Master the Power of Persuasion

Your idea hits a roadblock and appears destined for failure. Yet, you recognize its merits. How do you help others understand its potential and garner enough support to move it forward?

Regents Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, Robert B. Cialdini can help with that question. He has spent his professional life exploring how to influence and persuade others.

Known as the Godfather of Influence and a thought leader in the fields of influence and persuasion, Cialdini was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2018 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2019. In 2021, he expanded and updated his bestselling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

As plenary speaker at the 2021 Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) Virtual Conference, he shared his seven principles of influence.

“There are a lot of ways to influence people,” he says. “If you are in charge, you can order them to change, you can pay them through bonuses or various kinds of coupons or rebates to move them in your direction, you can even penalize them if they don’t. But all those approaches have costs, either financial capital costs or social capital costs.”

Research supports seven universal principles of persuasion

Instead, Cialdini offered a route to change that is relatively costless – persuasion – and outlined the seven universal principles that resulted from his research.

PRINCIPLE OF SCARCITY: “This is the one that says people want more of those things they can have less of.” By convincing others that you have something unique, uncommon, rare, or dwindling in availability, it becomes more attractive to them.

PRINCIPLE OF AUTHORITY: Showing that your offering aligns with experts or showing that you are the expert reduces the uncertainty for others, making them more likely to move in your direction. “And if you can present yourself as a credible expert, a credible authority on a particular topic, nobody can beat you.”

Credible expertise requires two traits: You must be both credible and honest and trustworthy, he says. To improve your trustworthiness, early on in your presentation, he suggests mentioning a weakness or drawback in your case, then saying but, and using that word to bridge to your strengths that overwhelm your weaknesses.

PRINCIPLE OF SOCIAL PROOF: Often, people look to their peers as a guide when they are uncertain. Demonstrating that many others have moved in this direction helps in persuading others like them. “And here’s what the newest research shows:  If you can present the evidence of what other people are doing as a trend, that’s even more effective than just presenting a statistic.”

PRINCIPLE OF COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY: “People will say yes to your request if you can show them how it is consistent with what they have already said or done, especially in public or in your presence.” If you can convince people to take a small step in your direction, that will make it more likely that they will take another even larger step in your direction as long as you can show them how that larger step is congruent with that initial step.

Building strong relationships enhances persuasion

The last three principles focus on reaping the benefits of building strong relationships.

PRINCIPLE OF RECIPROCATION: “In every human culture, there is a rule that says you must not take without giving in return,” he says. “In the context of obligation, people say yes to those they owe.” What is the implication?  “We have to go first. We have to give first.”

In one research example, half the parents of children who entered a McDonald’s received a balloon, and half received a balloon when they left. McDonalds reported that 25 percent of the parents who received a balloon on entering spent 25 percent more on food and 20 percent more on coffee orders. Reciprocation also increases when the giver shares more information about the effort.

The response to thank you also proves important.

“After you have truly benefitted people first and they acknowledge it by saying thank you, you have a moment of persuasive power that’s dominated by the rule for reciprocation: “People want to be able to give back to you.” Cialdini suggests a response that leaves the door open. For a colleague, say “Of course, I was glad to do it. It’s what we do for one another here.”

To supercharge the impact of reciprocation, he recommends giving first, making sure the gift is meaningful and unexpected to the recipient, and personalizing or tailoring it to their situation and needs.

PRINCIPLE OF LIKING: It’s simple: People prefer to say yes to those they like. Finding and spotlighting common interests and complimenting others are two practices that increase a sense of rapport, says Cialdini.

“People not only say yes to those who are like them, they say yes to those who compliment them,” he says. It also helps to like them. “If they see that you like them, they become much more willing to become open and agreeable to what you have to offer.”

PRINCIPLE OF UNITY: “It’s the one that says if people have a feeling of unity – that is a sense of ‘weness’ – because they belong to the same group that has an important social identity for them, they want to say yes to the other people inside that group.”

In one piece of research, a college student asking for contributions to the cancer society increased donations by 450 percent by beginning her pitch with “I am a student here too.”

To build togetherness, he suggests, point to existing relationships, and instead of asking for opinions, ask for advice, which encourages partnerships.

Taken together, these principles do enhance influence in more positive ways than those that usually come to mind.

“We can focus too heavily on delivering commands or sanctions or even monetary rewards to get others to move in our direction,” says Cialdini. “We’d be very well advised instead to consider using these cost-free persuasive practices.”

See how EMBA Programs support skill development in influence, persuasion, communication, and negotiation, among others, at EMBA Buzz and follow us on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn