Dr. C. George Boeree
Influence is the art and science of changing people. If you recall our discussion of the roots of status, two types of influence were mentioned--a "natural" one involving respect and an "instrumental" one involving power. Power does sound rather physical; but instrumental influence can be considerably more subtle, and includes persuasion.
The traditional graphic representation of persuasion is this:
Let's take it one part at a time.
The effectiveness of the source as a persuader is usually called credibility, or believability. It has been found to be based on a number of factors, including expertness, trustworthiness, and attractiveness.
Expertness. If we perceive someone to be an expert in a particular area of concern, we will tend to find him more credible. So we find commercials for aspirin presented by doctors, or people pretending to be doctors, coffee presented by restauranteurs, or people pretending to be restauranteurs, and so on.
Trustworthiness. If we perceive someone as being honest, we will be more likely to believe him. Several things can influence that perception. For example, if we detect signs that there are ulterior motives, if it seems that the source has something to gain by convincing us, we lose our trust in them.
If the source does not appear to be intentionally influencing us, we trust him more. If I overhear people saying how wonderful I am, I will believe it more than if someone tells me to my face--the latter person may be buttering me up.
If the source's position is actually counter to his self-interest, we trust him more. One experiment had a supposed criminal arguing for or against stiffer jail sentences, and a prosecutor doing the same. People tended to believe the prosecutor more when he argued against stiffer jail sentences, and the criminal more when he argued for stiffer jail sentences.
Of course, generally speaking we trust prosecutors more than criminals. We often attribute an overall tendency to honesty to entire groups of people in a stereotypical fashion. One study asked college students to rate the trustworthiness of a variety of occupations from 1 (complete trust) to 4 (no trust at all), with the following results:
Clergymen 1.44 TV Repairmen 2.12
Physicians 1.55 Police Officers 2.24
Psychologists 1.56 Columnists 2.29
Psychiatrists 1.58 Car Mechanics 2.37
Judges 1.60 Army Generals 2.60
Professors 1.67 Union Officials 2.63
H.S. Teachers 1.84 Executives 2.68
Plumbers 1.96 Politicians 3.18
TV Reporters 2.06 Used Car Salesmen 3.29
It is a point of curiosity that the bottom half of the trust scale goes to big military, big labor, big business, big government, and a stereotype!
Liking. Attractiveness, as you could guess by now, can override almost any other variable, including expertness and trustworthiness. First, if the source is physically attractive, he will be more persuasive. In experiments, an attractive student could lead to considerably more attitude change in an audience than an ugly professor. Fortunately for ugly professors, given time and better arguments, the professor will eventually win out. Eventually.
If the source is similar to you, you will like him more and believe him more. If someone is seen as sharing our national, economic, racial, or religious background, or is the same age or sex, or appears in any way to share our values or perspectives, their arguments will tend to be taken as our arguments. It is not for nothing that politicians say things like "my fellow Americans..." or "friends, Romans, countrymen...." It works as well if the source is a part of our reference group, that is, is what we would like to be....
You may have noticed that expertness, trustworthiness, and attractiveness were mentioned under the respect form of influence when it was discussed under status, yet I said a few paragraphs back that we were going to talk about instrumental influence. Well, if a person uses our respect for him to influence us, it isn't "natural" anymore, is it? And if a person pretends to be an expert, or trustworthy, or your best buddy...? Most examples we have of persuasion do indeed seem to be instrumental, that is, involving the use of power. Later, we will see some examples of natural influence.
The target's susceptibility to persuasion has also been associated with a variety of variables, in particular commitment to his present beliefs, self-esteem, and prior experience with the argument.
Commitment. How important is it for the target to hold on to his present beliefs, and so to resist the communication? This depends, first, on his investment in those beliefs, how much money, time, energy, or ego he has put into them. If you just bought a certain brand of car, you will be less susceptible to my arguments for buying another brand. Cognitive dissonance plays a part here, no doubt.
More subtly, and more importantly, the embeddedness of the target's beliefs makes them more resistant to change. If the particular belief that a persuasion attempt is focused on changing is embedded in a whole system of beliefs, in a world-view, a philosophy, then changing that belief would have to involve changing the whole system. A clear example of embeddedness is to be found in the abortion issue: For the "pro-choice" person, abortion is embedded in issues of individual freedom; for the "pro-life" person, it is tied up with the sanctity of life.
