“Forbidden things have a secret charm.” – Publius Cornelius Tacitus
“One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few and they are more beautiful if they are a few.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” – Jim Rohn
When I came to write about the principle of scarcity, I had a limited idea of how the principle relates to communication, relationships, and success. It is a great principle to use in business and sales, but I had trouble relating it to these areas that we are interested in. Then it hit me. Scarcity is far more abundant (pun intended) in our everyday lives than we realize. This relates back to influence in general which often goes undetected in affecting our decision making.
The principle of scarcity states that we are more easily persuaded when the resource is limited. Scarcity is a fundamental principle in economics within the supply and demand curve. (As I explain scarcity in a business and economics context, I want you to think of how it applies to communication and relationships.) Referring to figure A, you can see that as supply decreases, so does the quantity in demand. However, people are willing to pay more for those fewer resources. On the contrary, when the quantity is large, people will pay less for the resources. My university microeconomics’ lecturer would be proud of me after that description.
Organizations and salespeople use scarcity to increase demand. They will bring in the most profit when they calculate the point at which the supply and demand lines intersect. The organization will often not change the number of items available, but communicate the item is scarce. It is a matter of communicating to consumers that a shirt, car, or collector stamp, is only available in a limited quantity. Consumers can have a total “mind-shift” where a once disinterested consumer becomes hungry to devour the product.
When sales are on, you will hear scarcity phrases like “limited time only”, “only 50 available”, “sale ends tomorrow”, and “don’t miss your chance”. These all get us to go into the respective stores and purchase their products instead of procrastinating about the purchase decision.
If you haven’t realized yet, you can adapt these same principles businesses use in everyday conversations for persuading people. Tell the person there is “limited time”, “a rare opportunity”, or “high demand because it’s popular”. In the case of getting someone to go out with you and have fun, you could use a sentence along the lines of “Come out because we haven’t had the chance since (last time you went out). It’s rare we have such an opportunity.”
To take similar phrases to the next level, use scarcity picture words. I think the scarcity phrases mentioned above appeal to both the left and right brain functions because they are verbal and mathematical numbers (left brain) but also contextual and focus on the future (right brain). Picture words use the right brain because they get the person to visualize and feel the emotions of those pictures. A few examples of scarcity picture words you can use are:
- “The opportunity is falling through our fingers and we need to grasp it now before it’s too late.”
- “The hourglass was turned a while ago and has almost run out. We need to act now.”
- “This is as rare as your boss buying you a BMW. If you’re lucky enough for it to happen, you better take advantage of it because it ain’t going to happen again.”
Bitterness, conflict, and resentment arises from the use of bland words as it makes people raise their shields. On the other hand, the visual is more concrete than words. What makes scarce imagery very persuasive is its ability to establish unity. There are rarely two-sides to strategic symbols and imagery – just one shared understanding. This makes symbolism a great way to strengthen team cohesion. You can create and distribute items that establish an “us verse them” mentality.
The primary reason scarcity is so effective for influencing people is that generally we are more motivated by loss than gain. Scarcity implies rarity, high quality, and high demand, all influences that increase our demand for the resource. We can become irrational when a resource is scarce and do things we never thought we would do. It is difficult to think clear when scarcity is being intensely used.
To further expand on how the principle of scarcity influences our everyday living (because I think most people do not comprehend it’s high frequency), take the example of job interviews. If you have one job interview, then the scarcity of interviews makes you highly value this one interview. This puts extreme pressure on you to get that job and is likely to cause you to perform poorly in the interview. On the other hand, if you have many job interviews, you place less emphasis on each interview as each one is not very scarce. The interviews possess less value which allow you to relax, perform better, and increase the chances of you landing a job.
When a single-person becomes extremely fixated on dating somebody of the opposite sex, the value of this person greatly increases causing the single-person to think about and micromanage any interaction when they are together. All this does is amplify the scarcity principle and make the single-person become stressed, anxious, and desperate. In the dating world for men, guys who become extremely fixated on one girl are diagnosed with “one-itis”. It’s a very common plague for men and the cure is to go date more women because the men are being deluded with scarcity. They need to see there is an abundance of opportunities out in the world.
Keeping on the dating topic, a woman’s attraction for a guy is increased when the guy is scarce. Yes, like resources, people are a commodity. A guy who is surrounded by women is heaps more attractive to other women. In fact, a woman’s attraction can become so distorted from such a situation, that she’d do things which would surprise many people including herself.
However, scarcity is often not enough just by itself. If a random stranger talked to you for one minute and left, you aren’t going to yearn for their presence. Though their absence creates scarcity, the stranger never made you appreciate him or her in the first place. When you create good feelings in others, have a great conversation, or build attraction – then suddenly cut it short – you essentially become an addictive drug. The person begins to desperately desire your presence. Your value and power dramatically increase due to absence. What gets removed from our grasps becomes wanted as it gets elevated in status from our adoration and honor.
