Autonomy and Reactance

Autonomy and Reactance in a Nutshell: Honoring people’s autonomy and minimizing reactance is extremely important in all kinds of strategic influence and public advocacy, from local political campaigns to public health campaigns to global environmental advocacy.

Autonomy is a critical component of our wellbeing, and normally it is a central element of successful influence. Whenever people feel that their autonomy is respected and free to comply with your request or refuse it, they are less likely to show resistance. Conversely, people resist any attempts to persuade them whenever they feel they are being forced to do something against their will or that their autonomy is constrained in any way. Any perceived infraction of autonomy can provoke reactance leading to the opposite behavior. Respecting people’s autonomy and avoiding reactance is crucial in all sorts of situations, whether you’re developing a message for a health campaign or trying to pitch a political reform.

There are a few practical ways to show that you respect people’s autonomy, and also to reduce reactance by acknowledging it. The basic principle is to always respect and reaffirm people’s autonomy and show it with particular language, for example, by using questions instead of statements, by using positive phrasing, and by avoiding controlling language. If merely reaffirming people’s autonomy is not enough and reactance nevertheless arises, one way to decrease it is to acknowledge it.

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When Financial Incentives Backfire

Financial Incentives BackfirePeople normally feel a strong drive to acquire resources and to avoid losses, so various incentives, including financial incentives, can be a powerful tool for encouraging socially desirable behaviors. Yet, the effects of financial incentives are not always straightforward or linear. There are many psychological complications, but one basic rule is to avoid using incentives when people already hold favorable opinions or when they might be motivated by altruistic or other non-monetary considerations. Continue reading “When Financial Incentives Backfire”

Self-Affirmation Technique

Self-Affirmation Technique in a Nutshell

Self-affirmation technique is invaluable in public influence, social advocacy, political persuasion, or whenever you have to deal with issues that provoke people’s ego-defensiveness. As a rule, it is best not to try changing people’s minds about issues threatening their ego, especially their deep-rooted, strong political or moral attitudes and beliefs. However, if you will try changing opinions about ego-involving issues, self-affirmation technique should be on the top of your list. The basic idea here is to strengthen people’s self-concept (popularly known as ego), for example by asking them to reflect on their important values, before you challenge any of their attitudes that might provoke ego-defensiveness. Continue reading “Self-Affirmation Technique”

Influence through Goodwill and Elaboration Questions

Influence in all sorts of social and political conflicts depends a lot on parties’ perceived goodwill, so naturally, one way to make people more receptive to your views is by showing your goodwill, and a simple and effective way to do that is through elaboration questions.


Goodwill is a critical component of personal credibility, and generally, goodwill suggests having the other party’s best interests at heart. Goodwill is projected through three elements: understanding, empathy, and responsiveness. [1] In essence, goodwill is about showing you appreciate the other person, that you understand their needs, that you value their feelings, and that you accept their right to feel that way.

What are Elaboration Questions?

“To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.” — John Marshall

A simple and effective way to show such appreciation is through elaboration questions. Elaboration questions seek to gain greater understanding of the other person’s viewpoint, with questions such as “Could you tell me more about . . . ?” or “How did you come to this conclusion?”. Such questions don’t try to present an argument in the form of a question or trap the other person. Continue reading “Influence through Goodwill and Elaboration Questions”