Using the Contrast Principle to Become More Persuasive

Using the Contrast Principle to Become More Persuasive

January 7, 2015

Have you ever noticed that some people are more effective at converting their ideas into approved projects? Researchers have found that those with the most successful persuasive power are working on a subconscious level to connect deeply with a few simple human motivations. These “persuasive powers” come more naturally to some, but not to worry, they can also be learned.

One of the most important and impactful motivations to target is the desire to make efficient and effective decisions. By helping those around you make more resolute decisions, your peers and managers will view you as a clutch resource for your thoughtfulness and leadership. No matter where you stand in the retail RD hierarchy, learning these skills can significantly enhance your persuasive power; and you can start by just making one small change in your approach.

According to HBR blogger, and director of Influence at Work, Steve Martin, “When making a choice, we strive to achieve the best outcome—anything less can mean a waste of our time, effort, and resources. But in today’s crazy, information-overloaded world, we also need to balance the quality of our choices with the time it takes to make them.” Understanding what goes on behind the scenes, in our brains to facilitate the decision making process demonstrates some useful ways to persuade others that your option or proposal is the most effective and efficient one.

When we make decisions, we tend to do so by contrasting between the decision item and a reference item. When two things appear close to one another, we will tend to evaluate them against one another more than against a fixed standard or the option by itself. The concept is called “contrast principle” and more specifically “perceptual contrast effect,” and we tend to do it all the time. For instance, we gather several quotes when we are looking to repair something in the kitchen, or we ask what a friend or colleague paid for a similar service. Another example put into physical terms is to imagine putting one hand into hot water and other into cold water, then move them both to lukewarm water. The cold hand will feel hot and the hot hand will feel cold.

In business, if you are presenting a business plan for a new product to your coworkers, Martin suggests, “First review the products you’ve (as a group) decided not to pursue. This isn’t to mean that you should invent lousy alternatives to your great idea so that your idea appears more impressive, but rather is meant to give your audience the benefit of the same legitimate comparisons that you’ve been able to consider.” You may worry that the group will choose one of the less desirable alternatives, which is a real possibility, but opening up the floor for discussion and contrasting the options may lead to an even better and more evolved idea. Secondly, Martin points out, “You gain a reputation as someone who supports open decision-making, rather than someone who deliberately sweeps alternative options under the rug in an attempt to always get their own way. Additionally, the inclusion of legitimate comparisons provides you with a great opportunity to lead further meaningful conversations.” It also gives your peers a more concrete way to make a more impactful decision.

Regardless of whom you are trying to persuade, understanding how to trigger this deeply-seated motivation can give you the power to convince your audience that the choice you’re offering is the right one. In the fairly uncharted territory of retail health and wellness, you will want to be both thoughtful and convincing when proposing consumer solutions that will be competitive points of differentiation for the retailer.