Disruptive Persuasion

When you ask someone to do something, be sure to include the statement that they are free to choose to do it or not. Adding this phrase doubles the likelihood they will do it. It’s an example of disruptive persuasion.

Davis and Knowles demonstrated another simple persuasion method which they dubbed the disrupt-then-reframe technique. In an experiment, two groups of participants were asked to purchase holiday cards to support a local charity. When one group was told the box of cards cost $3, 40% of the participants purchased them. The other group was told the box of cards cost 300 pennies, followed by the phrase ‘which is a bargain’. In this second case, 80% of the participants purchased the holiday cards.

Disrupt-then-reframe works by interrupting people’s normal thought process by presenting a distraction. In this experiment, the distraction is describing the price in pennies instead of dollars. The reframe follows quickly (the price is a bargain) while the distraction is still being processed. When thought processes return to normal, people are likely to believe the reframe is true.

While this technique might seem too simplistic to work in a wide range of situations, disrupt-then-reframe has been verified on hundreds of participants in 14 different studies. Importantly, the reframe does not need to be as obvious as it was in the example above. In another experiment, researchers demonstrated the disruption by asking for donations using the phrase ‘money some’ instead of ‘some money.’ The key is to be slightly confusing which taxes the brain and provides room for the reframe.

You can try the disrupt-then-reframe technique as a way to be more persuasive but you should also be aware that others might be using it as well. If a salesperson says something confusing to you during negotiations, ask yourself whether they are trying to distract your thinking. An odd slip of the tongue like “this car has mileage low” followed by “it’s the best deal on the lot” might not be an accident after all. The salesperson might be practicing disruptive persuasion.

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4 Responses to Disruptive Persuasion

  1. Desiree Daniels December 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    Very interesting! I want to do a small experiment. I am curious to see how many mainstream advertisements employ disrupt-then-reframe tactics in their messaging and taglines. I imagine them being slightly more subtle than 1:1 conversations between the buyer and seller. They must find clever lines in order to convince large populations!

  2. Trish Harman December 16, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    I do the reframe often at home with the kids, but love the disrupt idea. Now to put it into play both at home and at work 🙂

  3. Steve Asche December 16, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    You could rename that the “Yoda technique”; though you might have to pay royalties to Disney.

    • jc.espitia January 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

      Hilarious. I thought of Yoda while reading the article.

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