Self-esteem. If you don't respect yourself, why should you argue with anyone else? You might see self-esteem as involving the target's sense of his own expertness, his liking of himself, his trust in himself. But note that self-esteem can change with a change in the communication topic (as well as with situations and even sources): Even the "weakest" of us have our strengths.
Prior experience. If you have never had to defend a particular belief before, you may have a hard time doing it. People coming from "left field" often have success based simply on the target's lack of experience. What's so bad about brother-sister incest, assuming they are both consenting? Why should we allow the unemployed to vote? And the question that can really throw the novice at the all-night crisis hot-line: Why is it better to be alive than dead?
If we give the target a little support --a few good arguments to use in his defense--he may fare better. Or if we give him a small chance to come up with his own defense.... This is called inoculation, resembling as it does inoculating someone against some dreaded disease by giving them a small dose of the disease.
During the 1940's and 50's, many parents and teachers sought to protect children from the evils of Marxism by simply not talking about it. During the 60's and 70's, those protected children first heard the persuasive arguments of Karl Marx in college -- and many were persuaded. Most later understood the limitations of Marx's vision. They would have been considerably more resistant to persuasion had they had some familiarity with Marxism, and not in negative terms only -- in positive terms as well. Similarly, today we try to steer children away from drugs with scare campaigns. Perhaps kids should be told the positive side of drugs, that is, why people take them. Then they might not be so surprised by their persuasiveness.
People often want to know the tricks to persuasion. For example, they will want to know whether, in a debate, it is better to go first or second. The answer, unfortunately, is "it depends:" If A speaks today, and B speaks tomorrow, with the vote to be taken right afterwards, then it is better to be B. B's speech will be recalled better by the voters, because of the recency effect. On the other hand, if A speaks and B speaks right afterwards, and the vote is taken the following day, it is better to be A. A's speech will interfere with learning B's, and so be more influential the next day -- the primacy effect.
Another question is whether it is better to give a one-sided argument or to include your opponent's argument within your own. Do I bring up his point-of-view, or don't I even mention his name? Again, it depends: If the audience is intelligent, give both sides (pushing your own, of course), because intelligent people will do it for you if you don't, and then you won't be in control. If the audience is unintelligent, give only your own point-of-view. If the initial position of the audience is against you, give both sides, for the same reasons you would do so with intelligent audiences. If they are already for you, give them your side only (as is done in political conventions, for example).
But these issues disappear in significance when compared with how one constructs one's communication. The source may just make a proclamation: "Up the revolution!" It may seem silly, but when you analyze many an advertisement or political speech, there is little more than that there. Or the source may deliver a tightly-reasoned argument, logically sound and well demonstrated: A rational argument. Maybe I'm being cynical, but I don't think this happens very often (even in college classes). Most likely, the source will use (consciously or unconsciously) every trick in the book. These tricks, illogic posing as logic, are known as fallacies.
The target may fight back. He may resort to the blanket rejection: "Nope." Or he may rebut every point the source makes with razor-sharp logic and elegant demonstrations. Or he, too, may distort the message and derogate the source using those very same fallacies. Why do we use fallacies? Because they work. They, like stereotypes, are our convenient, practical, short-cut ways of dealing with the world. And yet, like stereotypes, they can be so terribly wrong.
What follows is a list of informal fallacies, adapted from S. Morris Engel's With Good Reason. First, the fallacies of presumption:
1. Sweeping generalization. This is where we try to apply a general rule to special cases: "That is the richest sorority on campus. Therefore, Susan, who is a member of it, must be one of the richest young women on campus." Must she?
2. Hasty generalization. Here, a special case is used as the basis of a general rule: "I know a union representative and he's a terrible person. I wouldn't trust any of them." Why not?
3. Bifurcation ("black or white"). Here, we presume an
"We must choose between safety and freedom. And it is in the nature of good Americans to take the risk of freedom." Must we choose? Can't we have both?
4. Begging the question (vicious cycle, circular argument). Instead of offering real proof, we can just restate the conclusion we are supposed to come to, and hope the listener doesn't notice: "Government ownership of public utilities is dangerous, because it is socialistic." Government ownership of public utilities is socialism. You've just been told that it's dangerous because it is what it is.
