“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” – William Hutchinson Murray
“Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex.” – Norman Vincent Peale
“A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain
I know of couples who are not at all happy together and get nothing pleasurable out of their relationship. Each day is misery. The lady complains about how careless, unloving, and selfish her partner is. The guy complains about how he doesn’t care about her and that she is so nagging. They have little positive feelings towards one another. Why then do the individuals remain in a relationship?
In many cases, the individuals remain in a relationship because of the commitment and consistency principle of influence. The commitment and consistency rule states that once we make a decision, we will experience pressure from others and ourselves to behave consistently with that decision. You can be pressured into making either good or bad decisions depending on your past actions. In a relationships context, the commitment and consistency principle is a destroyer of having a clear decision to break up.
Put yourself in an individual’s shoes who is experiencing extremely negative emotions towards his or her partner and think about how the commitment and consistency principle would influence your decision to stay in the relationship. Perhaps you have children, possessions, or family who are close together that pressure you to not break up. All these influences do not need to explicitly encourage you to not break up. Rather, they indirectly influence you to not break up because doing so would destroy the consistency which is present in your life. It would be disrupting, uncomfortable, and bewildering to break up.
Think of the last time you purchased something really expensive. Was it a car, computer, or insurance? Now, think about the thoughts you had after making the purchase. You would have felt excited, but after a few days of the purchase you would begin to question your decision. You would ask yourself questions like: “Was it the right thing to do?” “Did I make a mistake?” Or “Should I have purchased the other option?” This process where you have after-thoughts of a purchase is known as cognitive dissonance.
You may be thinking that cognitive dissonance (second-guessing your actions) and the commitment and consistency principle (past decisions guide your future actions) are conflicting. Not so. Think of that expensive item I asked you about just before. While you would have experienced cognitive dissonance, you would have been searching for as much information to reinforce that your initial decision was in fact the correct one to have made. You felt pressured into reinforcing your past decisions with beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and outside information that tell you your decision was a good one. It is the commitment and consistency principle at work in your life!
Starting Small Steps
Adapting the commitment and consistency principle more directly on our communications with one another, it is as powerful as elsewhere. Let’s say I am collecting donations for a foundation that helps funds the operations of sick children. I knock on your door and am dressed casually. You open the door and do not know who I am. With a smile on my face, I start some good small-talk with you. After engaging you in a conversation for a minute or even only ten seconds, if I can elicit positive emotions and words from you, then my influential power will drastically increase. Once I get you to express yourself positively, I then make my request for a donation.
Since you have explicitly stated a positive message or two about yourself such as how good you are feeling, how great of a day it is, or how nice I am , it becomes more difficult for you to not make a donation. By declining to make a donation you are breaking the commitment and consistency principle because you said you are feeling great yet you did something “negative” by turning down my request. When refusing to make a donation you are no longer behaving consistently. (By the way, are you feeling good? Cool! Donations welcomed .)
The commitment and consistency doesn’t mean you will always give a donation to someone when you publicly declare that you are feeling great, but it does increase the chance of such an event occurring. This is the reason why publicly stating your goals can increase the chances of you achieving them. Once you tell others about your goals, your subconscious mind forces you to behave consistently with the public statement and achieve your goals.
The basis of the commitment and consistency principle in communications is to get the person(s) you are trying to influence to express themselves in a way that is congruent with what you want them to do. The secret here is “congruency” such that the initial steps you get the person to take are aligned with the larger steps you hope for them to take. We all know little changes are easier to make than big changes so use this to your advantage when communicating with people. The little steps you initiate in the other person creates a path that he or she feels compelled to follow. Should there by pressure tactics in the situation, the person will feel pressured by the situation and not you which is what influences the person’s decision to remain committed and follow your ultimate request.
Overcome Commitment and Consistency
If you are worried about the commitment and consistency principle badly influencing a decision you are trying to make, use what Brian Tracy in Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life calls “zero-based thinking”. You simply ask yourself, “Knowing what I know now, would I get into (state the problem) again?”
To demonstrate zero-based thinking, let’s comeback to the individuals who were extremely unhappy with each other at the start of this principle. These people would use zero-based thinking by asking, “Knowing what I know now, would I get into the relationship again?” If the answer is “no” and you desire to remain in the same circumstance, then it is the commitment and consistency principle that is influencing your decision to remain committed. If this is the case, I’d strongly advise you to rethink your situation.
The commitment and consistency principle is a powerful influencer in the decisions we make everyday. By knowing how this principle works you are able to get people to take small steps that are aligned with your ultimate request and have them follow up on a long-term basis without you constantly nagging the person. The commitment and consistency principle ensures a long-term commitment to any decision.
Links in this Course: The 6 Principles of Influencing People
- Introduction to Influencing People
- 1. Commitment and Consistency
- 2. Reciprocation
- 3. Scarcity
- 4. Authority
- 5. Liking
- 6. Social Proof
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