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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Will Smith, the smooth talker

This is one of the best scenes from a really inspiring film, “The Pursuit of Happyness”. Its literally one of my favourite films ever, and not just because it stars Will Smith (and I love Will Smith). In the above scene, the art of negotiation is demonstrated in a somewhat unconventional way.

Chris Gardner, now bankrupt and struggling to support his young son, is about to go into an interview for a six-month unpaid internship with a prestigious stockbroker business. However, instead of turning up smart in a suit and tie, he is forced to rush from a police station in his painting scrubs, after being arrested the previous day for unpaid parking tickets. So Chris is already down on his luck; it’s not an ideal situation for potentially the most important interview of his life. But somehow, he manages to pull it off.

Although Chris doesn’t look the part, he’s certainly done his research; about the company’s values, the role, etc. This is vital in a negotiation as it shows that Chris has an understanding of what the interviewers are looking for, and he is also more likely to be taken seriously for this (Malhotra & Bazerman, 2007). Well, as seriously as he can be, given the situation…

Humour and charisma turns out to be Chris’ saving grace:

Interviewer 2: Chris. What would you say if a guy walked in for an interview without a shirt on and I hired him? What would you say?

Chris: He must’ve had on some really nice pants.

The use of humour is a powerful persuasive tactic, and can induce greater levels of compliance (O’Quin & Aranoff, 1981). Chris definitely has the likeability factor, which ultimately leads to him being hired. As for real life, one could argue that the outcome would be less favourable in the same situation. This is true – but in unavoidable circumstances, you have to make the best of a bad situation. And believe it or not, this film is based on a true story ;)


Malhotra, D., & Bazerman, M. (2007). Negotiation genius: How to overcome obstacles and achieve brilliant results at the bargaining table and beyond. New York, NY: Random House LLC.

O'Quin, K., & Aronoff, J. (1981). Humor as a technique of social influence. Social Psychology Quarterly, 44, 349-357.

Lauren Rosewarne (Blog 5)

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