People adapt the way they behave to fit expectations use it to your advantage

Shakespeare once wrote that 'all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.' Not bad for someone who never left England. Of course what he meant is that life is all about relationships. And nowhere is that more true than in the world of fmcg.

However, the question is not whether it is nobler to suffer slings and arrows. That's an easy one; avoid them at all cost. The real question is do we act our part simply to achieve our objectives, or are we influenced by how we think others view us?

This idea that other people's expectations directly affect how we behave was examined by Dr Mark Snyder from the University of Minnesota. Acknowledging that one of the quickest ways people stereotype each other is by appearance, he set up a series of blind dates where couples chatted to one another via headsets but didn't actually meet.

Like most good psychological experiments a certain amount of sleight of hand was involved. Two fistfuls, to be precise. You see, psychologists know that it's human nature to assume that people who are very attractive are also more sociable, humorous and intelligent.

So, men were given a photograph, supposedly of the woman they were going to chat to. Half were given pictures of real stunners and half of women somewhat more challenged in the looks department.

So, would the women pick up on the vibe given off by the men and unconsciously fit into the stereotype they had been randomly assigned? That's to say, would the 'beautiful' women actually be more friendly and sociable, and would the 'less attractive' women be dull and uninteresting?

On analysing the audio tapes, independent observers concluded that the 'attractive' women did indeed exhibit more of the behaviours stereotypically associated with attractive people: they talked more animatedly and seemed to be enjoying the chat more. In short, they conformed to the personality the men projected on to them. It seems people really do change their behaviour to match how they are viewed by others.

So how does that help us sell more in fmcg? Well, understanding that other people's expectations about us directly affects our own behaviour means we have to be very careful when meeting a new customer, particularly if we think they don't like us.

On the upside, it also means we can exert influence over the behaviour of others simply by changing our expectations of them. So if we think they are going to place a big order, then that's exactly what they are most likely to do.

As Alexander the Meerkat says; simples.

Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and author of Life's a Game so Fix the Odds.