How to Improve the Way You Influence and Persuade Others

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In 1984, Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote a book titled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

The six principles in the book have become highly influential and a cornerstone of strategies for sales, marketing, negotiations, communications, relationships, and many other social aspects of life.

Why is the ability to influence and persuade important?

Influence is power. A large part of our everyday human encounters and social interactions consist of attempts to inflict influence or persuade others to see from our point of view, our perspective. Sometimes, we succeed. And sometimes we have a hard time convincing others to see things the way we do.

Persuasion is sometimes confused with manipulation. Persuasion per se is not a bad thing; the exploitative, self-serving, and ill-intent behind the action determines whether a persuasive act is manipulative. Influence, when put to good use, can win over and even inspire others (because you aren’t forcing them against their will to do anything).

Autocratic decision-making and control management styles are becoming increasingly unpopular among employees. On the contrary, organisations that practice influence and persuasion wisely tend to experience less frustration and resistance in the pursuit of their organisation goals.

Why does this matter?

In today’s competitive society, every little bit of persuasion counts. By conscientiously incorporating Cialdini’s tried and tested methods into your everyday lifestyle, you can gradually increase your influence and persuasive capabilities.

1) Reciprocity: Give a Little to Get a Little in Return

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Cialdini’s first principle of persuasion draws from the Golden Rule states, 

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Click To Tweet

Humans generally dislike feeling indebted. The need to return favors and pay back our debts is fundamental to humans (and has also been observed in non-humans). The principle of reciprocity states that people naturally feel obliged to provide either discounts or concessions to others if they’ve received favors from them.

Interestingly, using norms of reciprocity to get what you need from people can often be more effective than using money. To support this statement, my field of work requires me to gather data informally by approaching people in public to answer surveys and I’ve often found that asking people “for a favor” to complete surveys is more effective than offering people $5 for their time to do the same surveys.

Reciprocal norms are thus extremely powerful as a means to persuade and influence people. Give first and the other party will most likely do the same. 

2) Commitment: People Want to Be Consistent

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The principle of commitment states that humans have a fundamental need to be seen as consistent, and once we commit to something or someone, we’re likely to go through and deliver on that commitment.

In the mid-1960s, psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser decided to explore the “foot-in-the-door” technique — the sales tactic where you start with a small request that’s easy to agree to in order to gain acceptance to a much larger request later on.

Freedman and Fraser asked one group of Californian homeowners if they were keen to place a huge 6×3 foot sign on the lawn that reads, “Drive Carefully.” Only 17% agreed.

However, another group of Californian homeowners were first asked if they were willing to start small by placing a small sticker on their window that reads, “Be a safe driver” (which almost 100% complied). Two weeks later, the request was to place the huge the 6×3 foot sign on the lawn. A whopping 76% of this second group agreed! 

What does this tell us? 

The “foot-in-the-door” technique exploits our fundamental human need to be consistent. This consistency effect is even more pronounced when commitment is made publicly or in writing, because now there’re consequences to not honoring one’s commitment.

Be patient and strategic when using this technique. Go first and start small.

You can also apply this technique personally. Start by practicing small, consistent habits. We often find the hardest part of any undertaking to be the first step. Whether it’s writing a book, completing an assignment or starting a new eating habit we tend to procrastinate or slack off in the process.

By taking a step, no matter how small, you'll find yourself gradually closer to your goal. Click To Tweet

3) Social Proof: Being Validated by What Others are Doing Feels Good

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We don’t like feeling unsure of what to do. Uncertainty scares us. Under such conditions, one way people reduce this uncomfortable state is to observe what other people are doing. Safety in numbers, another fundamental aspect of human psychology, underlies the principle of social proof.

A simple example is if Restaurant A has a longer queue than Restaurant B, most of us are inclined to go towards Restaurant A because we fear Restaurant B lacks something. We may perceive Restaurant A as having better quality of food or service. 