Scarcity creates a gap that the mind fills with its imagination. The mind conceives thoughts based on past experiences. When you have created a presence that another has adored and, only then, make yourself absent, a sense of mystery, unpredictability, and power is instilled in their image of you.
Robert Greene in law 16 (Use absence to increase respect and honor) of his book The 48 Laws of Power, advises the use of absence to increase respect and honor when seducing someone only once you have the person captivated:
“At the start of an affair, you need to heighten your presence in the yes of the other. If you absent yourself too early, you may be forgotten. But once your lover’s emotions are engaged, and the feeling of love has crystallized, absence inflames and excites. Giving no reason for your absence excites even more: The other person assumes he or she is at fault. While you are away, the lover’s imagination takes flight, and a stimulated imagination cannot help but make love grow stronger.”
The scarcity principle states that our demand for a resource increases when it is scarce and even more so when we are in competition for the resource. Whenever you have the chance in persuading people, communicate that there is competition for the opportunity at hand or how other people are desperate in this circumstance to take action. What you are doing is communicating that there is competition and scarcity in the situation. Social proof is another influence in this situation, which you’ll learn about in the sixth principle of influencing people.
What makes scarcity very interesting to me is that we actually don’t enjoy having the scarce resource more than if it was an abundant resource. The pleasure isn’t gained from using the resource. It is gained from merely just having the resource. Knowing we have it provides a sense of pride and security. You’re not going to have a better relationship with a person who is highly sought after by others. You’ll merely derive an illusion for yourself when the influence comes from scarcity.
Romeo and Juliet Effect
There are many applications of scarcity that would be great to discuss in depth, but I’ll only discuss a few more. Expanding on scarcity in relationships, Robert Cialdini in Influence mentions a study that had some astonishing findings about the “Romeo and Julie effect”. The study analyzed parental influence on 140 couples in the American state of Colorado. When parents hindered the relationship, each individual in the couple were more critical of the other. The amazing finding was that in spite of this, the couples also experienced more love and romance. So a note to all parents who are against their children’s love relationships: the more you intervene in the relationship, the more you will increase the love and romance in relationship.
Availability of Information
An interesting law of happiness is that we are happy to the degree which we are controlled. The more you are out of control in your life, the less happy you will be. An “out of control life” can consist of other people telling you what to do, obligations you must fulfill, and general things against your will. A powerful and frequent message in my communication secrets of making people like you program lays in teaching people to not control others; whether it be through criticism, giving advice, threatening, or sending solutions. All these are negative influences that will destroy a relationship because it causes the person you are communicating with to “lose control of their life”.
When governments, parents, managers, and partners, limit the availability of information, the person being controlled will usually want it more. A partner who forbids their loving other of interacting with a certain person, whether it be because of jealousy or pride, actually increases their partner’s desire to be with that person. What’s amazing with this is the thing which gets banned all of a sudden is wanted more because it becomes more scarce. Stephen Worchel has done several studies on how censorship affects our demand for the resource. When things become censored, banned, or in some way restricted, we have an increased desire to obtain the information. In addition, we gain more pleasure when we possess such information.
Parents can be extremely tempted to remove their children’s access to certain things when they disobey a rule. As a parent or manager, remember that if you take away something, you are increasing its scarcity. The most common reaction to this is rebellion and wanting the resource more. A good parent will be consistent in what they offer towards their children. This establishes what areas in the child’s life he or she can be expected to be controlled or not controlled in.
By limiting a resource you are increasing the child’s desire for the resource more so, then if it were already at that level of availability. When a resource is made less available than if it were already at the reduced level, we are more influenced to want the resource. If you haven’t been consistent in your parenting, then the best thing you can do now is to begin being consistent – and that may mean introducing scarcity. It’ll be hard to change the behavior in the beginning, but it will change and become easier. The sample holds true for managers changing the behavior of employees and the like.
I feel the dilemma where we don’t value the time spent with family is because of scarcity. Spending time with family is an abundant resource for most us which causes it to lose its value. Many people would prefer to hang out with their friends or new loved one. However, if they do that, then the demand and supply curve shifts causing a diminishing value of the “resource”. If you constantly hang out with your friends, then you will have less value in the time you spend with them. It won’t be as much fun.
In conclusion, scarcity is a common influence in our everyday decision making. We are frequently unaware of how it affects our decisions. Scarcity influences us in how we respond to opportunities, find a partner, procrastinate, and spend time with family to name a few situations. By understanding the principle of scarcity and its many applications, you are able to incorporate yet another powerful principle of persuasion into your communication skills to get people to do what you want.
Links in this Course: The 6 Principles of Influencing People
- Introduction to Influencing People
- 1. Commitment and Consistency
- 2. Reciprocation
- 3. Scarcity
- 4. Authority
- 5. Liking
- 6. Social Proof
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