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  • Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • Imagine you're on a shopping trip.

  • You've been looking for a luxury-line dinnerware set

  • to add to your kitchen collection.

  • As it turns out,

  • your local department store has announced a sale

  • on the very set you've been looking for,

  • so you rush to the store to find a 24-piece set on sale.

  • Eight dinner plates, all in good condition;

  • eight soup and salad bowls, all in good condition;

  • and eight dessert plates, all in good condition.

  • Now, consider for a moment

  • how much you would be willing to pay for this dinnerware set.

  • Now imagine an alternate scenario.

  • Not having seen this 24-piece luxury set,

  • you rush to the store to find a 40-piece dinnerware set on sale.

  • Eight dinner plates, all in good condition;

  • eight soup and salad bowls, all in good condition;

  • eight dessert plates, all in good condition;

  • eight cups, two of them are broken;

  • eight saucers, seven of them are broken.

  • Now consider for a moment

  • how much you would be willing to pay for this 40-piece dinnerware set.

  • This is the premise of a clever experiment by Christopher Hsee

  • from the University of Chicago.

  • It's also the question that I've asked hundreds of students in my classroom.

  • What were their responses?

  • On average, when afforded the 24-piece luxury set,

  • they were willing to spend 390 pounds for the set.

  • When afforded the 40-piece dinnerware set,

  • on average, they were willing to spend a whopping 192 pounds

  • for this dinnerware set.

  • Strictly speaking, these are an irrational set of numbers.

  • You'll notice the 40-piece dinnerware set

  • includes all elements you would get in the 24-piece set,

  • plus six cups and one saucer.

  • And not only are you not willing to spend what you will for the 24-piece set,

  • you're only willing to spend roughly half of what you will for that 24-piece set.

  • What you're witnessing here

  • is what's referred to as the dilution effect.

  • The broken items, if you will,

  • dilute our overall perceived value of that entire set.

  • Turns out this cognitive quirk at the checkout counter

  • has important implications

  • for our ability to be heard and listened to when we speak up.

  • Whether you are speaking up against a failing strategy,

  • speaking against the grain of a shared opinion among friends

  • or speaking truth to power,

  • this takes courage.

  • Often, the points that are raised

  • are both legitimate but also shared by others.

  • But sadly, and far too often,

  • we see people speak up but fail to influence others

  • in the way that they had hoped for.

  • Put another way,

  • their message was sound,

  • but their delivery proved faulty.

  • If we could understand this cognitive bias,

  • it holds important implications

  • for how we could craft and mold our messages

  • to have the impact we all desire ...

  • to be more influential as a communicator.

  • Let's exit the aisles of the shopping center

  • and enter a context in which we practice almost automatically every day:

  • the judgment of others.

  • Let me introduce you to two individuals.

  • Tim studies 31 hours a week outside of class.

  • Tom, like Tim, also spends 31 hours outside of class studying.

  • He has a brother and two sisters,

  • he visits his grandparents,

  • he once went on a blind date,

  • plays pool every two months.

  • When participants are asked to evaluate

  • the cognitive aptitude of these individuals,

  • or more importantly, their scholastic achievement,

  • on average, people rate Tim

  • to have a significantly higher GPA than that of Tom.

  • But why?

  • After all, both of them spend 31 hours a week outside of class.

  • Turns out in these contexts,

  • when we're presented such information,

  • our minds utilize two categories of information:

  • diagnostic and nondiagnostic.

  • Diagnostic information is information of relevance

  • to the valuation that is being made.

  • Nondiagnostic is information that is irrelevant or inconsequential

  • to that valuation.

  • And when both categories of information are mixed,

  • dilution occurs.

  • The very fact that Tom has a brother and two sisters

  • or plays pool every two months

  • dilutes the diagnostic information,

  • or more importantly,

  • dilutes the value and weight of that diagnostic information,

  • namely that he studies 31 hours a week outside of class.

  • The most robust psychological explanation for this is one of averaging.

  • In this model, we take in information,

  • and those information are afforded a weighted score.

  • And our minds do not add those pieces of information,

  • but rather average those pieces of information.

  • So when you introduce irrelevant or even weak arguments,

  • those weak arguments, if you will,

  • reduce the weight of your overall argument.

  • A few years ago,

  • I landed in Philadelphia one August evening

  • for a conference.

  • Having just gotten off a transatlantic flight,

  • I checked into my hotel room, put my feet up

  • and decided to distract my jet lag with some TV.

  • An ad caught my attention.

  • The ad was an ad for a pharmaceutical drug.

  • Now if you're the select few who've not had the pleasure of witnessing these ads,

  • the typical architecture of these ads

  • is you might see a happy couple prancing through their garden,

  • reveling in the joy that they got a full night's sleep

  • with the aid of the sleep drug.

  • Because of FDA regulations,

  • the last few seconds of this one-minute ad needs to be devoted to the side effects

  • of that drug.

  • And what you'll typically hear is a hurried voice-over that blurts out

  • "Side effects include heart attack, stroke,

  • blah, blah, blah,"

  • and will end with something like "itchy feet."

  • (Laughter)

  • Guess what "itchy feet" does to people's risk assessment

  • of "heart attack" and "stroke"?

  • It dilutes it.

  • Imagine for a moment an alternate commercial

  • that says "This drug cures your sleep problems,

  • side effects are heart attack and stroke."

  • Stop.

  • Now all of a sudden you're thinking, "I don't mind staying up all night."

  • (Laughter)

  • Turns out going to sleep is important,

  • but so is waking up.

  • (Laughter)

  • Let me give you a sample from our research.

  • So this ad that I witnessed essentially triggered a research project

  • with my PhD student, Hemant, over the next two years.

  • And in one of these studies,

  • we presented participants an actual print ad

  • that appeared in a magazine.

  • [Soothing rest for mind and body.]

  • You'll notice the last line is devoted to the side effects

  • of this drug.

  • For half of the participants,

  • we showed the ad in its entirety,

  • which included both major side effects as well as minor side effects.

  • To the other half of the participants,

  • we showed the same ad with one small modification:

  • we extracted just four words out of the sea of text.

  • Specifically, we extracted the minor side effects.

  • And then both sets of participants rated that drug.

  • What we find is that individuals who were exposed

  • to both the major side effects as well as the minor side effects

  • rated the drug's overall severity to be significantly lower

  • than those who were only exposed to the major side effects.

  • Furthermore, they also showed greater attraction

  • towards consuming this drug.

  • In a follow-up study,

  • we even find that individuals are willing to pay more

  • to buy the drug which they were exposed to

  • that had both major side effects as well as minor side effects,

  • compared to just major side effects alone.

  • So it turns out pharmaceutical ads,

  • by listing both major side effects as well as minor side effects,

  • paradoxically dilute participants' and potential consumers'

  • overall risk assessment of that drug.

  • Going beyond shopping expeditions,

  • going beyond the evaluation of the scholastic aptitude of others,

  • and beyond evaluating risk in our environment,

  • what this body of research tells us

  • is that in the world of communicating for the purposes of influence,

  • quality trumps quantity.

  • By increasing the number of arguments,

  • you do not strengthen your case,

  • but rather you actively weaken it.

  • Put another way,

  • you cannot increase the quality of an argument

  • by simply increasing the quantity of your argument.

  • The next time you want to speak up in a meeting,

  • speak in favor of a government legislation that you're deeply passionate about,

  • or simply want to help a friend see the world through a different lens,

  • it is important to note

  • that the delivery of your message is every bit as important as its content.

  • Stick to your strong arguments,

  • because your arguments don't add up in the minds of the receiver,

  • they average out.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

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