So said Adolph Eichmann at his Nuremberg trial after the concentration camps of World War II.
This fascinated Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University. In 1974, he conducted an experiment where ordinary people were asked to shock ‘victims’ when they answered questions incorrectly.
Those in charge were dressed in white lab coats to give the appearance of high authority. The shocks were entirely imaginary, and the respondents were acting.
As participants continued to shock their victims, the respondents feigned increasing discomfort until they let out screams of agony and demanded to be released. About two-thirds of participants ignored these cries of pain and inflicted the full dose of 450 volts.
Milgram observed that the real culprit in the experiments was the participants’ inability to go against the wishes of the boss, the lab-coated researcher who urged and, if necessary, directed them to perform their duties, despite the emotional and physical mayhem they were causing.
What is it about men (often balding) men in white coats that we trust? Take a look at a toothpaste or washing powder ad. They’ll usually feature dentists or “boffins” because we think they know what they’re talking about.
The Milgram experiment is the extreme end of the scale, but the idea that people will follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts has a broad foundation in human psychology.
- Physiotherapists get far better results from people using the exercise programmes if they display their qualifications and diplomas on the office walls
- People are far more likely to give change what a parking metre to a complete stranger if that stranger is wearing a uniform rather than casual clothes.
The science shows us, but it’s essential to establish your credibility in any given field or subject before you make your influence attempt.
This would be a problem if you went around telling your potential customers how brilliant were, no one would believe you.
But there’s nothing wrong with getting someone else to do it.
Surprisingly, it seems that it doesn’t appear to matter if the person who introduces you is not only connected to also likely to prosper from the introduction themselves.
Estate agents (realtors) are more successful in getting lettings or commissions to sell houses when they arrange for reception staff who took customer enquiries first to mention their colleagues’ credibility and expertise.
For example, customers interested in letting a property were told, “You want Lettings?”
“Let me connect to Sandra; she has over 15 years’ experience letting properties in this area.
The impact of this expert introduction led to a 20% rise in appointments and a 15% increase in the number of signed contracts. Not bad for a small tweak based on informed science that is both ethical and cost less to implement.
Be careful to establish your authority rather than just claim it on the back of some shaky background. You may remember Gillian McKeith, who managed to convince Channel 4 to let her make a series of dieting programmes centred around a certain amount of quackery and her fascination with poo.
It then transpired that her Doctorate was (allegedly) bought. In any case, she agreed not to use it in her advertising after complaints were made.
If you’re great at what you do, however, and can prove it, make sure you establish that authority! Claim your rightful spot as an expert.