(by S. Martin, N. Goldstein & R. Cialdini)

The Small BigHow do you help a busker make eight times as much as he normally would? Piece of cake – just get someone to drop a couple of coins in the hat as soon as the train doors open at the metro station! It’s called ‘Social Proof’ and it’s invisible! When people were asked later, nobody mentioned the ‘generous stranger’ (p. 15)…

In this amazing book, the writers focus on small things that can make a BIG difference. The contents list 53 chapters – each between 4 and 6 pages long. Each one looks at one or more studies and then considers the implications. The emphasis is on those little elements that make us tick. Social proof is one of them. Remember the busker? Instead of telling our students to do something, perhaps we could get a student to ‘model’ the desired behaviour.

The findings are often startling. For instance – how do you reduce no-shows for doctors’ appointments in hospitals by 57%? Easy – peasy: just send people a reminder sms with their first name in it! (p. 35) First names = attention = compliance! So what about us? Do we always use our students’ first names? Even when providing written feedback?

Another question: is it better to give people more or less choice? If you think the right answer is (a), think again! It is true that to get people to agree to do something offering them options is a good idea, but if you want them to actually complete a task they have agreed to do, then the opposite is the case! The big Q is this: ‘Is my problem getting buy-in or follow-through? Excellent! (p. 215)

Now here is a question for you: How many people would you have to ask to fill out a questionnaire before five of them agree? * It is incredible how much we underestimate people’s willingness to help! (p. 165) So – what about ELT? Do we encourage students to ask us for support? What about asking each other? And what about colleagues – how comfortable are we asking each other for help? (Honestly!)

OK – I have saved the best for last. Imagine you are in church. The sermon is over and the customary collection box is being passed around. Only this is an ‘uncollection’! You are actually encouraged to take money!! Then the priest says ‘Our expenses are huge. Please take some money, use it any way you want, and if you wish, you might give some of your earnings back to the church in the future’. Within six months, Reverend Steel got his money back twentyfold!! (p. 163) Q: Could we not do the same at the next IATEFL Convention?  🙂

[ * A: Amazingly, only about 10!]