Can We At Least Agree on This? | npENGAGE

Can We At Least Agree on This?

By on Nov 6, 2013


Have you ever used that phrase when negotiating or trying to persuade someone?  You were probably trying to find some sort of common ground, right?  And then once you found it you could see what the differences were and work from there, yes?

It’s a very good strategy and speaks to one of my favorite persuasive theories—Social Judgment Theory, which is primarily credited to Muzafer Sherif.  Put simply, Sherif argues that we make evaluations of new ideas by comparing them to our current attitudes.  Moreover, he says that these attitudes are not one single point on a line, but rather they are ranges or as he calls them, “latitudes.”

Sherif believes that we have three different latitudes: the latitude of acceptance, the latitude of rejection, and the latitude of noncommitment.  These ranges of attitudes are then used to evaluate a new idea to help us determine whether we agree or disagree with it.

A simple example:  depending on your age or station in life, you probably have either asked a parent or been asked AS a parent for some money to go out for an evening or a short trip.  As one being asked (the parent, in this case), you probably have a range of amounts that you feel is acceptable to give your child for that night out or weekend away.  And you probably also have a range of amounts in your head that you think are not appropriate, right?

This is what Sherif was saying—as the parent I don’t think that $50 and only $50 is the appropriate amount.  I probably think that somewhere AROUND $50 is right, so maybe $35-70 in this example.  (Another example that dates me:  whenever I think of this theory I always think of Bob Barker playing “the range finder” game on the Price is Right.)

OK, so you may be thinking, that makes sense, but SO WHAT? Fair question.  Let me tell you two answers:

First, Sherif argues that the most effective persuasion comes at the edges of the latitude of acceptance.  So in our example, if I were the child, I should ask my parents for about $70.  I may not get the whole amount, but that would be the optimal ask.  If I thought I would be cute and ask for, say, $200, I run the risk of a boomerang effect where the parent would probably say “$200???? You obviously have no respect for the value of money!  How about nothing!?”

(Yeah, I’ve been there—but am eagerly awaiting the day I can use that line on my own kids.)

The fact is that persuasion is not a situation that a person turns around 180 degrees in one moment.  More often, a person does so incrementally.  So if I want $200, I need to first ask my parents for the $70 number—because if I do, and they accept, I’ve inched the “range” up to where $70 is probably closer to the middle of that latitude and maybe the high end is now $100.  Then the next time I can ask for a bit more, then a bit more, and so on, to where $200 might actually be within their latitude of acceptance.

Second, this theory reinforces a point I’ve made often in this blog—it’s all about knowing your audience!  If you agree with Sherif’s contention that the most effective persuasion occurs on the edges of the latitude of acceptance, then it follows that you have to have some idea what those edges are, right?

Which brings us back to the beginning of this piece.  When you ask “Can we at least agree on this?”, while you may not have known it, but you are effectively looking for the edges of that person’s attitudes.  Major gift officers will often very explicitly define the range of acceptable attitudes about giving by having gift range discussions with their prospects.  But even in every day encounters, regardless of whether they involve numbers or money, remember to aim for those edges of the latitude of acceptance.

The fact is:  the more you know about your audience, the better message you can craft to them, and the more successful you’ll be.  Not bad for the range finder game, eh?


Michael Reardon, Ph.D., is the Senior Principal consultant for the Customer Success Services team at Blackbaud where he leads the change management practice and has more than 20 years of experience in organizational communication, change management, virtual work, and corporate identification. Prior to joining the Blackbaud team, Michael worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the College of Charleston where he was honored with Faculty of the Year awards in 2009-2010 as well as in 2010-2011. He is also an active volunteer in his community, having focused much of his volunteer work on literacy and communication through an adult reading academy and participating as a “reading buddy” for a group of underprivileged first graders. Self-described as an exceptional driver of minivans (and sometimes golf balls), Michael and his wife are the proud parents to four children.

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