You are an intelligent, action-taking individual who is working diligently to develop into the best possible version of yourself.
How does this statement make you feel? Is it true? Regardless, this simple sentence is one example of a very powerful tool of social influence- the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Though the term itself may sound complicated and ominous, the self-fulfilling prophecy is quite simple to put into practice. This tool consists of TWO EASY STEPS.
1. Give an unknowing recipient a positive characteristic.
2. Stand back and watch the recipient live up to their newly-acquired expectation.
Why does this work, you might ask? Human beings are wired to be CONSISTENT. When someone gives us a positive reputation to live up to, we make a concerted effort to maintain it. We enjoy the feeling when someone takes notice of our positive traits. We don’t want this person to be wrong about us- we have put in time and effort to become _____ (insert positive characteristic here), right?
Fortune tellers operate on this same principle. By reading your palm, they are able to “accurately” tell you what kind of person you are. As they list off characteristics, we look into our minds and attempt to match our reality with our foretold traits (unless you approach the situation with the mindset of completely shutting down the psychic). This interpretation of general statements into personal truths is called the Forer Effect (see Wikipedia for more). As we continue to pair our own reality with statements made by the fortune teller, we begin to accept what they are saying as true, and give them credibility. Here are a few examples of how the self-fulfilling prophecy can be used effectively.
Example 1: You have just begun a conversation with an attractive member of the opposite sex. In an effort to keep the conversation going, you say
“You know, you seem like a really fun, spontaneous person. It really bugs me when people never leave their comfort zone, you know?”
This statement accomplishes a couple things. Portraying them as “fun” and “spontaneous” allows them to feel more carefree in the interaction, and gives them a reputation to live up to. This also gives them permission to leave their comfort zone, as they follow your lead.
Example 2: You are talking to a co-worker who is very behind on their assignments, and you rely on them for one of your own tasks. You tell them
“Hey ___ you seem swamped , but you’re killin it right now. Keep up the good work man.”
This statement lets them know that you are taking notice of how much work they are doing. They will appreciate this and the compliment that you give. There is a good chance they will reciprocate the good feeling by getting to the task you are relying on them for as soon as possible.
In order to be influential, sometimes you need to put aside your true feelings and give someone a good reputation that they have never held before. This is one great way to help someone alter their negative deep-seated beliefs about themselves. You know how good it feels for someone to notice something you put lots of time and effort into, so how do you think someone will feel when you return the favor? As with any tool of influence, overuse will decrease its value, so use with moderation. Next time you could use a little boost to your social influence, consider the powerful benefits of the self-fulfilling prophecy.