Imagine sitting at a fancy dinner in an elegant restaurant and looking down to see multiple forks set next to the beautiful plate in front of you. These forks are various sizes, have different numbers of prongs and besides the set to the left of your plate, there is a fork set horizontally above your plate next to a small spoon. You know that during the course of this extravagant meal you will need to choose which one of these forks to eat with, and that there is a proper order to use them in, but you are not sure what it is. As you are surrounded by people that seem to feel comfortable in this situation and know the proper etiquette, when your first course comes you wait and look to the person sitting next to you to see which fork they grab and then follow suit. By looking to a person you trust or a group of people to observe cues that help to determine the behavior you want in a situation you are practicing informational social influence.
When you understand how people make decisions and the psychology of behavior, you can use your knowledge to understand people and build relationships. Informational social influence is one of the behaviors that can help you understand why people do what they do and how you can influence individuals or groups.
There are several ways that informational social influence determines our actions and thoughts. In the situation above you look around the elegant dining room and observe the people you are dining with. As you observe them, you make a judgment about who to trust in the situation and decide to model your behavior off of theirs in order to fit in with the rest of the group. This decision helps ensure you do not make a scene or embarrass yourself. In this example, it takes only one person that you trust for you to make your decision regarding using the correct fork for the course or food set before you.
In other situations, multiple people or voices are needed to help convince a person of the correct thoughts about something or the appropriate actions to take in a situation. This is why things like customer reviews work for everything from books and movies to services in your area. A group of people all saying the same thing about a new film can influence your decision to see that film just like a group of people giving a negative rating to a local landscaper will influence you to not use their services. These are all examples of the benefit of informational social influence and how it determines our behavior.
Informational social influence can cue our behavior in situations where we are not sure how to react as well. For instance, say you are at a large sporting event and you have looked down at the roster just as an important play happens between your favorite team and your long-standing rivals. The crowd around you begins cheering wildly, then booing and hissing with just as much force. You follow suit – cheering and waving your hands in the air and then booing and giving thumbs-down towards the field. Still, you missed the play and do not know exactly what happened until the big screen shows a play back or the announcer reviews the call. Because you trust the people around you to have watched the game when you looked away, and you believe they are rooting for the same team you are, you perceive their behavior as correct and add to the cheering and yelling without much hesitation. This example of informational social influence is why a single person can start a wave, or a clap or a response to something funny and have an entire audience follow along with them. As a society, we sometimes follow along with those around us to help us do what appears to be correct and appropriate when we are not sure how to act or are looking to be part of the crowd.
In a business setting where you are engaged in sales and/or networking, you can use your influence to get along with diverse groups of people because you understand them socially and observe their behaviors. You can also lend your own feedback in a situation to help others make decisions that are good for them, like adding your experience to a customer review board or recommending a book or movie you just enjoyed to a friend with a similar personality.
Informational Social Influence in Sales
A key concept in informational social influence is the idea that we are sometimes in situations where we believe that a person or the people around us have more information than we do about the situation. We look to them to get this information that we do not have and trust their judgment or decision making for a variety of reasons – like they are more knowledgeable, have some type of authority in a situation, or have proven themselves to be trusted over time. These concepts are similar to the ones that help increase sales. By mindfully placing ourselves in the spot of knowledge and authority, we are giving others the opportunity to make decisions based on our recommendations. By building this relationship with clients, you can build trust and increase sales. Things like Emotional Intelligence, productivity, efficiency and what truly motivates people are concepts that help build a relationship that will lead to you being able to influence a situation and increase sales because of that ability to influence.
Informational Social Influence in Networking
Understanding how informational social influence works can help us engage in highly effective and positive networking strategies. When we are networking –either to build personal relationships or to build professional relationships – we are engaging in the concepts of informational social influence. We are sharing ideas that build a case for or against something. For example, if people begin to speak highly of your skills and work ethic, others in your network are going to believe you are skilled and have a good work ethic. Even if they haven’t worked directly with you, if they trust the insight of those that have worked with you and had a positive experience, they are likely to refer you to those that have needs in line with your abilities. Additionally, if others see you as capable they will contact you when they need information to help them make a decision that falls in line with your area of expertise. This is them engaging in informational social influence by believing someone – you! – has more information and a more accurate view that will help them make a decision.
These are just two examples of the many ways you can be mindful of and use informational social influence to help your own goals and decision making. Whether you are interested in influencing people to make a decision that will help your sales, or you are engaging in your network to increase mutual benefit, it is important to make a powerful first impression as the start of being a trusted person that will be able to influence the behavior of others and use these strategies and your understanding of informational social influence to your advantage and for the well-being of those around you.