Influence 1: Introduction

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Robert Cialdini’s Influence is one of those useful books that gives a nice clear framework of ideas that can be applied in all sorts of situations. It presents findings from an extended research project dedicated to finding out what common techniques are used by people who are successful persuaders. There’s a good summary here.

I thought it might be useful to see how we might use some of these techniques to enhance our choral rehearsals. The musical director, after all, is in the business of persuading people to behave in particular ways, and we all find that some behaviours are easier to change than others. There are six themes that Cialdini explores:

  • Reciprocation
  • Consistency
  • Authority
  • Social Validation
  • Scarcity
  • Liking

I’ll look at these in more detail in future posts, but for today I think it might be useful to consider what different types of behaviour we are trying to influence in our choir members.

  1. Performance behaviours. We want our singers to produce their voices in a certain way, enounce the text in a certain way, breathe in some places and not others, shape phrases as we imagine them, keep the tonal centre stable, be sensitive to the sound of the ensemble, and all the rest of the paraphernalia that makes up choral craft. We achieve these aims through our rehearsal strategies and tactics, and it will be interesting to see how these principles can help us make these more effective.
  2. Rehearsal etiquette. We want our singers to turn up on time to every rehearsal, and to get down to work with the minimum of faffing about. We want them to stay on task and focused so we can make maximum use of the rehearsal time available. Depending on the conventions of our particular idiom we may want them to be equipped with a pencil and to make sufficient annotations in their music to remind them what to do and/or we may wish them to raise their hand if they make an error so we don’t waste time sorting something out that they can fix themselves. These behaviours are achieved by creating and enforcing choir policies, and both the content and the enforcement mechanisms deserve a persuasion workout.
  3. Behaviours outside the rehearsal room. There are two broad types of behaviour we’d like our singers to engage in between rehearsal. One is basically the continuation of the rehearsal process: learning parts, memorising music (if we’re that kind of choir), practising vocal craft. The other is building the choir’s relationship with the outside world: distributing flyers, selling tickets, spreading the reputation so that both membership and audiences remain buoyant. These behaviours only happen if our singers motivate themselves to do them, so are in some ways the best barometers of our powers of persuasion.

My guess is that each of these areas will draw on somewhat different themes from the others, but we’ll see if that hunch works out when we work through the detail in the next few weeks. My plan is visit this theme each Monday during May and June, and ponder other things other days of the week.

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