“Case by case we find that conformity is the easy way and the path to privilege and prestige; dissidence carries personal costs.” – Noam Chomsky

Irving K. shook his head from side to side as he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I’d be interested.” Sonny Fredericks nodded with understanding.

“I can see why you might think that at first,” Sonny agreed. “That’s exactly what Art said before I gave him the numbers.”

“Artie Yablonski?”

Sonny nodded confidently as he replied, “Yep. And Bob Daniels was also skeptical until he heard what the returns were.”

“And both of them invested?” Irving asked, his eyes lit up with interest.

You guessed it. By the end of that meeting, Irving K. had also invested in Sonny’s project.

Sonny Fredericks, a “Master of the Art of Persuasion,” had learned long ago that people have a strong desire to do what others are doing. You may have heard this phenomenon referred to as “peer pressure.” Psychologists call it “social proof” or “informational social influence.” And now researchers are theorizing that this need to conform is part of our innate survival instinct.

According to a University of California study, “regardless of their pre-existing habits, people are susceptible to the influence of others.” And “cooperation or conformity to the rules of the group gives the group the highest likelihood of survival.”

You know from your own experience that this makes sense. The need to conform could actually be very effective in perpetuating the success of a society. Our instinct to want to do what others are doing frequently results in our making a wise choice.

We see this instinct at work in the animal kingdom too.

Consider the many different kinds of animals that congregate in groups – a herd of zebras roaming the plains of Africa, for example. Now, imagine that you are a member of this herd … and a lion appears. Most of your herd runs off in one direction, and one lone zebra heads the opposite way. Which way do you run? Which choice will give you a better chance of survival?

Running with the herd, right?

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. And there’s no denying the fact that the rebels in our society often pave the path to progress. But the odds usually give the advantage to the conformist.

Not only is there “strength in numbers,” as the saying goes, following the crowd is often the only prudent thing to do.

Say, for example, you’re at the beach. As you walk toward the ocean’s edge, all the people in the water suddenly start hurrying back toward the sand. Do you ignore the possibility that a shark or a jellyfish has been spotted and dive in anyway? Probably not. Odds are, it would be a bad idea.

Yes, there are times when you should go against the grain. But, more often than not, following the crowd works out for the best.

This natural, instinctive, deeply embedded desire to conform is reinforced over and over throughout our lives. And understanding it will not only help you survive … it can help you become a “Master of Persuasion” in order to sell more products, win new clients, or convince other people to take your point of view.

Think back to my story about how Sonny Fredericks let his prospective investor, Irving K., know that several other respectable, trustworthy people had invested in his project. After finding out that two men he held in high regard had confidence in Sonny’s proposal, Irving’s natural desire to follow the pack kicked in and brought about his change of heart.

Securing investors is only one of many ways this persuasion technique can be applied. Take Peter T., president of a condominium association. Because of increases in their insurance premium, Peter had the unpleasant task of getting the condo owners to agree to a sizable increase in their monthly maintenance payments in order to maintain the same level of coverage.

When Peter introduced the idea at the next association meeting, the owners howled. But then he explained that several of the other “first class” communities in the area had already implemented it. The owners weren’t happy, but the fact that these other associations had increased their fees made them feel it was the right thing to do.

The power of social influence is also the basis of a very effective persuasion technique used by most bartenders and fast-food servers. At the beginning of the day, they put some dollar bills into an empty tip jar. Everyone they serve that day (their persuasion targets) gets the impression that many people have been leaving tips in the jar. And because many others have done it, the new targets want to follow suit.

I’m susceptible to this technique myself. When I see a tip jar filled with cash, I find myself thinking that giving a tip is the right thing to do. Even if I wouldn’t otherwise consider tipping a Subway counter clerk for getting my sandwich order right, I feel pressured to put a tip in that jar … just because other people have done so before me.

That’s how strong the power of social influence is.

How could you use this “Master of Persuasion” technique in your business and personal life?

[Ed. Note: Larry Fredericks is an entrepreneur with a history of successful business dealings in retail, direct mail, the Internet, and real estate. He is also the creator of the Master of Persuasion program.]