As I just returned from an amazing trip to India, I would like to start with two general knowledge questions to you:


  1. Was Mahatma Gandhi older or younger than 30 when he passed away?
  2. How old was Mahatma Gandhi when he passed away?


Please answer these two questions before reading on.


My guess is that most of you answered that he was older in the first question and estimated the age of Mahatma Gandhi to be between 40 and 60 when he passed away. Was I correct?


The fact of having a benchmark at age 30 most likely led you to estimate a lower number.


In reality, Mahatma Gandhi was 78 when he passed away, but the fact of having a benchmark at age 30 most likely led you to estimate a lower number.


You may recall from my workshop, or a good negotiation book, the powerful effect of anchoring. As described in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahnemann, there are two different mechanisms that produce anchoring effects.


There is a more rational process that is the deliberate process of adjustment, starting from an anchoring number, that typically ends prematurely, because people stop when they are no longer certain that they should move farther. Then, there is a more instinctive process that occurs by a priming effect. This priming is a suggestion that we receive subconsciously. You did not believe that Gandhi was younger than 30 when he passed away, but your brain manufactured the association of him being a younger person.


In a similar way, when participants in a research study were asked about the average price of German cars, if they received a high anchor, they thought about luxury brands (Mercedes, BMW). When they received a low anchor, they thought about a mass-market brand (Volkswagen).


The main learning of the research about priming is that our thoughts and our behaviour are influenced, much more than we know or want, by the environment of the moment and by stimuli to which we pay no attention at all.


How could you use priming to become more influential?


Giuseppe Conti is the founder of CABL ( , a firm that offers a range of customized training in the field of negotiation and influencing.


Since 2005, he is an award-winning Professor and Lecturer at leading business schools throughout Europe (Cambridge, EPFL, ESADE, HEC Lausanne, HEC Paris, IESE, IMD, Imperial College, INSEAD, London Business School, Oxford, RSM, SDA Bocconi, UBIS, University of Geneva and University of St Gallen), recognized for his lively and interactive training workshops.


He runs negotiation workshops in four continents. Corporate leaders from multinational corporations and individuals from over 90 different countries have attended his workshops.