5. Question-begging epithets (mudslinging, name calling, loaded words, emotive language, etc.). Restating the conclusion in "hot" language: "This criminal is charged with the most vicious crime known to man." Does it prove something, or just get the blood flowing?
6. Complex question (loaded question, trick question, leading question, etc.). Ask a question that leads others to believe that a previous question has been answered in a certain way: "Answer yes or no: Did you ever give up your evil ways?" If you say yes, that tells us you had evil ways; if you say no, that tells us you still have them. What if you never had them?
7. Special pleading. Here, we use a double-standard of words: "The ruthless tactics of the enemy, his fanatical, suicidal attacks have been foiled by the stern measures of our commanders and the devoted self-sacrifice of our troops." Are ruthless tactics different from stern measures? Fanatical, suicidal attacks from devoted self-sacrifice?
8. False analogy. An analogy or metaphor illustrates or elaborates; it doesn't prove anything: "The American Indian had to make way for Western civilization; after all, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs." Are the lives and cultures of millions comparable to eggs? What does making omelettes have to do with history and morality?
9. False cause (post hoc ergo propter hoc). Here, we assume causal connections that haven't been demonstrated. The Latin phrase means "after this, therefore because of this." "You should go to Harvard, because Harvard graduates make more money." Or could it be that they had more money before they went?
10. Irrelevant thesis (irrelevant conclusion, ignoring the issue, befogging the issue, diversion, red herring, etc.). Demonstrating a point other than the one at issue. Escaped convicts in Elizabethan England would smear themselves with rotten (red) herring to throw the dogs off the scent. "I fail to see why hunting should be considered cruel when it gives tremendous pleasure to many people and employment to even more." So we should stop talking about cruelty and start talking about pleasure and employment?
The next set of fallacies are called fallacies of relevance:
11. Personal attack (including the abusive form, circumstantial form, poisoning the well, and tu quoque). In personal attack, we ask the listener not to consider the argument, but to consider where it is coming from: "This theory about a new cure for cancer has been introduced by a man known for his Marxist sympathies. I don't see why we should extend him the courtesy of our attention." Tu quoque (Latin for "look who's talking!") is especially popular: "If you think communal living is such a great idea, why aren't you living in a commune?" This fallacy is often presented to parents encouraging their children not to make the same mistakes they made.
12. Mob appeal (appeal to the masses). This involves theatrical appeals to our lowest instincts, such as selfishness, greed, jealousy, or vanity. "Because you are a college audience, I know I can speak to you about difficult matters seriously." Oh, well, thank you very much; please go on!
13. Appeal to pity. This is an appeal to your tender emotions, your sympathy: Listen, if you can bear it, to any telethon. Or listen to advertisements that try to sell computers to parents: "You wouldn't want your kids to be left behind on the information super-highway, would you? What kind of parent are you anyway?"
14. Appeal to authority. This is where we bring up famous people, reference groups, science, tradition, religion, universality.... "Camel filters. They're not for everybody." "Meow mix. Cats ask for it by name." "Sony. Ask anyone." This includes the famous technique called snob appeal.
15. Appeal to ignorance. My position is right because there is no evidence against it: "There is intelligent life in outer space, for no one has been able to prove that there isn't." Fact of the matter is, you can't prove the non-existence of something: No matter how hard you look, I can always say you haven't looked hard enough. Go ahead: Prove to me that unicorns don't exist.
16. Appeal to fear. Don't argue with me, it's dangerous: "If you do not convict this murderer, one of you may be his next victim." This one is frequently used in deodorant ads.
This last fallacy has some research to go with it. What is more effective in changing attitudes -- great fear? A little fear? No fear? For example, if we want to convince people to wear seat-belts, do we give them gentle warnings and "buckle-up for safety" jingles? Or do we show them pictures of battered cars? Or of mangled bodies? It seems to be another of those "it depends" questions: Generally, fear works when used on people with healthy egos. But people who are less than secure about themselves -- neurotics, juvenile delinquents, children -- tend to "block out" the information, rather than be influenced. Fear works, in other words, on the people who least need to be convinced of reasonable ideas.
