I am fascinated by the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini in the fields of influence and persuasion and have studied it for years, trying to better understand it. This past weekend I watched my eight year old son effortlessly and expertly apply two of Dr. Cialdini's Principles of Persuasion.
He had been given some candy earlier in the day and, right before bedtime, asked if he could eat the whole thing. This actually got a chuckle from me and we told him no, absolutely not.
He didn't complain or tell us that we weren't being fair. He just calmly (and cheerfully) asked us if instead he could just have one bite.
Not fighting back or complaining? If you have kids you know that means a lot and, on some level, we clearly interpreted that as a pretty major concession on his part.
And that made it very hard to say no to his much smaller followup request. When he asked if instead he could have just one bite the principle of reciprocity meant that we almost had to say yes, and he was one step closer to getting what he really wanted.
By getting that first small "yes" my son had also invoked the commitment and consistency principle. Something had changed... eating candy write before bed was no longer absolutely forbidden, it was something that we were obviously open to. And it couldn't be all that bad, because we're good parents, and we had agreed to let him eat a little...
When he made his next request, that he just be allowed to go ahead and eat the whole thing, the yes was automatic. It didn't even occur to me until later.