Seizing an Opportunity for Unity

Phone calls from your alma mater. Direct mail appeals featuring swoon-worthy puppies. Requests to buy Girl Scout cookies as you’re leaving the grocery store. We’re exposed to more fundraising pleas than ever before, so what is it that persuades us to feel philanthropic and reach into our wallets?

In the early 1990s, two professors took a closer look at the social psychology behind giving. To study this, three similar researchers were positioned in high-traffic areas of a college campus in Hawaii. They asked passers-by if they’d be willing to contribute to a well-known charity.

The ask used one of three different scripts:

  • Standard: “Hi I’m collecting donations for [charity]. Could you contribute something?”
  • Feeling: “Hi How are you feeling today?” [Wait for response, then acknowledge it.] “I’m collecting donations for [charity]. Could you contribute something?”
  • Relation: “Hi, are you a student here?” [Wait for response.] “That’s great,” the researchers responded. “So am I,” they’d say to students; “I’m a student here,” they’d say to teachers. They followed with the same ask: “I’m collecting donations for [charity]. Could you contribute something?”

When people agreed to contribute, the researcher would thank them and explain that it was just a study. (It’s the thought that counts!) Which script do you think yielded the most success?

Through his research, Robert Cialdini identified six principles key to persuasion. Then, in Cialdini’s 2016 book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, he established a seventh principle: unity – the categories we use to define ourselves, i.e. a shared identity.

“A key characteristic of these categories is that their members tend to feel at one with, merged with, the others. They are the categories in which the conduct of one member influences the self-esteem of other members. Simply put, we is the shared me,” wrote Cialdini. The more we perceive people are part of “us,” the more likely we are to be influenced by them.

In his book, The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote, “If one man in a tribe… invented a new snare or weapon, the tribe would increase in number, spread, and supplant other tribes. In a tribe thus rendered more numerous there would always be a rather better chance of the birth of other superior and inventive members.” Since way back in the day, being accepted and valued has been key to survival. Though we’re not fashioning bows and arrows to get ahead in the world today, the concept of group selection endures.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Travelling back to Hawaii (We wish!), the standard, straight-to-it donation ask resulted in a success rate of only about 10%. When researchers first asked about and acknowledged the person’s feelings, the rate jumped up to 25.5%. Most impressively, when researchers disclosed that they were students, almost half of people (47.1%) agreed to contribute. By establishing a personal connection (“I’m a student here.”), the contribution rate jumped significantly.

As humans (You’re human, right?), we’re hard-wired with a need to belong. The brain reacts similarly to social pains and pleasures as it does to those of the physical variety. Knowing this, how can employers create unity among employees? Establishing relatedness and connections “may be the greatest opportunity for leaders and individuals to create a thriving workplace.”

“A culture of psychological safety enables employees to be engaged. They can take risks and experiment.”
-Jake Herway, Gallup

When employees feel united, they feel psychologically safe – like they can be themselves. In a Gallup article, Harvard Business School professor Dr. Amy Edmondson shared that “psychological safety predicts quality improvements, learning behavior and productivity.”

Why does your company really exist? By clearly communicating your shared mission and values, you can initiate feelings of unity – of caring. If your employees feel like a tribe, regardless of level or department, you can create a more harmonious and unified company culture. As an extra perk, your company can benefit financially, given that a sense of belonging can be a better motivator for some employees than money. Cha-ching!

You can apply the principles of unity to improve compliance, too. Put your mission, values, and other “cultural” information in your employee handbook right before or next to your company policies. It’ll serve as a reminder that you’re all in this together and that the policies are there for the betterment of the entire tribe. A united employee is a less litigious compliant employee!

Unity is about invoking feelings of “we” and “us.” After all, we’re more likely to be swayed by people within our group, our pack, our posse. By the way, where did you go to college? No way! I went there, too.

Drew Dotson

Drew Dotson

Drew enjoys eating cheese, cuddling with dogs, doing puzzles, and watching sports. She is passionate about raising awareness (and funds) for cystic fibrosis.

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