The ability to persuade and convince others to make a decision or to follow your direction is an essential skill for becoming a successful leader. For many centuries, we lived in societies and workplaces dominated by a hierarchical distribution of power, resulting in the more powerful person holding more influence.
However, in the modern society, with rising middle class and more horizontal structure at workplaces, it is an indisputable fact that with more influence comes more power now.
When it comes to the subjects of influence and persuasion, Dr Robert Cialdini and his best selling classic “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” is the most authoritative sources.
Published in 1984, the book is filled with Cialdini’s own real-life findings over the regular the collection of academic studies and experiments. His findings and learning can be classified into 6 universal principles of influence which anyone can use in their daily life.
The first principle, reciprocity, is simply the obligation to repay. The famous archaeologist Richard Leakey ascribes the essence of what makes us human to the reciprocity system, points out Cialdini in his book.
“We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honoured network of obligation,” says Leakey.
Cialdini argues that ” a widely shared and strongly held feeling of future obligation made an enormous difference in human social evolution because it meant that one person could give something (for example, food, energy, care) to another with confidence that it was not being lost. For the first time in evolutionary history, one individual could give away any of a variety of resources without actually giving them away”.
It all boils down to ‘give before you take’. In an interview with blogger Eric Barker, Cialdini noted that people give back to you the kind of treatment that they’ve received from you.
If you do something first, by giving them an item of value, a piece of information, or a positive attitude, it will all come back to you. The key is to go first.
Consistency and Commitment
Modern research in psychologists has long identified the power of the consistency principle to direct human action. Psychologists such as Leon Festinger, Fritz Hieder, and Theodore Newcomb, as Cialdini pointed out, have viewed the desire for consistency as a central motivator of our behaviour.
It is often pointed out that people tend to act in favour of others who are committed to the same values as they have and show consistency in behaviour.
Cialdini says, “to understand why consistency is so powerful a motive, it is important to recognize that in most circumstances consistency is valued and adaptive. “Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait. The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill.
On the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. It is at the heart of logic, rationality, stability, and honesty.”
Remember seeing an ad of the latest car with a caption saying ‘voted as India’s car of the year’? This is a straightforward use of the principle of social proof. Go to a blog and you can see how many others subscribed to its newsletter, watch a sitcom and you will hear ‘canned laugh’ at all the jokes even before you laugh, go to a smartphone website and you will find the number of units sold – these are all further evidence of how the concept of social proof is used to persuade us.
In the book ‘Influence’, it is said that “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well. As a rule, we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than contrary to it. Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do.
Cialdini says, “people will be likely to say yes to your request if you give them evidence that people just like they have been saying yes to it, too.”
This principle is pretty much basic, we prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. It has been often said that the main work of a trial attorney is to make a jury like his client, not to establish his innocence.
This principle of liking or the obligations of friendship is something that is craftily exploited with pyramid schemes and peer to peer sales promoted by corporations like Amway and Herbalife.
Cialdini says, ” no surprise that people prefer to say yes to a request to the degree that they know and like the requester.
A simple way to make things happen in your direction is to uncover genuine similarities or parallels that exist between you and the person you want to influence, and then raise them to the surface. That increases rapport.”
When we hear the term authority, we tend to associate power with it. However, as per Cialdini’s words “it is not about being in authority and using that lever to move people in your direction, rather about being an authority on something. Someone who is perceived as a credible source of information that people can use to make good choices. This is exactly why you see experts appearing in advertisements.
If you want to persuade someone to invest in your startup, then being the authority in the field of business will increase the chances of your request being granted by ten times.
Scarcity is the single principle used by the leading smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi to persuade thousands and thousands of people to buy their phones. The marketing technique they use is called ‘flash sales’, where the customer is given a limited window of time to buy the device from a limited stock.
Cialdini writes, opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. This phenomenon is called loss aversion.
In the interview, Cialdini says, “people will try to seize those opportunities that you offer them that are rare or scarce, dwindling in availability. That’s an important reminder that we need to differentiate what we have to offer that is different from our rivals or competitors.
That way we can tell people honestly, “You can only get this aspect, or this feature, or this combination of advantages by moving in the direction that I’m recommending.”