The principle of sympathy: Concept, examples and how to avoid it

Sympathy principle

The sympathy we have for other people (or companies) can determine our future actions. This is usually beneficial in general, although sometimes it can also be detrimental to our interests. In this article I will explain what the principle of sympathy consists of, examples of it and how to prevent its effects from harming us in our decisions.

What is the sympathy principle?

The principle of sympathy is what makes us tend to agree with the people we know, with whom we identify and those we like, and to accept their proposals even if they are not the ones that suit us best.

The principle of sympathy can be increased by three factors:

  • Physical attractiveness. This is related to the halo effect, a cognitive bias that I already told you about a few months ago on the blog.
  • The similarity. We have a greater tendency to accept proposals from people with whom we share common traits.
  • Praise. We feel more sympathy for those who praise us, as long as it is not artificial or exaggerated.

Examples of the sympathy principle

As with the rest of the principles of influence, the principle of sympathy is one of the most used in the world of marketing and advertising. Experts in this field do not hesitate to exploit this principle. Expert salespeople also do not hesitate to subtly flatter us and try to share interests (often in a pretense) to achieve their goal of selling us a product or service.

The principle of sympathy is one of the most used in politics to obtain the vote of citizens. Unfortunately, many citizens do not vote for the most suitable candidate to carry out their duty of managing the country efficiently, but many choose to vote for the candidate with whom they identify the most or that they like the most. Politicians know this, that is why they care so much about taking care of their image and their priority is to "connect" with citizens instead of solving the country's problems.

The principle of sympathy can also affect us in the world of investing in the stock market. Savers tend to have a special predilection for investing their capital in companies that they like or that compete in an attractive or fashionable sector, regardless of their valuation. The problem is that these companies are often overvalued in many cases, which makes them bad investments. It is much easier to find value in companies that appear "a priori" less attractive, but have great competitive strength. They are the companies that I call "Susan Boyle companies", being Viscofan its best example in the Spanish stock market.

How to avoid the negative effects of the sympathy principle

It is normal for us to be inclined to favor people for whom we feel sympathy. However, as I have already shown you, it can be used to make decisions that go against our own interests.

What we must do in these cases is to analyze whether the person who is trying to reach an agreement with us is trying to take advantage of the principle of sympathy to influence our behavior. If so, we should be aware of it and answer the following question:

Would we be willing to accept the offer if it came from someone else?

If the answer is negative, it will help you not to make wrong decisions because of the principle of sympathy.

Robert Cialdini's Influence Summary on video

Here you have the summary of the book Influencia de Robert Cialdini, made by Adrián Godás de

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment and consistency
  • Sanción social
  • Authority
  • Shortage