Disrupt-then-Reframe Technique

Influence through Disruption

In general, when your influence attempts are met with resistance, it is better to reframe an issue in such a way as to avoid resistance instead of trying to break it directly. This especially applies to cognitive dissonance. However, sometimes it is possible to use simple techniques to break through the low-level resistance. Most of the research on this theme has been done with charitable solicitations (as well as commercial sales), but with little creativity it can be applied to all kinds of social advocacy messages or political arguments.

Research on Disrupt-Then-Reframe Technique

One example of effective disruption is the disrupt-then-reframe technique. As the name implies, the technique consists of two basic steps. First, you present your message with some speech disruption – an odd phrase or dysfluency in language – something that creates slight confusion. In the second step you present your reframe – the persuasive reason for your message.

In the original experiment on this technique by Davis and Knowles (1999), the experimenters tried it on door-to-door sales of note cards for a local charity. The experimenters’ basic pitch was simple:

“We’re selling this pack of eight note cards for three dollars. They are a bargain. Would you buy some?”

So here the sales pitch contained the basic message (“We’re selling this pack of eight note cards for three dollars”) and the reframe (“They are a bargain”). 35 percent of the people bought the note cards after hearing this basic sales pitch.

The disrupt-then-reframe condition used the same sales pitch with one apparently insignificant difference – instead of saying “three dollars” it said “three hundred pennies”:

“We’re selling this pack of eight note cards for three hundred pennies. They are a bargain. Would you buy some?”

“Three hundred pennies” is an odd way to say three dollars, so it must have slightly confused the potential buyers. Here, the disrupt-then-reframe technique almost doubled the sales: 65% of the people bought the note cards.

The important thing about this technique is the sequence. In the subsequent experiments, the researchers found that the technique doesn’t work if it is reversed. Likewise, the disruption alone (“They’re 300 pennies”) also does not produce any significant differences.

Sources

  • Davis, B. P., & Knowles, E. S. (1999). A disrupt-then-reframe technique of social influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 192–199.