The Power of Persuasion

How can you get what you ask for? How can you significantly increase the chances that another person will say yes to your request?

ROBERT Cialdini, best-selling author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, gives an insightful talk on how you can persuade people to do what you want.

As a tenured professor, Cialdini jokes that academics are people who are not satisfied by something that works well in practice, until they’ve tried it out in theory.

But after acknowledging the weakness that academics tend to have for pointless theorising, Cialdini goes on to provide 6 practical principles that we can implement immediately in our personal and professional lives to become more persuasive and influential.

The speech above is well worth watching but, if you don’t have a spare hour, just read our dot-point summary below.

Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion

Influencing the behaviour of others can be difficult and is, in some sense, an art-form which can only be learned through the trial-and-error of life experience.

Despite this, there are some techniques that research has shown can be used to increase the likelihood that people will do what you ask them.

Cialdini provides us with 6 Principles of Persuasion:

  1. Scarcity – Scarcity adds value. By artificially limiting supply, you can make your offering more attractive. This applies equally in the world of business and the world of dating. Cialdini gives an example of a beef wholesaler who was able to increase her sales of beef by telling customers that there would be a shortage of beef in a few months time. And in the world of dating, if your dating experience is as ludicrously hapless as your author’s, you may have noticed that the appealing girls (or guys) tend to be the ones who are already in a relationship. This is no coincidence. We want what we can’t have since scarcity adds value.
  2. Exclusivity – People are attracted to exclusive offerings. Clubs, schools and universities are all more appealing if they are able to develop an aura of exclusivity. Cialdini builds on his “beef wholesaler example” by explaining that when the wholesaler informed customers that her intel about the impending beef shortage was from an exclusive source, people responded more positively and bought more beef. It was the same offer, but its exclusivity made it more persuasive.
  3. Authority – People respond positively to authority figures. Cialdini explains that authority can be established by demonstrating expertise and trustworthiness. This can be done by first bringing to the surface a weakness in your offering, and then presenting your strongest arguments which overwhelm the weakness. By presenting information in this way, it helps to demonstrate your expertise and trustworthiness, and thereby establish you as an authority figure.
  4. Consistency – People are more willing to act consistently with what they have already said or done. Cialdini provides an example of a telephone receptionist whose job was to take restaurant bookings. Faced with the problem of “no shows” (that is, with customers who make a booking and then fail to turn up), the receptionist was able to dramatically reduce the issue by adding two words to her parting remarks. Instead of telling the customer “please call if you want to cancel your reservation” she changed her closing remarks to instead ask them “will you please call if you want to cancel your reservation?” After giving a verbal promise, customers were significantly more likely to fulfill their booking.
  5. Consensus – In deciding what to do, people often take their cue from the behaviour of others. This phenomenon is known as “social proof” – prevalent in ambiguous social situations where people imitate the actions of others in an attempt to adopt appropriate behaviour. Cialdini gives the example of a telly marketing company which exploited this behavioural quirk by getting the presenter to change the closing remarks of her pitch from “Operators are waiting, please call!” to instead say “If operators are busy, please call again!” The second form of words suggests that the operators may be busy, implying that lots of other people are interested in the offer. The number of calls went through the roof.
  6. Affection – People prefer to say “yes!” to people that they know and like. You can help people like you by focusing on the similarities between you, emulating their thinking and behaviour (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!), and by paying compliments where they are due.