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Influence 3: Self-Consistency

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The second of Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion is self-consistency. That is, people are more likely to go along with something if they perceive it as aligned with commitments they have already made. This one has a lot of potential for the choral director I think. It has power for both good and ill, so needs handling with care.

Example: I knew a barbershop chorus in which many of those in the musical leadership team felt they had a problem with the leads singing flat. ‘You always sing flat’, they’d say to the leads, and the leads would oblige by singing in a way that was consistent with their reputation and self-image. (Moreover, it emerged as I attempted to intervene that there were a goodly number of people in the other parts who were quite heavily invested in feeling superior to the poor leads, and resisted their rebranding with some vehemence. I learned more than I achieved in that relationship I think.)

Anyway, the principle of self-consistency is partly why people take on the characteristics of their part stereotype: if that’s what I am, they think, then that’s how I’ll be. This is true of both vocal habits and of social behaviours.

But it is such a cheap yet powerful tool to use in rehearsal. Any incipiently positive thing you hear can be turned into part of your choir’s self-image by simply giving them credit for it. Hearing some signs of a sensitive response to the text? ‘Oh, you do respond imaginatively to the poetry!’ Hearing some free, well-supported singing? ‘This choir produces such a rich, resonant sound these days!’

At a broader level, we need to be alert to the stories people tell about themselves and the choir. Narratives of defeatism will induce the choir to live down to them, individually and collectively: ‘Oh, we always get nervous when we get on stage’, ‘I’ve never been able to get my head round German pronunciation’. These stories need to have their plots twisted so that the defeatism retreats into the past: ‘For years I thought I had a limited range, but I just needed to learn some new techniques and I’ve got an extra 5th at the top and bottom now!’

And of course, the principle of self-consistency is why it is so important for choir members to contribute to developing the vision and aspirations of the choir. If the singers believe in and identify with the group’s stated goals, they will make them happen almost without consciously deciding to. If they don’t they’ll just remain empty phrases rightly derided.

And this is why, I suspect, that Cialdini listed the principle of self-consistency before the principle of authority, which we’ll look at next.

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