Under conditions of uncertainty, we tend to follow the crowd or what the norm usually does. 

The implications of this principle are to tell your “target” of influence what other like-minded individuals do, like or prefer. By using this principle, you’ll find yourself having an easier time to get people to actually listen to you. 

4) Authority: Being Validated by Important People Feels Good

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People have a general tendency to obey, imitate or follow authority figures. Somewhat similar to social proofing, receiving recognition from authority figures is another way to validate your point of view so that others are more likely to buy it. 

Social proofing our point of view or the desired outcome we want is to give it credibility, legitimacy and validity.

Aside from exploiting herd behavior, authority can improve the social proof of our ideas. As people often struggle to come to terms with an uncertain or ambiguous world, turning to authority figures, such as experts or respected leaders, is another way to get a sense of the right thing to do. 

Develop your credentials, which serve as your authority, and present those credentials to establish trustworthiness when presenting your ideas or selling your products.

Alternatively, you can engage the help of other identifiable authority figures who’ve already established themselves and borrow their persuasiveness.

Most of the time, these people are more than willing to listen, lend a hand and offer some excellent advice. 

5) Liking: The More You Like Someone, the More You’ll Give Them Benefit of the Doubt

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The liking principle is obvious to most of us. We want to spend time with people we like and enjoy being around. We prefer to do business with people we like and trust.

We’re attracted to people who make us feel good about ourselves. We yearn for people who pay attention to us. Research has found that this is true even if we see it as pure flattery.

However, you don’t have to give an insincere compliment because there’re many ways someone can be complimented, such as a good job done, their outfit, an accomplishment or a good deed. 

Working cooperatively with people builds closeness and trust.

No one enjoys an overly competitive or calculative companion (which goes back to the earlier point on reciprocity). Even if we feel like we don’t particularly fancy the other person we’re dealing with, having a sense that they’re willing to cooperate can make us appreciate them more as we get to know them better.

Focus on making yourself likable and work to cultivate a positive image of yourself. Take the perspective of the other side by finding common ground and signal a willingness to work together. 

More importantly, be sensitive towards others. 

6) Scarcity: The Less Available it is, the More Valuable it Gets

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The principle of scarcity is borne from the basic law of demand and supply. Scarcity is defined as the perception of products seeming to become more attractive when their perceived availability is rather limited.

The harder it is to get something, the more valuable it gets. Indeed, people crave for what they can’t have. Experts and specialists are valuable assets to companies because they’re indispensable and not easily replaced.

People use social proof and authority to gauge them in their decision of whether something is worth doing or buying. Similarly, people also use scarcity to gauge whether something is valuable.

For instance, we’re more likely to purchase something if we’re informed that it’s limited edition or on sale until today. We hate missing out or what is known as ‘FOMO’ –  fear of missing out. Therefore, we’re likely to act with a sense of urgency if we believe that we’re missing out on something that’s important or hard to come by from failing to act now

Be strategic about advertising your availability. Emphasise the scarcity and uniqueness of your products, services, space or schedule to inflict urgency to others. For instance, if you’re holding a webinar or an event with limited seating, stress the urgency of signing up now or lose out on the opportunity to be a part of something essential that’ll benefit the participating candidates’ business goals. 

This creates perception of high demand. 

These six principles of influence and persuasion have been used since time immemorial by the best marketers and negotiators. Cialdini’s book helps us condense that knowledge into an easily understandable framework.

Knowledge is power, and with power comes responsibility. Click To Tweet

People with malignant intentions can also exploit their knowledge of influence and persuasion to manipulate others. However, by understanding these influence tactics, one can also defend oneself against manipulators.

At the same time, it’s important for us to know how to increase our own power so that we may do the good we want to do. Increasing your own competence for influence and persuasion raises your value. Influence is power, and if we can persuade others without forcing them to see our point of view or understand our interests, we’re more likely to collaborate and achieve shared goals.

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