The Secrets of Our Minds: Secret #2 – The psychology of persuasion. How to use biases to your advantage.


The Secrets of Our Minds: Secret #2 – The psychology of persuasion. How to use biases to your advantage.



Hi, I’m Astrid and I’m an organisational psychologist. In psychology, we study human behaviour extensively. In this series, I’m going spill the beans on some of the psychological secrets behind our behaviour. Please use it for good…


Most of us believe we work harder than our colleagues. Experiments with participants ranging from academia to married couples show consistent results: when you add up the estimated percentage people think they contributed to the total amount of work completed, the total exceeds 100%. Sometimes by a significant margin! We are all so focused on ourselves, on the things we do, that we’re barely aware of the work of others. We also believe that others are much more susceptible to biases than we are. Spotting someone else’s bias is a lot easier than noticing our own. Even when we theoretically know we are biased ourselves, we secretly think we’re not too bad. We’re a funny bunch, aren’t we.

The good news in all this, is that we can use these biases others have (and we of course don’t have ourselves at all..) to our advantage. Especially when it comes to persuasion. Are you trying to sell your idea to others? Are you trying to convince your boss of a change in direction? Are you trying to get your team behind your innovation strategy? Then listen up. Here are two deep psychological traps we all fall into. Use them to your advantage.

Trap 1: Loss aversion

Our brains our wired to strongly prefer avoiding losses over gaining the equivalent. We’d much rather not lose $5 than gain $5. From an economics perspective this isn’t rational, but psychologically we fear loss twice as much as we relish success (Kahneman). This tendency leads to risk-averse behaviors, a preference for the status-quo, even when change is in our best interest.

How to make it work for you: When we try to influence or persuade others, we tend to focus on the positives, on all the great stuff that will be gained from our idea or strategy. From a psychological perspective, you’re better off focusing on the opposite. People will be twice as affected when you take time to focus on what will be lost if your idea or strategy doesn’t happen. Point out clearly what they will miss out on, or what the negative consequences of not moving forward with your idea will be. You’ll be more likely to succeed.

Trap 2: Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is our tendency to put extra weight in information that agrees with our existing point of view, and very little weight in information which doesn’t. I wrote about this powerful bias here.

How to make it work for you: Do your homework. What are some of the beliefs that exist in your audience/the person you want to get on board? What are some of their truths? Now, find a part of your strategy or idea that aligns with their belief and put lots of focus on that part during your presentation/discussion. People will put lots of weighting into the argument that confirms their existing beliefs. Any idea can usually be explained in a way that has some alignment with the beliefs of the person who you’re trying to persuade. Find it, and use it to succeed.

If you would like any more information on persuasion, better decision-making processes, or just dealing with biases in innovation in general (or anything else innovation related!), please let me know via; I’m always up for a chat!

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