Choose Friends Wisely: Social Influence

You’ve probably seen me posting about influence. I’ve been a student every day for the past two years. I educate people about it because it helps everyone when you learn more about it.

Today I bring you a real thinker. I present a possible chain of cause and effect that few will get a chance to see. I invite you to judge for yourself whether it seems plausible or not.

This post will be about the influence two friends have had on me and everyone else they interact with. I will tell you about their possible influence on my thinking. It is essentially an extension of the “Liking” principle, which states that a person you like is vastly more influential than a person you don’t. I like my friends a lot.  And these principles are universal, so what applies to me also applies to everyone else.

These two friends both run their own companies. One sells homemade candles. The other installs WiFi boxes for homeowners and commercial properties. I first learned about their activities through brief looks on social media. But I’m suspicious that most of the influence happened in person when I ask about it.

Note that I cannot see how their work is done during conversation. There’s just words and body language. That is obvious, but you need to have that in mind to understand the effect.

The part I learned about through the Internet is their advertisements for it. I get to see a little bit of the product and what it looks like. We all get access to that. We can imagine the work they put into it and the way they feel about it, but it’s up to them to give us a hint. Otherwise we might project our own feelings onto it — mapping a negative feeling onto what is, for them, mostly positive. (And via text people still do this. It’s hard not to.)

In person it’s a different story. You can look away from the screen anytime you want. But when you talk to someone, your brain is probably more fully engaged than during any other activity. Your brain goes where their words, voice tone, body language, etc. lead you. There is actually a term for this, “pacing and leading”, where you use your state to change another’s. When it’s done well, you don’t even want to resist. So when my friends start talking about their ventures, my brain receives a direct link to attention, good feelings and reward. In short, I remember it.

When you are talking face to face, you hear their voices inflect upwards as their bodies fill with the exciting memory of a rewarding experience. This isn’t something special I get from my studies of persuasion. Your mind does it too. You just don’t notice.

As an aside, it helps that one of these friends is also in a position of power over me. She is not only my friend, but (occasionally) a manager. Power is influence. If your country’s leader stood in your social circle and told you the sky was yellow, you’d at least stop to consider how he might be correct, metaphorically. So when my friend tells me about her company, her influence on my thinking is stronger.

Cut to a few weeks later. I haven’t spoken with those friends mentioned above in weeks. Someone asks me if I have any idea where to get beer kegs. He wants to fill them with sand and lift them. An idea pops into my mind. Why not buy some off Craigslist and sell them? Would people buy this? I don’t know, but it would not cost me much to find out, and the upside might be big.

In the world of rationality, that idea is a coincidence. But in the irrational world of persuasion, you can understand that those two events might be related. Note that I am not saying that I am certain about any of this stuff. It might be coincidence. Or it might be the case that the memories of conversing with friends about their companies, seeing their hands and faces move with excitement, influenced me to believe an idea was worth executing. (One tell is that the idea reminded me of them. That’s a pretty big tell.)

And this happens to everyone who speaks with these people. Everyone who talks to them about their companies will be influenced to start their own.

As far as your own self, you can use this technique to influence your own thoughts and behaviors. Find a friend who is doing entrepreneurial stuff and ask them what they like about running their own show. Try to get them to show off their best feelings about it. Once you interface with a friend’s good feelings about it, you can never go back.


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