Why do we often say yes when it would be better to say no?
Not long ago I was on vacation in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Walking with a friend around the cathedral, we were approached by a young woman, apparently silent , and he invited us to read and sign what appeared to be a kind of manifesto to request the enactment of a law in favor of the rights of people with speech disabilities.
My friend, taken by surprise, and ignorant of what was coming, quickly took the manifesto in his hands, read it, and then stamped his signature according to the end of the page. While I was doing it, I took a couple of steps backwards to take a distance and be able to contemplate the imminent spectacle from a place of privilege.
Once my friend agreed to that inoffensive initial request, the girl quickly gave him a second paper in which he asked how many euros he was willing to donate to the cause. My friend was disconcerted and I rejoiced. Having accepted that he was in favor of the rights of the mute people, the road had been paved so that he could not refuse a second request, totally consistent with the first, but something more onerous.
Anyway, my fun was not free. Without having a penny in his pocket, and unarmed of the cunning necessary to escape the trap, my friend borrowed me five euros to give the girl .
Other people with different disabilities approached us later, in other cities of Spain, and even on the London bridge when we went to England, using essentially the same strategy. In all cases, my friend refused to accept reading anything they tried to put in their hands, claiming that he "did not speak the language."
The power of commitment and positive self-image
We are more likely to accept a proposal to which we would naturally refuse if we have previously been induced to accept a smaller commitment. When we say "yes" to an apparently low value order, we are well predisposed to say "yes" to a second request , much more important, and that often constitutes the true interest of the individual that is manipulating us.
Why is it so hard to say "no" in cases like this? Why do not we find a way to sneak away even knowing, or suspecting, that we are falling victim to a small but sophisticated manipulation? To be able to answer this, let me ask you a question: do you consider yourself a supportive person?
In the event that your answer is affirmative, then I ask you a second question: do you consider yourself as a supporter and therefore make regular donations to charitable institutions or give alms to poor people on the street? Or is it because he gives alms to the poor on the street who considers himself a supporter?
Whether we accept it or not, most of the time we believe we are owners of the truth, especially in matters that have to do with our personality or that in some way concern us. If there is something in which we consider ourselves experts, it is in ourselves; and it seems quite obvious that no one is in a position to assure otherwise.
However, and against all odds, studies say that we do not know each other as well as we think .
A significant number of researches suggests that the label we put on (for example: "solidary") results from the observation we make of our own behavior. That is, first we look at how we behave in a given situation, and based on that, we draw conclusions about ourselves and apply the corresponding label.
While my friend signed the initial petition, at the same time he was monitoring his own behavior, which helped to forge a self-image of a person well disposed or cooperative with others. Immediately afterwards, confronted with an order in tune with the first but at a higher cost, my friend felt impelled to respond in a manner consistent with the idea that he had already formed of himself. By then, it was too late. Acting contradictorily in a very short period of time generates psychological distress from which it is very difficult to get rid of.
The poster experiment
In a fascinating experiment, two people went from house to house in a residential neighborhood to ask the owners for their collaboration in a campaign to prevent traffic accidents.
They asked for permission, nothing more, nothing less, than to install in the garden of their houses a gigantic sign, several meters long, that said "drive with caution".To illustrate how it would look once it was in place, they were shown a photo showing a house hidden behind the cumbersome and unattractive sign.
As it was expected, practically none of the neighbors consulted accepted such an absurd and excessive request . But, in parallel, another pair of psychologists did the same job a few streets away, asking for permission to place a small sticker with the same message on the windows of the houses. In this second case, of course, almost everyone agreed.
But the curious thing is what happened two weeks later, when the researchers returned to visit those people who had agreed with the placement of the sticker to ask if they would let them install the little glamorous poster in the center of the garden. This time, As irrational and stupid as it sounds, approximately 50% of the owners agreed .
What had happened? The small petition they had accepted on the first occasion had paved the way for a much larger second request, but oriented in the same direction. But why? What was the mechanism of brain action that was behind such absurd behavior?
Maintaining a coherent self-image
When the neighbors accepted the decal, they began to perceive themselves as citizens committed to the common good. Then, it was the need to sustain that image of people who cooperate with noble causes, which pushed them to accept the second request.
The unconscious desire to behave according to our own image seems to be a very powerful instrument once we have accepted a certain degree of commitment.
Just as we look at the things others do to draw conclusions, we also pay attention to our own actions. We obtain information about ourselves by observing what we do and the decisions we make.
The danger is that many scammers take advantage of this human need for internal coherence to induce us to expressly accept and manifest a certain degree of commitment to some cause. They know that, once we adopt a position, it will be difficult to get out of the trap, naturally we will tend to accept any further proposal that may be formulated in order to preserve our own image.