In all the preceding, even "mob appeal" and "personal attack" and the like, the fallacy is quite explicit -- right there, out in the open for anyone with a little sense to see. But we can be much more subtle in our persuasion -- as we in fact are in advertising. Advertising seems so innocuous, but note that you are being persuaded without becoming suspicious, without even being fully aware of it! That's scary!
The major technique is called image -- the creation of associations: Basically, if you can get the target to associate your product or candidate, or message, with "good," you've done your job -- without actually using any arguments, fallacious or rational, at all!
United Airlines used to ask us to "fly the friendly skies of United." The message is "fly United;" the association is " friendly United." Or the famous Marlboro man advertisements, with their rugged men, their nature, all that health and beauty.... There's no indication of full ashtrays, smoky rooms, hacking coughs, butts by the lakeshore.... The success of that ad campaign is measured by the fact that Marlboros used to be a women's cigarette!
One common association is to success: Use our product, and you too will be successful. But the most common of all is sexuality: Use our product and, well, you know.... Beer commercials, as we all know, are notorious for their use of beach scenes, which allow for great amounts of exposed skin. Perhaps it hasn't occurred to you, but do beer drinkers tend to look like these people? There never seems to be a beer belly among them! Also keep your eyes out for some of the cute techniques advertisers use to enhance the sexual nature of beach scenes: Look out for people stripping down to their bathing suits (often in colors close to their skin colors); look for people (especially women) in awkward positions; look for camera angles that emphasize and linger on one portion of the anatomy or another....
Magazine advertisements allow even more sexual emphasis. Note some ads for perfume involving a naked woman nearly smothered in beautiful male bodies, or a woman getting amorous towards renaissance statues. There was a Harvey's Bristol Cream ad that consisted of two people, male and female, very healthy, sadly prevented from skiing by a snow storm raging outside their private cabin. They drown their sadness in Harvey's, lounging on a couch, under a blanket, in front of the fire, clearly in the buff. I ran right out and bought a bottle.
Even more basic than image is the appeal to attention, the recognition factor: If we get people to look our way, we have more than half the battle won. So, we have bright colors, simple logos, catchy jingles, impressive packaging, and constant repetition. You'll find this in politics as well as in advertising.
You see, when confronted with a choice, we tend to go with the familiar (brand names, Q-ratings, "high visibility," etc.) even if that familiarity is based on nothing more than how "noisy" you are -- i.e. how well you have gotten people's attention! The squeaky wheel and all that, you know. Even the obnoxiousness of "ring-around-the-collar" type ads can work.
Keep your eyes open for the effect of context: If everyone has red, white, and blue packaging, then yellow and green stand out, even though they are less well liked. If everyone is using futuristic logos, try an old-fashioned package theme. If everyone is blaring rock and roll jingles, try some Vivaldi, or dead silence (remember the Infiniti ads?).
Another scary idea is created needs: Advertising can make you "need" what you had never even considered. The fashion industry is notorious for this. By raising a hemline, they make the consumer feel like they are out of style and therefore in need of the new, higher hemline line. People didn't used to worry much about perspiration stains -- why hide good honest sweat? Our ancestors didn't even worry much about the smell of good honest sweat. But by showing people embarrassed by "wet spots," we begin to assume that others (to whose minds we have so little access) really do care about these things. So we smear aluminum waste products into our pores.
(Notice that they are using appeals to fear and associating non-use of their products with negative images! The web gets increasingly tangled.)
The same thing applies to spots on glasses, grittiness in the bathtub, feminine freshness, and graphic equalizers. We seldom ask ourselves whether we truly need or want these things. Why must our shirts fluoresce in the sun? Why should we bother to iron our clothes? Who needs a lawn all perfectly manicured -- I personally have a thing for meadow wildflowers. Why do we need powerful engines in cars when we aren't allowed to go 100 anyway? What's wrong with the grit in the bathtub -- it used to mean we had cleaned it well! Why shouldn't we smell like people, instead of like hospitals, petunias, or animal glands?
So they've caught your attention, given you the proper associations, and made you want it whether you need it or not. From then on, they can let our natural conservatism do some of the work: brand loyalty. We tend to buy and use what we're used to. Think in terms of cognitive dissonance theory: I use it -- it must be good!
