The Power Of Surprise

Only a handful of people know how truly powerful personal communication is, even on the level of mere text messages. In our technology-imbued age, using devices to communicate with others is unavoidable. The circumstances that drive our personal realities often keep us far from some of our acquaintances (and even sometimes, our families).

While many would view this is as a hindrance, I personally view this situation as merely another opportunity to practice covert influence.

The challenge now is to pack as much power into one’s words so that the same influential effect would be achieved. In today’s discussion I am going to share with you two strategies that might come in handy when you need to persuade or influence someone – with just a text message. Doubtful? Welcome to the world of real covert influence.

The power of unexpected gifts

A recent study by a group of behavioral scientists (headed by David Strohmetz) revealed just how powerful unexpected gifts can be if given at the right time and to the right people. In the first trial (and other succeeding trials), the researchers asked the servers to abandon the idea of presenting mint baskets to restaurant patrons.

Instead, candies will be given away to the patrons directly right before they left the table. The goal was to increase the tips being given to the servers. In the first attempt, the servers gave one piece of candy to each restaurant patron.

A single candy (for each diner) yielded in a 3.3% increase in tips. In the second attempt, the servers gave away two candies instead of one. The tips increased from 3.3% to 14.1%. Sounds good, right? It gets better!

In the third attempt, servers were asked to give just one candy to each diner – but right before they leave, they would turn back and give each diner an additional candy for no reason at all. No words or niceties were needed and yet, the simple modification in the process of giving away the candies resulted in 23% more tips for the servers.

Amazing, isn’t it? The third approach really boosted the tips for the simple reason that the diners felt compelled to reciprocate the nice gesture of the servers. It’s still reciprocation, but it’s done in such a way that the reciprocation feels very natural and the ones reciprocating would feel happy that they have reciprocated what was done to them.

How can you apply this when you are texting someone? Easy – when you need to ask someone a favor or if you need something done, don’t start the interaction with the request or task. Instead, start by saying something that is completely unrelated to your request (make sure that it will benefit the other party) and let the other party enjoy your gift before you make a request.

Of course, you would need to back up your text messages with a real, unexpected gift (like a spa day for your wife or a new video game for your boyfriend). But you can relay your influential message through a simple text message and the effect would be nothing short of amazing. I’m not promising anything here since a lot of things can act as obstacles to any influential message, but I can assure you that unexpected gifts can ignite a sense of reciprocity so strong that the other party would offer to do a favor for you in no time.

However, I do have to warn you that this strategy works well if you don’t do it very often and you also have to limit the people that receive unexpected gifts from you so the technique doesn’t lose its power.

If you do it to everyone, word will eventually get out and people will stop responding favorably to your requests. So do this only if other techniques are no longer working. Because if you overuse this technique, chances are, it will soon backfire on you and you will lose your hold on your audience.

A note of warning about favors

Let’s admit it – we love favors. Favors are often lifesavers and in the long term, favors can often help us when we are out of options. When you are asking favors through text messages or even on the phone, be very careful as to how you frame your request. Recent studies show that the favor-doer and the favor-receiver often have very contrasting views regarding favors.

When Person A does Person B a favor, Person B often views the favor in high regard at first. Person A on the other hand, doesn’t view the act (the favor) in high regard (at first). What happens is as time passes, Person B’s view of the favor diminishes while Person A (the original favor-doer) begins to view his favor highly.

So in the end, Person A might ask Person B for a reciprocal favor and Person B might not look favorably at the request if it has been done a very long time ago. So if you are in the habit of seeking favors for past favors, I suggest that you don’t let months or years pass. If you need something from someone because that person owes you a favor, do it as soon as possible so you can increase the chances of receiving positive feedback from the other person.

Because if you wait too long, the other person might ignore your request because his view of the past favor has already been diminished by time. So when you need to ask for a favor through a text message, just send a quick and polite request – there’s no need to mention the past favor.

If your request is timely and has some connection to a past favor, the other party will understand and will probably comply with your request. If the other party declines for some reason, it is possible that the favor he owes has already ‘expired’ in his mind. I wouldn’t recommend pushing your case any further because that would only result in more negative feedback from the other party.

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