Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

The science of convincing others to say “yes”

RecipCialdiniIn 1984, Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University published “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”  It’s a classic that every good communicator should read.

Cialdini identified  six principles, which he arrived at through experimental studies and by working with   “compliance professionals” – salespeople, fund raisers, recruiters, advertisers, marketers, and so on – people skilled in the art of convincing and influencing others.

There’s a lot you will recognise from simple life experience, so it’s easy to see for yourself why it works. Here are his principles in animated form.

The summary below is adapted from  MindTools.com ( a great resource for leaders and communicators).

1. Reciprocity

Usually we aim to return favors, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us.  We feel socially obliged to offer things (invitations, opportunities,  discounts,  pens…) to others if they have offered them to us. We’re uncomfortable with feeling indebted.

If a colleague helps you when you’re busy, you feel inclined  to support her ideas in return. You might decide to return to a shop where they offered you a good deal, let you try before you buy, gave a discount, or free gift wrapping. Reciprocity is why a mint arrives with the bill at a restaurant – it improves the tip.

To employ the principle of reciprocity you’ll need to identify your objectives, and think about what you want in return.  The best favours are personalised and given in a way that makes the recipient feel special.

2. Commitment (and Consistency)

Cialdini says that we have a deep desire to be consistent.  Once we’ve committed to something, we’re more inclined to go through with it. Get people to make small, doable commitments as a way of securing their involvement. Voluntary, active, ‘public’  commitments work best.

For instance, you’d probably be more likely to support a colleague’s project proposal if you had shown interest when he first talked to you about his ideas. You might need to show them a product in development, or a taste or tryout for free.  Try to get verbal or written commitments, peple are less likely to reneg.   To do this you need to pay attention to timing. Look for “moments of influence,” opportunities where  people feel active,  capable and confident, and make your best case then. 

3. Social Proof, or Consensus

This is the idea that there’s “safety in numbers, ”  or “everybody’s doing it”.  We’re more likely to work late if our colleagues do, or to put a tip in a jar if it already contains money, stay in a popular resort or eat in a restaurant if it’s busy.  We’re assuming that if lots of people are doing something, then it must be OK.

We’re particularly susceptible to this principle when we’re feeling uncertain, and we’re more likely to be influenced if the people we see see are people like us. That’s why commercials often use ordinary people, not celebrities, to advertise household products.

Think about targetting key influencers and decision makers, You want a “buzz” around our idea/plan/product. Get onto social media and to pickup widespread support.

4. Liking

Cialdini says that we’re more likely to say yes to people we like. We like people who are similar to us, who pay us compliments and who co-operate with us.  Exchanging personal information and finding ways in which  you and the other person are similar is an important first step. Paying  genuine compliments will position you for a co-operative negotiation to come.

Companies that use sales agents from within the community employ this principle with huge success. (Think Tupperware). People are more likely to buy from people like themselves, from friends, and from people they know and respect.

Put in the time and effort to build trust and rapport.  If people  trust you and feel that you care about them, they are much more likely to cooperate with you.

A word of advice from me: never argue. In business (and at home, too) the person you beat  in an argument today may be the person whose cooperation you need tomorrow. Arguments make people take positions and defend them. Prove them wrong, and they will resent and resist you.  Most of the time, even when you win an argument, you lose an ally.

5. Authority

People in positions of authority have influence.  We usually do what our  boss requests.  We feel safe around people in uniform. It’s why job references are important testimonials for job seekers, and professionals display their qualifications in their offices.

Job titles, uniforms, your qualifications and even accessories like cars or watches  create an air of authority, and can influence us to accept what these people say. So, use comments from industry experts, back up your case with  research or statistics, and ensure you have well-produced, professional looking brochures, professional presentations, impressive offices, and smart professional clothing.

6. Scarcity

This principle says that things are more attractive when hard to come by, or when the opportunity to acquire them on favorable terms is brief.  It’s about being unique, special, irreplaceable – and it’s closely related to ‘urgency’.

With this principle, people need to know that they’re missing out if they don’t act quickly.We might buy something immediately if we’re told that it’s the last one, or a special offer will soon expire. If you’re selling a product, limit the availability of stock, set a closing date for the offer, or create special editions of products. For something less tangible,  highlight the dire  consequences of  delay or doing nothing about the problem that your idea will solve.

You can use these six principles whenever you want to influence or persuade others.  And, by knowing about the principles, you can see what’s coming withstand people who may try to manipulate you!

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