With our discussion of image in advertising, we are quite close to talking about "situational factors:" The associations in advertising are still contained within the message or communication, but it's a small step to associating the message with "good things" presented more immediately. The three-martini lunch at a fine restaurant has helped many a salesperson get their message across. This is just reinforcement.
There are other techniques: Distraction can help a source make his point. Try making your plea while chauffeuring your target at high speeds on mountain roads. Or while their attention is caught up in an attractive other. Anything that makes your listener tense, nervous, excited, curious, and so on, will take his or her mind off logical rebuttal of your argument.
And appropriateness, though seldom thought of, can be quite powerful: If you try to sell insurance at a funeral, people will kick you out on your rear. I call this the "Vanessa Redgrave" syndrome (She made a political speech once instead of an acceptance speech on an awards show, and so outraged everyone that her message was totally lost).
Or we can do a great deal more with the situation. The most dramatic example is brainwashing. Now understand that brainwashing is not a terribly common form of persuasion (although any brainwashing is too much). Even some otherwise highly offensive techniques such as interrogation and indoctrination fall short of being full examples. But spending some time on brainwashing is well worth it: Bits and pieces of it can be found everywhere you look.
The first step is the assault on identity, better known as "breaking" a person or "softening them up." There are a variety of techniques:
1. Physical fatigue. Keep the person awake for long periods of time -- it is a very powerful technique, used in p.o.w. camps and cult indoctrinations alike. Keep them hot, uncomfortable, cramped, overexerted, etc. as well.
2. Uncertain environment. Keep them confused. Never let them know what's going on. Don't give them windows, clocks, calendars. Don't let them know when (or if) their next meal will come, or their next opportunity for rest or sleep. The Iranian students that held the American hostages even had them come out before firing squads, only to hear, on the shout of "fire," the click of empty rifles.
3. Stripped self-image. Allow them only uniform, humiliating clothing (such as the stripped pajamas of old-time prisons -- and hospital gowns!), or no clothing at all. Shave their heads (we use hair to give ourselves identity and esteem -- hence the shaving of French prostitutes who slept with Nazis). Give them a number, or someone else's name, or some nasty epithet.
4. Self-betrayal. Lead the prisoner to "sell-out" friends, relatives, fellow prisoners.... Guilt is like a nose ring -- you can lead someone anywhere with it, once it is established.
For example, Dr. Vincent, a European physician in Shanghai, was arrested one day by five armed men and taken to a "reeducation center" (i.e. prison), where he was to spend the next three and a half years. (See J.C.C. Brown's book for a complete description)
First, he was taken to an 8 by 12 cell shared with eight other prisoners. These were "more advanced" in their reform, and were eager to "help" Vincent. Surrounded by the others, he was "grilled" -- told that he must confess, that the government doesn't arrest innocent people, and so on. This lasted ten hours. It's called "the struggles."
He was then taken to an interrogation room -- a small room with a bare bulb, a hard chair, an interrogator, translator, and secretary. He was told that he had committed crimes against the people, that they knew all about them, and that it was time to confess. He endured ten hours of questioning.
He was handcuffed and chained and sent back to his cell for more struggles. He was permitted no sleep, forced to eat on his hands and knees, and had to be assisted in urinating. In other words, he was stripped of all dignity.
In the second interrogation, he made up a confession. It was, of course, rejected. It would have been rejected even if it were true -- they don't need a confession! Then they sent him back to his cell for more struggles.
In his third interrogation, he recounted every detail of his life he could recall. They would then have him dictate what he had said in the interrogation to one of his fellow prisoners back in the cell.
In all, he spent eight days and nights going through this cycle, without sleep.
During the next month or so, a confession was pieced together. During this time, he winds up "betraying" fellow prisoners, friends, relatives -- so now he feels guilty, and it's only a matter of directing that guilt.
The next "step" is called leniency and opportunity -- i.e. reinforcement. Things got better as he cooperated, worse when he did not. Prisoners often come to love their interrogators, since he is normally the one that says when the chains come off, when his food gets better, gives him a cigarette, etc.
And the next "step" is reeducation: within the cell group, a cell "chief" reads from newspapers or books and each member has to discuss the articles and criticize each other. This is called "learning to express oneself from the people's standpoint."
