Influencing others’ behavior – the Pygmalion Effect

Two different styles

Two different styles

The Pygmalion Effect comes from a branch of psychology, called Positive Psychology and essentially deals with expectation laid upon people.  The concept can be used in influencing others’ behavior by changing your own.

In simple terms, the higher the expectation from students, the better their performance.

Teachers, by changing their behavior towards students and laying a higher expectation on students, are able to elicit a higher level of performance from them.  The converse is also true.

Relating to this concept, I have found that it is very possible to influence others’ behavior by changing yours.

Airline attendant story at Philadelphia airport

In January 2009, I was standing in the ticketing line at Philadelphia International airport.  I had an overweight bag to check in and was racking my brains to come up with the best opening line to make the attendant comfortable and get my bag checked in.

To my dismay the well-dressed gentleman in front of me got into an argument with the attendant.  It turned out that the gentleman’s bag was slightly over the permissible weight limit.  As soon as the attendant pointed this out, the passenger flaunted a printout from the airlines’ website regarding bag measurements and started arguing.  His voice grew louder and he claimed that she was just trying to harass him.  At this point, the attendant calmly turned to her colleague and said, “We do not even have those spare boxes, do we?”  Before her colleague could answer, she told the passenger, “Sir, please get another bag and distribute the weight.  One bag should not weigh more than 50 lbs.  Next”.

As I approached the counter I remarked, “I am amazed at how you manage such a stressful job.  And I apologize in advance for having an overweight bag.”  She simply smiled and said that was why they carried the boxes.  As she weighed my bag, all she said I was fine and that 3 lbs over the limit was not a problem.  It happens all the time she said, with a smile.

The Pygmalion Effect

Consider the image shown alongside.  This is an adaptation of the Pygmalion Effect.

nfluencing others' behavior

Influencing others’ behavior

 This image depicts a self-fulfilling cycle.

  • ·         It all starts with your behavior towards others.
  • ·         This instills certain beliefs in others’ minds, about you.
  • ·         These beliefs translate into their actions towards you.
  • ·         Based on their actions, you then form certain beliefs about yourself.

As this pattern repeats, beliefs and actions get rooted and you develop an image or personality.  Very often this then becomes very hard to change – remember, habits die hard.

However, with conscious recognition and perseverance you can change yourself.

What’s in your control?

Working on changing your behavior is the one area in this cycle that is totally within your control.  Once you begin to consciously change your behavior, you then set another cycle in motion.  Over time, this cycle will give rise to another, different set of beliefs that will also settle down like the previous ones did.

To change yourself, you need the following three things:

  1. a.      An awareness of what it is that you want to change.
  2. b.      Plan of action.  How you will change.
  3. c.       Lastly, you need to persevere with it.


In the airline attendant story, the same attendant exhibited two totally contrasting responses to the same problem (overweight bag).  The difference was what she was subject to.

I have discovered that a sincere opening apology works as powerfully as a sincere compliment.  The more you stick to your ground and assert that you are right and the other person is wrong, the more you shut them up from co-operating with you.

Happy to hear your stories on the methods that have worked for you in influencing others.  Please use the comments to share.

Image: © Sumos | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Influencing Others’ Behavior Infographic: © Kay Leadership Academy