These 3 Studies Hold Key Lessons About the Human Psyche for Entrepreneurs

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As an entrepreneur, it can be highly valuable to have a fundamental understanding of how the human mind works. You need to know what makes your customers tick so you can develop the best products for them. You need to understand how your employees think and act, so you can help them perform their best and set realistic expectations for your workplace. You also need to have an innate understanding of communication patterns and human desires, so you can negotiate better deals with your vendors and partners.

You can get a lot of this through experience and, eventually intuition; the more you’re exposed to people and the more you work with them, the better “feel” you’ll get for how people think, feel, and act. But if you want a shortcut to better understand the human psyche, look no further than these important psychological studies:

1. The bandwagon effect.

A recent study in the Journal of Media Psychology examined the “bandwagon effect,” a psychological phenomenon that encourages people to follow the mentality of a group. In the study, 765 participants were told they were a part of a study about news coverage before political elections, and were given a news article about a mayoral election in a fictitious German town. Participants also received information on fictitious candidates running for mayor. Then, participants were assigned to one of three groups; a control with no polls, one with the central candidate leading in the polls by a wide margin, and one with the same candidate trailing in the polls by a wide margin.

Participants were then asked to show who they’d vote for, who they think would win, and how competent they perceived candidates to be. The study demonstrated that when candidates led in polls, they were more likely to be seen as competent — and more likely to win votes.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs? It shows the importance of establishing your reputation early on, and implying your brand’s popularity even if it isn’t currently popular. Social proof, reviews, testimonials, and other assets that improve your brand’s reputation or perceived reputation can have a strong impact on your customers and conversion rates.

2. Word choice and negotiations.

An older study by Harvard researcher Ellen Langer explored the power of word choice in attaining leverage and getting what you want in a social setting. In the study, participants lined up at a photocopier, and a subject was asked to cut in front of people in line with a specific question.

Subjects who used the flat, direct question, “May I use the Xerox machine?,” without a reason or justification, were given permission to cut 60 percent of the time. In cases where subjects asked, “May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?,” subjects were given permission 94 percent of the time, and in cases where the subjects asked, “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?,” they got permission 93 percent of the time.

There are two big takeaways to note here. First, explaining your reasoning for a request, however briefly or obviously, particularly using the seemingly-magic word “because”, can drastically improve your chances of having the request met. Your word choice is everything here.

Second, you’d be surprised how often simply asking for something can work out for you — even in the bluntest scenario, subjects who asked to cut in line were allowed to a whopping 60 percent of the time. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really want when negotiating.

3. Christmas cards and reciprocity.

In the 1970s, Brigham Young University sociologist Phillip Kunz wondered what would happen if he sent Christmas cards out, randomly, to total strangers. He went through the directories of local towns, and sent a Christmas card, complete with a photo of him and his family, to 600 total strangers.

Over the next few weeks, Kunz collected more than 200 cards in kind — despite no social connection to the people sending them. Some of them even came with handwritten letters, multiple pages long. It seems like a silly experiment, but it demonstrates the power of reciprocity — the tendency for human beings to reciprocate when given something of value.

The power of reciprocity is what drives many content marketing campaigns; modern marketers understand that they have to give something valuable to their prospective customers (i.e., helpful, original content) if they want something in return (i.e., purchases and conversions). It’s also a helpful insight to know when negotiating with clients, partners, or employees; you have to give a little to get a little.

What can we learn from these studies? At least one should have provided you with key insights you might not have realized about human behavior.

Take the lessons these objective reports provide and integrate them into your leadership, management, and entrepreneurial styles; the better you “get” the people around you, the more you can achieve.

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