When your views are deemed "erroneous," you are asked to "look inside yourself for the roots of your reactionary tendencies." In other words, you not only learn to argue with other prisoners, you learn to argue with yourself. No force is involved at this point. Everything is done with discussion. It isn't too far from some less savory forms of group therapy!
One year of this, then interrogations again, leading to a "refined" confession. Fourteen more months, then another revision. Finally, he signed a final confession before cameras.
Afterwards, he was expelled from China. At first, he missed prison very much and feared capitalists. But eventually he recovered. Most people, given the opportunity, do recover. But note that most victims of brainwashing are not given that opportunity. They remain in their own country, where their brainwashing is supported by the people around them. They do not recover.
There is definitely something negative about all this persuasion stuff -- obviously with brainwashing, but only a little less obviously with advertising. It is all so manipulative. It is, in fact, very instrumental, that is, means-to-an-end. It is influence based on power (manipulative skill, resources that can be used to reward or punish, legitimacy) and on the pretense of respect (trust, liking, expertise).
There is an idea in moral philosophy that says that people are special, and should never be used as means to an end. To do so is immoral. And so, many people consider the kind of persuasion we've been talking about as intrinsically immoral. We shouldn't be doing it!
But there are circumstances where we would like to influence others because we care about them or about humanity or about the planet. We would like to teach our children how to be happy and productive adults. We would like to teach unskilled people skills, unhappy people how to be happy, uncaring people to care.... These are, most of us feel, moral things to do. So are there ways of persuading that are not instrumental?
There is, of course, another kind of persuasion, a natural influence, based truly on respect. This hasn't been explored nearly as much. What do you expect in our instrumental society, where we even read books that purport to give us techniques for "making friends?" But there are some examples, mostly from the worlds of education and therapy.
It's an amazing thing how babies and young children love to learn! But as we get older, something seems to happen to our love of learning. By the time we get to college, learning is like root canal work! Teachers -- persuaders of a sort -- would like to rekindle some of that love of learning somehow. Perhaps we could inject older students with baby hormones or something.
But it's not so much the student that's changed: It's the learning. You see, as a little kid, you were learning what you wanted to learn, and so you wanted to learn it. It was meaningful to you, desirable, an intrinsically valuable behavior.
Now, you are trying, much of the time, to learn what other people want you to learn: calculus, Shakespeare, chemistry, art appreciation.... Some may appeal to you; others bore you to tears. Notice the difference between a course you love and a course you hate. Notice the ease with which you study, remember, and recall material for tests in the ones you like. Or look at the difference between reading a book for pleasure and reading one as an assignment. Or look a the difference between work and a hobby....
Most education, today as ever, is a matter of "the carrot and the stick" -- rewards and punishments, smiley faces, gold stars, grades, and diplomas. What we should be doing a lot more is showing students how our subjects are meaningful to them! Then there would be little need for grades and other "motivators."
One thing we can do is to try to make education a little more entertaining -- films, jokes, etc. That is nice, but it is only surface work. People remember what was meaningful to them in the class -- the films, the jokes....
Better is to relate the material to people's day-to-day lives, for example by using many examples or by telling stories. Another way is to get people more actively involved in the subject, having them do their own studies, or having help groups. Best would be to let people find their own way to competency... but our educational systems are far from ready for that yet.
Meaningful teaching just isn't appreciated by administrators or even many teachers: If your not busy cramming facts into students' heads, they think you're not doing anything. And heaven forbid you should try to get around the grading system!
Funny thing is, students don't seem to appreciate it either! They are used to the system. If they don't have to grunt and groan over textbooks and tests, if they actually have a good time, they figure it's a "Mickey Mouse" course. Consider: If you learn something pleasantly, you don't think of it as work, and if it wasn't work, then it must not be too important.
Another area where the use of instrumental versus non-instrumental influence is an issue is therapy. If we would like to see someone in control of their own life, free to actualize their potentials, it doesn't make a lot of sense to manipulate and control them into it. There's got to be a better way!
An example is George Kelly's fixed-role therapy. Here you can see how respect means not controlling.
The therapist asks the client to write a self-description -- to describe himself or herself in the third person. The therapist then analyzes the self-description for the kinds of key social constructs he or she uses.
