Dr. Robert Cialdini is the authority on the study of persuasion. His classic book, “Influence” has sold millions of copies and is widely regarded as the go-to text on the subject.
What makes the book so special is it’s not just a collection of academic studies on college students.
Bob went “undercover” to learn the secrets of used car salesmen, marketing professionals, telemarketers, and others who influence in order to survive.
He distilled his findings down to six universal principles of influence which anyone can use in their daily life.
His company, Influence at Work, offers workshops that teach the principles to business professionals. (They’re on Twitter here.)
I spoke with Bob about the six pillars of influence, the ethics of persuasion, and the best way to ask for a raise.
My conversation with Bob was almost an hour long, so for brevity’s sake I’m only going to post edited highlights here.
If you want the extended interview I’ll be sending it out with my weekly newsletter on Sunday.
It’s the principle that suggests 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.
If you smile at a stranger, you get a smile back. If you don’t, you don’t get a smile back. That’s essentially the rule. Whatever it is that you would like to get from a situation, you can increase the likelihood that it will be forthcoming if you provide it first.
People will feel a desire to comply with a request if they see that it’s consistent with what they’ve publicly committed themselves to in your presence. The implication there is to ask people to state their priorities, their commitments, the features of the situation that they think are most important, and then align your requests or proposals with those things. The rule for consistency will cause them to want to say yes to what they’ve already told you that they will do or what they do value.
There’s a great study that I like to cite having to do with one restaurant owner in Chicago who was able to reduce the number of no-shows at his restaurant by just having his receptionist change two words that she used when she took a booking. Previously she said, “Thank you for calling Gordon’s Restaurant. If you have to change or cancel your reservation, please call.” That was the standard approach and it was producing about 30 percent no-shows.
If she changed to saying instead of “Please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation,” if she said, “Will you please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation?” and waited for people to say yes, as they all did, then no-shows dropped to 10 percent because people were going to be consistent with what they had said publicly they would do.
People will be likely to say yes to your request if you give them evidence that people just like them have been saying yes to it, too. For example, I saw a recent study that came from Beijing. If a manager put on the menu of the restaurant, “These are our most popular dishes,” each one immediately became 13 to 20 percent more popular. What I like about that is, not only did a very small change produce a big effect, it was entirely costless and entirely ethical. It was only the case that these popular items were identified as popular items. That was enough to cause people to want to go along with what they saw as the wisdom of the crowd.
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.
Similarly, uncovering genuinely admirable or commendable features of a person, and complimenting the person on those things will lead to liking. Simple things that we can easily get access to. Instead of burying them and keeping them under wraps, we mention those similarities, we mention those compliments that are genuine to provide. That establishes a rapport that leads to a yes.
Authority refers to the tendency of people to be persuaded in your direction when they see you as having knowledge and credibility on the topic. What’s interesting is how many people fail to properly inform their audience of their genuine credentials before launching into an influence attempt. It’s a big mistake.
A crucial point here with regard to authority is I’m not talking about being in authority and using that lever to move people in your direction. There are all kinds of problems associated with that, including resentment and resistance. I’m talking about being an authority. Someone who is perceived as a credible source of information that people can use to make good choices.
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.”
Most people always use their favorite approach to influence, the one that they like the best. That’s a mistake.
I have a colleague who is in the marketing department at an American university, who told me that he has spent the last 16 years looking to find the single best influence approach. I saw him at a conference a while ago and he stopped me. He said, “Bob, I found it. I found the single best approach to influence. It is not to have a single approach.”
That’s a fool’s game to think that every situation will yield to the same tactic or strategy. We have to assess every situation in terms of what’s truly available for us there. Is there genuine social proof? Then we should use it. Do we have a genuine scarcity issue that we can raise to the surface, a unique feature? Then we should use it. Do we have genuine authority on the topic? Then we should use it. That’s how you would decide. Not based on what tends to be your favorite approach, but using the one that aligns with what is truly inherent in the situation waiting to be employed.
My sense of the proper way to determine what is ethical is to make a distinction between a smuggler of influence and a detective of influence. The smuggler knows these six principles and then counterfeits them, brings them into situations where they don’t naturally reside.
The opposite is the sleuth’s approach, the detective’s approach to influence. The detective also knows what the principles are, and goes into every situation aware of them looking for the natural presence of one or another of these principles. If we truly do have authority in the topic, if we locate it as inherently present, we can simply bring it to the surface and make people aware of it. If we truly do have social proof, we can bring that to the surface. If we truly do recognize that people have made a commitment, or have prioritized a particular value that is consistent with what we can provide, we can show them that congruency and let the rule for commitment and consistency do the work for us.
That’s the difference, the difference between manufacturing, fabricating, counterfeiting the presence of one or another of these principles in a situation, versus identifying and then uncovering it for our audience members so that it simply becomes more visible to them as something that’s truly present in the situation.
You can go all the way back to the ’50s and the book “Hidden Persuaders,” and go forward from that. Of the books that are relatively recent on the topic of persuasion and influence that I particularly like, I think Daniel Pink’s new book “To Sell is Human,” and Guy Kawasaki’s book “Enchantment,” do a really good job.
Another is Adam Grant’s book, “Give and Take.” I know you’ve interviewed Adam. He takes a more organizational view. How do you wind up being influential inside your organization rather than with customers, and clients, and so on? I think it’s a valuable perspective as well.
Here’s a story for you. It has to do with the authority principle, and how I sought to learn about the action of these principles, not just in the laboratory, but in the training programs of the most successful influence industries of our society. When I took the training I always did that incognito, undercover — they didn’t know who I was.
At the end of the training, I would reveal my true identity, my university affiliation, and my intention to write a book about the influence process. Because I had not informed them ahead of time that I was collecting data from them, I always gave them the opportunity to tell me that they prohibited me from using their data in my book. I said, “If you are not comfortable with this, and don’t want me to include any reference to what I learned here, I will honor that preference.” Eric, not one asked me to embargo their information. Not one.
When I asked them about it, the answer was a version of the authority principle. They said, “You mean you’re a university professor and you’re asking me? You mean, you’re my student?” They puffed up their chest and said, “Of course you can use my insights.”
If you want the extended interview (where Bob discusses how to leverage influence principles to get a job or a raise) I’ll be sending it out with my weekly newsletter on Sunday.
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