Photo by Casey Allen on Unsplash

The underestimated factor: Similarity

Have you ever felt safe in a foreign country when meeting someone who not only speaks your language but also with your regional accent? Did you ever search proximity to people dressed up in your style rather than to people visibly from different social backgrounds? Would you donate more if a fundraiser tells you that she has studied at the same university as you?

Similarity has a significant impact on whether we like people and trust them. We feel attracted by similarity and very little seems to be necessary. Even some superficial attributes seem to be enough. Birds of a feather flock together.

Confidence tricksters seem to have adopted this wisdom far more than many business people. Who wants to learn more about how we can be fooled by mimicked similarity should read Robert B. Cialdini’s book “Influence — The Psychology of Persuasion”. A related video can be found here.

Similarity is a shortcut

As I described in my last article, trust requires several factors: non-malicious intentions, integrity, attributed competence, and trust-critical situations. Experiencing similarities with someone unconsciously triggers an automatic cognitive process:

“This person seems to be like me. Therefore, he or she must have similar intentions, competencies, and integrity.”

Similarity will often suffice to send a signal strong enough to building trust. Instantly! And unreflectively! The mentioned confidence tricksters have built a business model on this effect.

Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman together with Amos Tversky, has dedicated his scientific life to research on rationality and how we decide. Their theory explains that we have two modes of thinking: a slow, critical and analytic, and a fast more intuitive one. The similarity effect belongs to the second and it is tough to overcome it by reflecting what we are doing.

But why do we form our opinions of others in such a flawed, risky way, and with such stubbornness, that others can reliably fool and deceive us? The answer Kahneman and Tversky give us…

Uwe Weinreich

Uwe works as coach, author and consultant focusing on agile innovation and digital transformation. What he does is simple: he solves problems.