Since the client is presumably unhappy, the way in which he sees himself and others may be at the root of that unhappiness. To use myself as an example, I once tended to use constructs such as genius-idiot and success-failure. So, if I couldn't prove myself to be a genius and a success -- a tough job -- the only thing left for me was to be a failure and an idiot. And I measured others the same way!
So the therapist writes another description called the fixed-role sketch, using constructs that are independent of the original ones, but which cover a similar "domain." For example, skilled-unskilled and respected-not respected cover similar circumstances as genius-idiot and success-failure, but are not tied to them in any way. Usually the therapist will use the more positive ends of the new constructs, e.g. skilled and respected, at first.
The therapist then asks the client to play this role for a week or two, all day, everyday, with everybody! Usually, clients find it easy, even fun, to do. Sometimes they come back and tell the therapist that it was great and that they are now going to be this new person. Then the therapist may give them another fixed-role sketch, perhaps even with a few negative qualities thrown in!
The idea is not for the therapist to tell the client what to be, but to show the client that alternatives are possible, and that he is free to choose. Compare this with the goals of advertising!
Another aspect of natural influence is a mutuality of respect that allows the "source" and the "target" to enter into a dialog. In fact, what constitutes a "source" and what a "target" tends to get rather blurred, and teachers or therapists often find themselves learning as much from the interaction as (or more than) their students or clients.
For example, Carl Rogers suggested that there are three things a therapist must show a client in order for the client to improve: congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard.
Congruence means honesty -- not being defensive, and not being manipulative; knowing your own feelings and communicating them.
Empathy means understanding, being open to others, making an effort at seeing things from their perspective.
Unconditional positive regard means respect, a kind of affection or warmth given regardless of how pleasant or unpleasant the person is.
Now, even as the client, I can tell when someone is congruent or not: When someone is screaming "I am not angry!" I know they are angry, but not congruent. Congruency has a natural simplicity or balance to it. I can feel it.
And when a congruent person is listening carefully and asking me to explain myself when they don't follow (a congruent person is not afraid to ask!), then I feel understood.
And when I see someone making such an effort at understanding me, I feel valued and respected.
Now, when I feel the therapist's congruence, empathy, and respect, I feel less threatened, less need to be defensive. I can be more honest, more congruent -- say what I mean rather than what I think will impress you.
And, as I feel more congruent, I can open up more. The therapist isn't the enemy anymore. I can afford to listen to and make an effort at understanding the therapist as a fellow human being. I can become more empathic.
And, as I come to see things through the therapist's eyes, I can begin to feel respect for the therapist. I can give the therapist the same unconditional positive regard the therapist has given me.
In other words, beginning with one congruent, empathic, respectful person, we end with two. And the honesty, understanding, and respect the client now shows the therapist helps the therapist maintain and improve his own honesty, understanding, and respect -- i.e. therapy is therapeutic to the therapist.
Rogers does go out on a limb at this point and says one more thing: That the three qualities are necessary and sufficient for helping. You must have them to help others, but they are all you need. Nothing more. So, when you are honest, understanding, and respectful of others, you inevitably help them and yourself. Compassion breeds compassion.
One final point: We can become better human beings if we learn to be more open to the world around us -- especially to other people. So often, we see what we want to see, instead of what is really there. We have all sorts of preconceptions and prejudices, and our natural conservative natures lead us to confirm them when we can, and to ignore contradictory information when those preconceptions fail. You remember, I'm sure, our discussions of balance theories and prejudice!
In order to become more open, we need to do two things: First, we have to get to know our biases. We have to look at the assumptions we make, the prejudices we have, the inferiorities that may be motivating us, and so on. We also have to look at our culture and upbringing: What kinds of things did we learn as truth, yet never saw proof or evidence of?
The second thing we need to do is broaden our range of experiences. Get to know people who are different from you. Make friends with people of the other gender, another sexual orientation, older than you, younger than you, of a different ethnic background, a different nationality, a different social class, a different religion or political view, from a different part of the country or a different environment. Read literature and history books. Learn other languages, read other literatures. Travel, explore, hang out. If you challenge the limits of your understanding, even if it sometimes hurts a bit, you will be rewarded.
Awareness, compassion, freedom, meaningfulness -- these are things that lead to a higher quality of life, for yourself, for those around you, and ultimately for everyone.
Copyright 1999, C. George Boeree