell you a small product or give you a sample, the bigger sale is often easier because you have already made a small commitment to my product. For many years, companies used samples to sell a new product. Companies should provide you with a way to get samples. Parties provide another way to get samples of the product into the customer’s hands. We can all thank Brownie Wise who set up Tupperware Parties as a way to try product.
Another way to use consistency is to apply it to ourselves. If we are trying to be better at sales or better at recruiting, one way to do that is to make both verbal and nonverbal statements along the lines of “I sell” or “I recruit.” When Herbalife distributors wore the button, “Lose Weight Now! Ask Me How!” they tapped into a belief that many people had about being at a healthy weight, and the distributors showed themselves as willing to talk about their product.
Consistency is based on the idea that we want to be balanced. If someone points out to us an inconsistency, then we want to resolve that. Being consistent is a powerful motivator. The strategy can be used to help people see how they already agree with us and used by asking someone that agrees with us to make a small commitment. Probably the most powerful way to use consistency is in self-persuasion. By publicly declaring our goals, we are more likely to achieve them.
Cialdini, R.B. (2003). The science of persuasion: Social psychology has determined the basic principles that govern getting to “yes”. Scientific American Mind, 14(1). 70-77.