Interview with Mischa Coster: ‘‘Applied psychology is the secret weapon you can use to improve your business‘‘


October 8, 2019

Everything we do, say and show has an effect on the people around us. By knowing what the effect of certain ways of communicating will be, we can use this knowledge to influence others. This way, you become more persuasive as a person or organisation, getting your target audience (whether this is a single person or a group of consumers) to move more towards your suggested behaviour.

How does media affect human behaviour? What are the effects of both online and offline media on behaviour? How to use that knowledge for your target groups? These questions are answered by business psychologist Mischa Coster.

What kind of clients do you work for?

I work for all sorts of clients, because all sorts of organizations want to influence behaviour. For instance, I work for a multinational telecom provider to increase sales of new products and services, I work for a financial institution to get their customers to make more financially healthy decisions about pensions and I am also doing a project for a publisher to increase perceived value of their services for customers. I do some small on-demand consulting for advertising agencies on how to increase the effect of their creative concepts and I work for the government on issues of digital communication with citizens and also security awareness programs. Besides that, I do some guest lecturing for various universities and business schools.

The psychological principles you research and use in your work are kind of evolutionary and basically universal. Are there intercultural differences to be aware of?

Having said that, there is a (very) small body of research about intercultural differences. For instance, people from more collectivist cultures like Asian cultures are a bit more likely to be responsive to techniques that employ the concept of ‘group behaviour’. But these are still very small differences, as far as the research learns.

Behaviour influence, is that the same as manipulation and what are the ways of using it?

No. Although the techniques that are being used have some overlap, manipulation is different from influence of persuasion in three important ways:
1. Goal/intention. The intention of manipulation is usually very egocentric. The effect that the desired behaviour has on your target is not taken into account, even is this behaviour will be harmful for that person(s)
2. Truthfulness. When manipulating, the manipulator is not reluctant to lie about pieces of information to get what he/she wants. For instance: I might tell you I’ve already given dozens of seminars in Lithuania, when it is actually just a few. But this information will result in more people attending because they will see this ‘dozens’ as some kind of proof of a good decision to attend.
3. Techniques. Where influence uses techniques that are based on automatic thought processes, manipulation tends to also use techniques that are based on emotional pressure, blackmail etc.

The interesting thing is that we like to think of ourselves as very autonomous human beings, analytical even. Can anybody be influenced?

Yes. When using these techniques, we are tapping into a part of our brain that is not rational and exists within every person. So even though you might think of yourself as a very deliberate, rational person, you can still be influenced.

Does influence and persuasion only work online?

Absolutely not! The effects that I talk about during my seminars can be applied both online and offline. Yes, some techniques are more suitable for online use, but there are also techniques that you can only use offline, for instance because they have to do with physical motion. I do use a lot of examples of online applications, however, because they are usually very comprehensive and ‘visible’ in terms of the techniques being used.

What do you think about the the maturity level in Lithuania when it comes to applying psychology in business?

I did give some lectures and to me it seemed that this knowledge and way of thinking was quite new for lots of people, when compared to – for instance – The Netherlands. So that’s good news: there is lots of opportunity there for business and professionals to start educating themselves in this field to make their communication more effective!

Are these techniques only useful for marketing & sales?

No. Although the marketing & sales is the first area of application that comes to mind, the techniques are very general in terms of application possibilities. Customer care employees can use them to get customers towards finding a solution quicker. HR professionals can integrate them in their coaching and education programmes to get more employees to start self-development, to increase human capital. Financial professionals can use them to avoid common mental pitfalls when analysing numbers. Business development professionals can use them to make the nature of a new product of service more appealing or persuasive. Healthcare professionals can use these techniques to get patients to engage in behaviour that is beneficial to these patients, like doing regular checkups, taking medicines and comply with preventive measures.

Join Mischa Coster‘s seminar in Vilnius organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in Lithuania: