In this micro-masterclass we look at how to leverage fixed behaviour patterns to enable effective influence.
We start with a fish. During the mating season the stickleback fish displays an amazing pattern of behaviour. First, its belly turns red and then it attacks other males (which also exhibit a red belly). In the same season, it also tries to mate with female sticklebacks who rather than showcasing a red belly have a plump belly. What makes these rituals even more incredible is that even in a simulated environment using a crude model of a stickleback with a red belly, the fish will still attack it. Furthermore, if another stickleback model is introduced with a plump belly, it will still try and mate with it.
A similar phenomenon can be seen in female turkeys. Female turkeys display all the roles of a good mother turkey – preparing the nest, feeding their young and protecting their offspring under their wing. This mothering is triggered by the ‘cheep-cheep’ sound that their offspring emits. The more traditional stimuli to recognise their young such as smell, touch and appearance play a much less significant role to guide the female turkey’s female mothering responsibilities.
Researchers found that these sounds are so influential on the female turkey’s decision to mother their young that even when they put a simulated device that emitted the same ‘cheep-cheep’ sound of their young inside of a polecat cuddly toy, the female turkey is still happy to take this under toy her wing and mother it.
What is even more surprising is that the polecat is a natural enemy to a turkey which the turkey would avoid under any other circumstances. This became eve more apparent when the sound emitter was switched off and the turkey viciously switched from nurturing the cuddly toy, to viciously attacking it.
There are many other examples of these unusual behaviours in the animal kingdom and are often referred to as a Fixed Behaviour Patterns (FBPs). They show no logic or conscious thought processes but can be triggered ‘synthetically’. It led me to question if Fixed Behaviour Patterns are also exhibited in humans and if so, can they be leveraged to give us the edge in a negotiation or we can weave into our influence approach.
Despite most people having a strong sense of identity and pride their individuality, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve found through years of working with people both on and off-stage in countless countries, one of the most predictable things about people is the fact that they believe they are unpredictable. This in itself makes them more predictable.
I’ll give you an example. In one of my keynote presentations, masterclasses or performances I perform a demonstration in which somebody would merely think of an object and I use my skillset in behavioural psychology to pick up on clues and cues to identify what object that person is thinking of. Sometimes a man comes onto the stage that portrays the image of a ‘wannabee’ alpha male. Occasionally, this demeanour is accompanied by the phrase ‘you’ll never guess what I’m thinking’. He has now presented himself as a challenge and will follow this up by keeping as poker face and as motionless as possible. With over 15 years of working with people and the principles of persuasion, he is only going to think one of two things, and both of them are going to be rude. I don’t know need to explain which ones. And even by not mentioning them, the reader themselves may have fallen into that trap of a ‘fixed behaviour pattern’.
Here, the gentleman in question believes he has a completely free choice to think of anything he wants. In fact he does, but he doesn’t think that I would think that he would think of one of those things and thus, his fixed behaviour pattern kicks in to try and ‘catch me out’. Instead of being creative, retreats into his own mind without taking advantage of the creative freedom he has been given proceeds to think or draw the aforementioned (but not mentioned) rude object.
In another test, experiment or performance piece I may ask somebody to think of a number between 1 and 10 and 90% of the time they will choose the number 7. If I was to ask a lady to think of a playing card, they will more than likely choose the 7 of hearts or Queen of hearts. Men on the other hand, gravitate more towards the ace of spades.
The question still remains – is it possible to influence somebody or at the very least modify their behaviour to generate a Fixed Behaviour Pattern?
After some thought, I realised that we all exhibit these Fixed Behaviour Patterns in our everyday life and indeed it is.
This is an example. Imagine the last time we went out to new restaurant you tried a dish you hadn’t tried before and enjoyed it. The next time you went out, there it was again, on this new menu. There is a high chance you will order this dish again despite not knowing if it will taste exactly as you enjoyed it last time.
Equally, we may buy VIP tickets to go and see the sequel to a movie we watched recently. We thought the first one was enjoyable but there is no telling if the next one will be as much fun, as often there are no reviews to help us decide. Instead we are guided by our previous experience.
The same can be said if a comedian releases new tour dates. There’s no way of knowing what material they will be sharing and whether it will be as funny as last time, but despite this lack of knowledge, ticket offices sell out within hours.
Another fixed behaviour pattern is based on the belief that ‘price indicates quality’ but this is merely an assumption, and can often be incorrect. In fact, souvenir shops in London raise the prices of unpopular lines to give them the appeal of being in high demand or being high quality. In turn, shoppers, then allow their Fixed Behaviour Patterns to influence their next purchase and end up buying several of these unpopular lines with being subconsciously influenced by the aforementioned reasons.
Fixed Behaviour Patterns can also be seen in physical actions through the the popular neuro linguistic programming application of mirroring. Mirroring is the behaviour that one person unconsciously imitates, copies or ‘mirrors’ from another.
Generally, if we nod or smile, there is an increased tendency for the person we are sat opposite to nod or smile in agreement. These Fixed Behaviour Patterns can be seen in even greater technicolour when we yawn. If we genuinely yawn or even simulate a yawn, regardless of its authenticity, we will find that those around us will also start yawning too. If we take this psychological quirk in our patterns and apply it to the business arena, nodding, smiling, flattery and a gentle massaging of the prospective clients’ ego, all elicit a positive Fixed Behaviour Pattern, which, if delivered authentically will result in a positive response. This positive response can then be leveraged to influence with greater levels of effectiveness and increased levels of regularity.
Duncan regularly shares concepts, techniques and psychological tools to help increase the effectiveness of your influence and persuasion skills in his masterclasses, workshops and keynote speeches. You can find out more, check his availability or simply have a chat by tapping the button below.