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Influencing skills 101: Squeezing the toothpaste

 

When we hear about behavioural science and evolutionary psychology, it can sound daunting and, worse still, far removed from our day to day decisions and interactions. Low on relevance, high on hyperbole.

But I’m guessing you are more familiar with the tenets of behavioural science than you realise. I’m even going to guess that you hold a lot of the insights into human nature in your hand, twice, maybe three times a day.

Ahh, the humble tube of toothpaste.

If you’re up for an experiment, pause this video and go and squeeze some toothpaste on your toothbrush.

Come back and we’ll talk about it.

***

So, when you grabbed your tube of toothpaste and squeezed, where did you squeeze from?

Probably the middle, right, particularly if your tube was quite full?

Of course you did. It’s the sensible thing to do.

You followed the path of least resistance - picking up the tube where it was most comfortable and most helpful. It got you to your goal the fastest.

You were less inclined to scooch down to the bottom of the tube and squeeze from there, despite what someone in your household may implore you to do. The only time we bother to do this is when we’re running low.

Squeezing from the middle is what we do because it is the sensible thing to do. The sensible thing is the effective thing, and we are wired to be sensible.

Sensible, by the way, has been hijacked to mean thoughtful and capital R “Rational”, but actually comes from the Latin sensibilis, from sensus, meaning to feel.

Squeezing from the middle is the sensible thing because it doesn’t require much thought and gets you to your immediate, short-term goal. It feels fluid, it feels good.

And this is the key lesson to take into your day to day work and life.

Humans are designed to seek ease, enjoyment and immediacy.

We might tell others to squeeze the end of the tube, and we may even know doing so has benefits for us in the longer term, but that’s not what we naturally do.

We pick up and squeeze.

 

Let’s talk about how to use this toothpaste principle in your work life. Here’s four to get you started.

  • Reward has to be greater than the effort to get people to bother. People exert effort - they squeeze - if there’s a payoff for doing so.  Provide a clear WIIFM before you ask anyone to do anything. Tell them what they GET before what they have to give.
  • Right time, right place. Our use of toothpaste is part of a routine (established in childhood) or when we are triggered (like our teeth feel furry). We’re not interested outside of these. Look for moments, events or existing behaviours that you can build around when people are most receptive. 
  • Be on the path of least resistance. Be in your customer or colleague’s flow state. For example, people are more likely to swipe calls to action in the direction the product image is pointing because it is the path of least resistance.  And:
  • Don’t be a “bottom of the tube squeeze” business.  Telling people what they should do is so much more difficult than making it easy for them to simply do it. Telling people to opt in, for example, is harder than making that the default.

If you want more specifics on how to improve your business - about designing for customers and staff who squeeze the middle of the tube - I’d recommend becoming a Just Do This member where I show you exactly what to do to get faster and better results in your business. 

Otherwise, keeping squeezing and remember, when you change behaviour, you change your world.

 

 

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