It’s no surprise that President Obama’s popularity among Americans continues to dive as he violates a number of rules key to connecting with and influencing people.
As a former Special Agent for the FBI’s National Security Division’s Behavioral Analysis Program, I utilized proven psychological methods to recruit spies, interrogate suspects, and interview witnesses. These same techniques can be adapted to everyday personal and business relationships—as well as by world leaders who want to relate to the collective group they lead.
Here’s how President Obama can put some of these time-tested strategies to work.
1. Obey the Golden Rule of Friendship. President Obama is falling out of favor because he’s simply failing at making Americans feel good about themselves.
“The Golden Rule of Friendship” states: “If you make people feel good about themselves, they will like you.”
Obama’s message in his first presidential campaign was “Hope and Change.” While these words had an inspiring ring to them, President Obama let them go undefined. Nevertheless, Americans still defined these words according to their own personal visions, felt good about themselves, and therefore liked President Obama.
When the president eventually defined “Hope and Change,” he quashed the visions of Americans who did not share his vision. As a result, people no longer feel good about themselves as Obama’s likeability quotient falls.
2. Follow the Rule of Sameness. “The Rule of Sameness” stipulates: “People like others who think the same way as they do.” Lack of common ground induces cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when people have conflicting perspectives or ideas. Dissonance causes anxiety.
People avoid others who make them feel anxious and gravitate toward people who make them feel good about themselves.
Recent polls demonstrate that Obama’s domestic and foreign policies are in opposition to the way most Americans think. Americans view themselves from one perspective and realize Obama views them from a different perspective.
To reduce the anxiety associated with cognitive dissonance, Americans have three choices. They can accept the radical social changes advocated by Obama, thus reconciling the differing perspectives.
The American people can also convince Obama to transform or modify his social changes to align with the American people, another method of unifying the clashing perspectives.
Additionally, Americans can outright reject Obama’s social changes. Eliminating or reducing the significance of the person or thing causing dissonance reduces anxiety. The Republican landslide victory in the 2014 mid-term elections suggests that the majority of Americans chose to resolve their dissonance by rejecting Obama’s domestic policies, the source of the dissonance. The choice to reject these policies—and to a large degree Obama himself—renders any attempt by Obama to regain his popularity with the American people very difficult, if not impossible.
3. Propose Change with Care. Personal relationships develop over time. Each person involved in the relationship reveals information about themselves. If one reveals too much personal information too soon, they are seen as fast, pushy, or smothering. This makes people feel uncomfortable and, as a consequence, they will eventually dislike the “fast” person.
If one withholds information, they are perceived as slow, standoffish, and guarded. This also makes others feel uncomfortable.
Obama revealed domestic changes, such as ObamaCare, too quickly. Americans felt uncomfortable in their relationship with Obama, who they then viewed as fast, pushy, and smothering, and thus distanced themselves from him.
The best method to preserve the freshness of a new relationship is to share personal information slowly, bit by bit, over a long period of time.
The excitement of new discoveries maintains the excitement of new relationships.
People often become engrossed in the novelty of a new relationship and “data dump” personal information, including intimate details about their lives. This is a big mistake if sustaining a long-term relationship is the ultimate goal.
Contrawise, people who are reluctant to reveal even a few facts (or choose to reveal nothing!) about their lives also damage fledging relationships.