Using The Scarcity Principle To Win Cooperation From Others

Perception is everything.

The last few weeks I’ve been talking to you about how you can get the full and willing cooperation of others. And I touched on several techniques that I develop in more detail at my Peak Performance Boot Camp.

But one of the more powerful things you can do to get more cooperation is to manage your “brand image.” Help the other person see you, or your product or service in such a way that he/she is more likely to cooperate with you.

And this isn’t some foreign concept. We all do it to some extent, but the most effective people do it consciously.

When you were dating, for example, you tried to present yourself in a way that would be favorably perceived by the other sex. And when you first became a supervisor, you tried to project an image of confidence, an image that said you expected performance from others.

So let me outline a few key points.

=> 1. Perception Is Reality.

Black Bart knew that. Indeed, his very name stirred fear. He terrorized the Wells Fargo Stage Line for 13 years during the 1870’s and 80’s. He roared in like a tornado in the Sierra Nevada’s, spooking the most rugged frontiersman.

In journals from New York to San Francisco, Black Bart became synonymous with the perils of the frontier. And indeed, he was credited with robbing 29 stage crews — all without firing a shot or taking a hostage.

His weapon was his reputation. His ammunition was intimidation. A hood hid his face, and so no victim ever saw him and no artist ever sketched him. No sheriff could track his trail.

As it turned out, Black Bart wasn’t anything to be afraid of. When the authorities finally tracked him down, they didn’t find a blood thirsty bandit from Death Valley. They found a mild-mannered druggist from Decatur, Illinois. The man whom the papers pictured as storming through the mountains on horseback was so afraid of horses that he rode to and from his robberies in a buggy.

Black Bart was Charles E. Boles, the bandit who never fired a shot, because he never once loaded his gun. But Black Bart knew that the perception he created was more powerful than any gun he could ever shoot.

And the same goes for you. If you’re not getting all the cooperation you need from your coworkers, your customers, your spouse, your kids, or your friends, then it’s time to ask what image you are projecting. Do your customers see you as apathetically taking their business for granted? Or do they see you as a person who’s eager to give the very best service? Do your kids see you as a pushover who doesn’t have to be listened to? Or do they see a parent who is worthy of respect and means business? Sometimes you have to stop pointing your finger at what the other person is NOT doing and look at the perception you are creating.

=> 2. Create A Perception Of Possible Pain For Noncompliance.

As you well know, the bottom-line question in any act of cooperation is, “What’s in it for me?” In other words, people are wondering about the rewards they’re going to get if they go along with you. It’s important that you let them know.

But it’s also important to let people know about the pain they will experience if they don’t go along with you. Mary Hanson learned that from a flight attendant. As her landed plane approached the gate, she said some passengers looked restless and were about to stand up.

Seeing this, the steward announced, “We have invested a lot of money to ensure that your flight has been safe and comfortable. We are also looking for ways to save money, and this aircraft is participating in a new experiment. To reduce costs, we are asking for volunteers to help clean the cabin upon our arrival. Those wishing to volunteer for cabin clean-up, please stand before we come to a full and complete stop.”

Mary said not a single passenger left his or her seat until the plane was at the gate and the seat belt light was turned off. Obviously, the steward knew how to get cooperation by creating a perception of painful consequences.

I’ve seen this technique used with great effectiveness on several occasions. In Indiana, for example, I saw a sign on a fence that read, “If you cross this field you had better do it in 9.8 seconds. The bull can do it in 10 seconds. NO TRESPASSING.”

Along similar lines, I saw a most creative road sign on I-95 approaching Deland, Florida. A yellow diamond-shaped sign warned, “Narcotics Inspection Ahead.” There really was no inspection, but those drivers who saw the sign, panicked, and made an illegal u-turn were immediately stopped and searched.

Yes, you need to let people know “what’s in it for them” if they comply with your wishes. But it doesn’t hurt to also let them know about the painful consequences of not going along with you.

=> 3. Create A Perception Of Scarcity.

G. K. Chesterton said, “The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.” In other words, people, things, and opportunities seem more valuable to us when we’re about to lose them.

You see this “deadline” tactic being used in advertising all the time. And you hear about the “limited time offer” because these techniques work. People hate to lose their choices and their chances.

The same thing goes for personal relationships. I’ve had sobbing spouses sit in my office, saying they will do anything to get their loved one back. And yet their loved one walked away because he/she had been ignored for years. They weren’t valued until they were lost. It’s kind of like the old saying, “You don’t miss the water ’til your well runs dry.”

You can use the scarcity principle to get more cooperation from others. You can point out what they are about to lose. A company, for example, may tell its employees that this is their last chance to take advantage of the early retirement program.

I was amused by the way one church group used the scarcity principle to get a new minister. As Linda Sawyer reported, her mission church in Alaska was losing it’s minister. A pastor-seeking committee was formed; all the proper papers were filled out, and many phone calls were made to the Board of National Missions in New York City. Months went by without any sign of the church getting a new minister.

Finally, in frustration, the committee chairwoman dashed off one more note to the Board. It read, “Forget the minister. We’ve found sinning is more fun.” In essence, the chairman implied there would be a scarcity of righteousness if they didn’t get a new minister.

It worked. The new minister arrived in two weeks.

Action:  Think of a situation where you would like to receive a greater amount of cooperation from someone. And then outline a strategy you could use employing the scarcity principle.