Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fleeting interactions...long term gains

Having worked in a fairly large department store for nearly 5 years, part of my job involves trying to encourage customers to open store cards and use our ordering point if they cannot find what they are looking for in-store. One of the most effective ways I have found success is if I have had some sort of interaction with a customer prior to asking them for my request. This could include telling them where to find an item, helping them in the fitting room, or simply just asking how their day has been before I serve them at the till. Whatever the interaction, it seems the briefest of interactions appear to go a long way.

It may not initially be my intention to ask a customer for a request, but by having a short conversation with them, I am making it a lot easier for myself to be successful should I later ask them for a request later. Neither of us are likely to realise it, but I am using the social influence technique of fleeting interactions. There are various reasons why fleeting interactions work as a persuasive technique such as the liking heuristic, familiarity and reciprocity. By having some sort of interaction prior to me asking them for something, they feel an increased obligation to comply.

A study by Dolinski, Nawrat and Rudak (2001) demonstrated how a brief conversation is effective in increasing compliance for a later request. There were four conditions of dialogue; in a no closeness/no mood condition, participants were asked a question about the weather. In the no closeness/mood condition participants were asked how they were feeling with the experimenter either showing satisfaction (if the answer was positive) or regret (if the answer was negative). In the closeness/ no mood condition the experimenter asked whether the participant thought weather affected people’s health and told the participant their opinion was the same (regardless whether the response was positive or negative). In the closeness/mood condition participants were asked how they were feeling and the experimenter responded by saying they felt the same. After the dialogue, participants were asked to make a donation to a children’s charity. In the monologue condition, participants were asked straight for the donation with no question or dialogue prior.

The results in Table 1 show that compliance for a donation was increased when there was any sort of dialogue (regardless of closeness or if they are asked about their mood). The levels of compliance were at over double (.16 compared to .36) when there was dialogue, compared to when there was no conversation between the experimenter and participant. 

Table 1 – Proportion of participants complying with experimenter’s request according to different communication modes

This shows how a simple interaction between two people can significantly increase compliance. As much as sometimes when I am working, the last thing I want to do is engage in any sort of interaction with customers, it may prove to be my benefit if I do.


Dolinski, D., Nawrat, M., & Rudak, I. (2001). Dialogue involvement as a social influence technique. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1395-1406.

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