How Simplicity Boosts Persuasiveness

When people think about persuasion and influence, the first thing that usually comes to mind is that there has to be this grand effort to dazzle the subject or audience to speed up the persuasive process.

People start to think of ways that they can make things bigger and grander than before. Well, two recent studies show that this isn’t really the case and when you make things more complicated than it should be, the effort you make will actually backfire on you.

One particular study conducted by researcher Michael Wanke and his colleagues sheds light on the issue of complexity and simplicity in advertising. In their study, they presented two kinds of advertisements to their test subjects. One advertisement asked their respondents to give ten reasons why they would choose brand A.

The second advertisement asked the respondents to give just one reason why they should choose brand B. The study made use of two very popular brands (BMW and Mercedes Benz). Interestingly enough, those who were given the BMW-leaning advertisement were less likely to choose BMW over Mercedes Benz.

Why did this happen in the first place? The reason is actually quite simple – people had a hard time thinking of ten reasons why they should choose BMW instead of a Mercedes Benz. Since people are usually unwilling to expend a lot of cognitive resources unless extremely necessary, they will veer away from something that appears more complicated than it should be.

So if asking people reasons why they should choose something that you are offering will backfire on you, how can you use this strategy to your advantage? Simple – ask your audience two give you reasons why they should choose your competitors over you.

I can assure you than only a handful of your audience will be able to give you a really significant answer. The rest of your audience will probably freeze in place and just choose you because they weren’t able to produce a sufficient number of reasons why they should opt for your competitor and not you.

Of course, this technique would only work if you have already show the audience the value of what you are offering in the first place. If your audience is unaware of how great your service/idea/product is, they would probably just say that they have had experienced what your competitor has to offer and they don’t know anything about you at all.

Another study enforces the message of “keep it simple”. This study, spearheaded by researchers Alter and Oppenheimer, focused on how simplicity of names can actually spell the difference between success and failure in the stock market.

What these researchers found out was that the fluency of the name of a particular company had a bearing on how successful it would be in the stock market.

What this shows is the fact that when you start ignoring simple and powerful language, you lose out on the opportunity to have more influence over your audience or your market. I’m not saying that everything is hinged on the name of a project, but if you can make a project or contract sound simple and powerful, do it.

Researchers have also discovered that the kind of language that you choose to use is also of paramount importance when interacting with other people. Many books on influence recommend that you use authoritative language when you talk to others, so that your public projection would be better received by your audience.

If you are a programmer and you are dealing with fellow programmers and people from the same field, it is alright to use specialized jargon.

But if you come from a particular field like medicine or aeronautics and you use your specialized jargon on people who are not part of your field, the tendency is for people to ignore you and deem your entire message as less convincing because it is difficult to understand.
This might not sound fair at all especially to people who genuinely want to share their knowledge with the rest of the world. However, we must contend with this reality if we are to make any headway when we talk to non-experts.

Another thing: it has been found that when a person talks in a very specialized language or jargon, he is perceived to be less competent by non-experts.

Again this sounds absurd (that’s what experts are for, right?) but trusts me – it is far better to adjust how you communicate than to try to force people to accept your input.

Remember, you are in the business of influencing and persuading other people. It doesn’t matter if you have 3 Ph.Ds. – if people don’t understand you and they don’t even recognize that you are giving expert opinion because of your complex language, you will not be persuasive at all.

This problem with complicated language is present even in the academe and is also perceived as a problem in the workplace. For example, a Stanford University research showed that more than eighty five percent of student respondents in one study admitted that they purposefully used more complicated language in their academic papers just to sound that they knew more than the next person.

They did it to impress – but as we already know, if language is too complicated, it might backfire on the speaker instead. In yet another study, more than fifty five percent of employee respondents based in the United Kingdom reported that they had trouble understanding what their managers wanted them to do because the language was not clear enough.

As you can see, this communication gap can cause a lot of problems especially in a workplace because if the upper management and the regular employees are not communicating well, they are not going to accomplish a significant amount of work in the shortest time possible. What would result is a back-and-forth of messages that would slow down any project and may even cause friction between the management and the employees.