Tag Archives: influence

Research Summaries: A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels

Towels on a rack in a hotel room

Towels on a rack in a hotel room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’ Panic. I know the title of this research article seems heavy, so keep your towel nearby as I try to walk you through this article from Cialdini et al in the Journal of Consumer Research.


  1. Cialdini is famous for his book Influence and his work focuses around how to influence other people. One way to get people to do what you want, is to refer to social norms and thus use the power of peer pressure.  For example, a toothpaste  manufacturer may advertise that most people do use toothpaste and that too of their brand. Thus, a social norm is highlighted and this influences subsequent behavior of the consumer.
  2. Another way to influence is by referencing to some standards. Like the toothpaste manufacturer may advertise that it has salt in it, or is made organically, something that has to do with the merits of the product per se and not so much whether the majority use it in this way or the other.
  3. One of the problems hotel owners face is reuse of towels by the guests. They would like to encourage reuse of towels (rather than washing them daily) if the guest is staying for a long duration (more than one night), for both economic as well as environmental reasons. They typically use environmental themed messages to encourage reuse of towels.
  4. Caildini et al placed signs for reuse that used the usual environmental pitch (control condition) and also signs for reuse that referenced a social norm (viz. that 75 % or majority of guests do indeed reuse their towels, this was the experimental condition) in different rooms in a hotel and observed the reuse pattern over several days and several guests.  What they found was that the message that referred to social norms (most people reuse towels) was much more persuasive than the environmental harm message.
  5. In addition to this, they also performed another experiment, in which they contrasted among other conditions the usual social norm message (most guests in this hotel reuse towels) with the situational social norm message (  most guests in this particular hotel room #xxx reuse towels). What they found was that making it more situation-specific boosted the rate of towel reuse even further.
  6. Thus, if we want to influence someone we should try using social norms and these social norms should be as specific to the situation of the target audience as possible. I will give an example. Last week, while taking a positive education session with a class of students, the class seemed a bit less participating in the beginning. We could have asked them to participate as it will make them more confident (referring to a desired standard) or we could have told them that usually children of their age group are curious and participating.  What we did instead was told them that the students of the other section, whose session we had just completed, were very active and participating, thus using the  situational social norm (although we were not doing it consciously at that time).
  7. Overall, using social norms , that too situation specific , is one more tool in your arsenal to influence others (for the good hopefully)

If this summary got you interested, do check out the original article here.

Enchantment: the Start of Art

Guy Kawasaki, American venture capitalist and ...

Image via Wikipedia

I had the pleasure recently of reading Guy Kawasaki‘s Enchantment, and it is a different type of fare from the stuff I read these days; despite this, I enjoyed it wholly and just breezed through it in a week . It is not a difficult read at all , as compared to some of the academic or popular psychology textbooks, and to say that it is lucid and well written is an understatement. It is the best of advice, self-help and practical commonsense and has already made it to the top of NYT bestseller list in some of these categories,  though that is not a genre which I study exclusively and could be authoritative about.

The basic premise of Enchantment is that you need to wield direct and indirect influence to make your great cause a success, perhaps by becoming likeable and trustworthy,  and that there are experimental tips that you can play with to help you achieve that aim of making your cause and yourself an easy sell and enticing enough.

The approach Guy takes is that of breaking down the enchantment process into different aspects (like how to overcome resistance , how to prepare and launch your cause, how to enchant your boss and employees) and via anecdotes, tips from personal experince or geleaned form other sources and at times recourse to psychology experiments and authority , make a case of how best to go about that enchantment process.

At the outset he cautions that you need to play around yourself and see what works and what doesn’t and most of his advice is pretty practical and time-honored. I am a software development manager in a large Software giant and having played with entrepreneurship a while back , I can connect with and empathize with much of the advice he has for managers, employees, leaders and entrepreneurs. It is all solid and worth heeding, coming from someone who has a lot of experience behind him as an evangelist and entrepreneur.  Not much of the advice however is surprising or offbeat and perhaps there are good reasons for that. As this NY times article on Googles leadership and management data-driven approach shows, management/influence/enchantment doesn’t seem rocket science and whether you arrive at it via data crunching or form interaction with others and your own personal experience,  the advice that you have to share with the world is almost what your grandmother (had she been an entrepreneur) would give.


That said there is a lot of tripe that goes under the rubric of advice and self-help in self-help/management books; this book stays clear from it and tries to substantiate or base the tips around psychological principles and results. Cialdini seems to be an influence and some principles form ‘Yes!’ are quoted at couple of places. However, Guy has a sort of cautious approach towards the psychologists and their theories; at many a point when a psychology substantiated tip/ research is introduced, a rider is put in place that, that may be a circumscribed result applicable only in lab conditions and perhaps may not work that well in real world (for eg when discussing the heavier resumes/ clipboards lead to considering candidates as serious or holding warm cups increases warmth, there was this air of caution and slight hesitancy) .

Identifying myself more with the psychology community rather than the managerial community (though I tread both worlds) I found that a little discomfiting. I undesrtand and appreciate the caveats, nuances  and non-generalizability of many studies that Guy discusses, but still I value them more and like to read them more rather than tips based on anecdotes/ personal experience- the fault lies with me -not Guy…I am more of a theoretician than an applied guy – and thus was left a bit underwhelmed by the book as I thought it was being marketed as a psychology book (persuasion, influence etc) but did not had that much faith in psychology based findings or did not dwell too deep into those findings and how they can be applied to workspace and the enchantment process.


That said, enchantment is an immensely practical book and would be a good read for any person who wants to enchant another or garner support for ones cause and the book manages to get the psychology findings right (that itself is an immense achievement for someone whose primary domain is not psychology) – but may not be that enchanting to hard core psychology fanatics like me who would be knowing most of the quoted studies and results by heart. I approach enchantment as a science and want to focus on replicable results no matter how trivial or confined to the laboratory; Guy is a go-getter and  conceives of enchantment more as an Art- a lifelong process that may start with the reading of the book, but never ends and needs to be practiced and fine tuned. Of course I am not as pig-headed a scientist as I make myself look out to be, neither is Guy a wooly artist talking in vague, hazy language and tips-  he is smart, spot-on and very relevant; its just that I wished there more of a  backdrop of psychology in the entire book and rather than supporting crutches the research stood tall and center – but then that’s me!

My advice to you- buy it, read it and experiment with the tips Guy provides- it is some of the best advice you are going to find around- and remember that though your grandma never had exposure to psychology research findings, she was more often than right with her advice!


full disclosure : I received a free copy of Enchantment for review and my blog ‘The Mouse Trap’ is, at times, listed on Guys’ Alltop.com in psychology section.

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