WOW Word-Of-the-Week #376: Authority

October 19, 2011 by · Comments Off on WOW Word-Of-the-Week #376: Authority 

Authority – an accepted source of expert information or advice.

Are you easily impressed by someone’s title? Do you believe everything a doctor tells you? Do you know anyone who has been given an incorrect diagnosis? Have you ever trusted someone based solely on how well they were dressed?

This is the fifth of six WOW’s from the book “INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdina, Ph.D. These WOW’s will hopefully help you influence your customers, guests, clients or members to increase sales and repeat business, as well as, how to not be swayed by someone trying to sell you something you may not want.

“Follow an expert.” – Virgil

“We are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong. The essential message fills the parental lessons, the schoolhouse rhymes, stories, and songs of our childhood and is carried forward in the legal, military, and political systems we encounter as adults.”

“We learned early on that our parents and teachers knew more than we did, and we found that taking their advice proved beneficial – partly because of their greater wisdom and partly because they controlled our rewards and punishments. As adults, the same benefits persist for the same reasons, though the authority figures now appear as employers, judges, and government leaders.”

“One facet of our lives where authority pressures are visible and strong is in health care. Physicians hold the position as respected authorities. A long-established tradition of automatic obedience to a doctor’s orders has developed among health-care staff.” And I believe the same holds true for patients. You have to be your own advocate!

“Titles are simultaneously the most difficult and the easiest symbols of authority to acquire.  Actions are frequently more influenced by a title than by the nature of the person claiming it. We also see size and status as related. One reason that con men where lifts in their shoes.”

“Clothing is another kind of authority symbol. Finely styled and expensive clothes carry an aura of status and position, as do trappings such as jewelry and cars.”

This week’s focus is on authority. Did you see the movie “Catch Me if You Can?” Would you agree that you are influenced by someone’s title? Have you ever incorrectly judged someone based on their clothing, jewelry, or car they were driving? Do your customers, guests, clients or members see you as a source of expert information or advice?

Reader Responses

“Great column, Susan – I haven’t seen the movie, but saw the Broadway play “Catch Me If You Can.” Amazing how people can actually skate by on appearances for so long!” – Dave

“We have all heard the old adage that we should “dress the part,” whether that be as a teacher, lawyer, doctor or whatever kind of authority figure. It not only gets people’s attention, but it shows that we care enough to look like we are important. I attended a Catholic grade school in Chicago. As far as my parents were concerned, the word of the teachers, nuns and priests was final. If they said we were misbehaving, then that was all my parents needed to hear. We were punished at home and usually learned our lesson. That was a time when parents and teachers had more of a bond and worked together. My wife and I have followed the same model with our two girls. There is a great deal of communication between our daughters’ teachers who are straight with us about their behavior. As a result, we give them the benefit of the doubt. As I have been in the work world, I have certainly noticed a lot of well-dressed “authority” figures, from preachers to doctors to teachers and lawyers. What always sends up a red flag in my mind is excess jewelry or over-the-top fashion. The signal I get is that they are either pretending to be something they are not or attempting to hide or distract with the way they dress. Now, I will listen to what they say, but then I will be very careful to watch their actions, especially when they are dealing with others. Another red flag is the hard sell. When car salesmen push too hard and tell me that the car will be gone on Monday morning, I politely beg off and don’t return. If they call me, I will say that we are going in a different direction. So, I am very careful to listen and watch how a person acts before I commit to buying or agreeing to anything. When my wife and I refinanced our mortgage last week (3.5% for 15 years!), the loan officer who came to our house was patient enough with me to let me read through all of the pages of the agreement. She did not rush me or say that I did not need to read through everything. It is our money we are dealing with here, and I did not want the bank to come back to us later. There are con men everywhere in life, even in positions of authority. We certainly have to respect authority, especially with those people who can help us in our lives, like doctors and lawyers. But we always have to watch out for the warning signs of the con. Take care.” – “Warrior” Joe