The Power of Precedence, Legitimacy and Habit

Habit and custom exert power. An example from a television show demonstrated how strong an influence habit is in controlling behavior.

The television show’s camera crew put a traffic light in the middle of the sidewalk on 5th Avenue, one of the busiest streets in New York City. As usual, the sidewalk was filled with people going in both directions.

At first, the camera crew set the light to green. Everyone kept walking. Then they switched it to red. You and I both know that a red light in the middle of a sidewalk makes no sense. But throngs of busy New Yorkers stopped and waited for the light to change. Only when it turned green did they continue walking. Such is the power of custom and habit.

The past also exerts pressure on the present and future behavior. Past dealings and precedents affect future dealings.

What merchants charge today for their goods and services affects what they can comfortably charge tomorrow. What they charge one person partly determines what he or she feels comfortable charging another.

If the seller gave you a discount last year, you are likely to expect one this year. Other customers will also expect one if they learn of it.

In labor negotiations, precedent is all important. When teaches in Los Angeles get a 5 percent raise, teachers in San Francisco want one too.

Precedent, custom, and habit can add substance to your base of power.

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