The Power of Liking

The Social Psychological Reason We Should Emphasize Customer Service at Universities and Colleges

Robert Cialdini, a well-known psychology and marketing professor, published a popular book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In it he lists 6 principles of persuasion. One of them is “liking.” It may seem obvious, but we are more likely to be persuaded by people that we like. Take this study as an example:

Students were asked to get another person to agree with them on a deal. The first group was told, “get straight down to business.” In this group, around 55% were able to come to an agreement. The second group was told, “before you begin negotiating, identify a similarity you share in common then begin.” In this group, 90% of them were able to come to successful and agreeable outcomes that were typically worth 18% more to both parties. Not bad!

Now, what does this have to do with education? Universities perform better when the students believe in the institution and its value. We need our students to not just recognize our authority, but to like us.   According to the results of multiple studies (like this one), overall student satisfaction is related to their perceptions of their interactions with academic advisors. Students’ overall satisfaction in turn is related to their persistence. In other words, retention is linked with how much students like their advisors.  

Every student touchpoint should be as positive as possible and those of us that see the same students repeatedly should especially work hard to be liked (within reason) by our students., lists 16 principles that will help build “liking.” Here are 6 we can use in advising.

  • Similarity: We like people who are like us (including history, ethnicity, socio-economics).
  • Familiarity: We like those with whom we have had prior positive interaction.
  • Praise: We like people who compliment us.
  • Halo Effect: When we perceive a positive attribute of someone (like attractiveness) we more easily assume other positive attributes. Dressing nicely, for example, makes a good first impression which can impact perceptions of other traits.
  • Cooperation: We like those who work with us towards shared goals.
  • Reciprocation: We like those who like us.

While some of us may be at a phase in our lives where we do not care what others think of us, it does seem worth the effort in this case. The interactions that students have with us can highly impact their views of the school and their likelihood to return. So let’s pay attention to our first impressions, find common ground with our students, pay them compliments and work with them to help them achieve their goals.