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Behavioural Science

The Power Of Persuasion: 6 Ways To Be More Influential

There are six principles to influencing people successfully but what are they and when’s best to use each one?

February in many cultures is the designated month of love. The month of attraction, romance, passion and seduction — or more simply, persuading a person to yield to your advances! But this applies to more than just the pursuit of love. Influencing others is how you persuade them to buy into your ideas, purchase your products, and give you a job or even a promotion.

Would you like to know the secret to successfully influencing people, in an entirely ethical way such that you actually become a better person?

We all know people who are naturals at winning people over, who intuitively know how to influence others; arguably the number one skill of a great leader is their ability to sway others to their point of view in order to get things done. But, for those of us who are not charismatic leaders or persuasive speakers, how do we become comfortable with influencing others without feeling like a seedy salesman?

Published in 1936 and widely regarded as the first self-help book, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has sold over 30 million copies and continues to be a best seller. His advice highlighted using the narcissistic traits of others to your own advantage. But, essentially it’s a tutorial on how to be a good, honest and sincere person, through:

  • Showing a genuine interest in someone else
  • Remembering people’s names
  • Listening to what others have to say
  • Genuinely make someone feel important
  • Smiling (a lot)

He also outlined 12 ways to win people over to your way of thinking, and 9 ways to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment!

This raises an interesting question. The words are often used interchangeably, but what is the actual difference between persuasion and influence? And when does it go as far as to cross the line and become manipulation or even coercion?

Persuasion is the process aimed at changing a person’s attitude or behaviour by using written or spoken words to convey a combination of reasoning, logic, feelings or information. Influence is the power to change or affect a person or thing without apparent force or command. Persuasion is hence a deliberate action that requires communication, while influence works silently without any effort but requires both trust and credibility, which are not required for persuasion. Behaviour changes due to influence last much longer and are more effective than those achieved by persuasion alone.

Persuasion, used indiscriminately to sell something that is not needed, leads to only one thing – buyers’ remorse, not repeat purchases. If used in situations better suited to influence, it leads the persuader to be seen as manipulative whilst achieving only temporary compliance. Manipulation is when influence is used for one’s own advantage, when the persuader has bad intentions and doesn’t care about the consequences of their actions. Coercion, when force or threats are used, is a negative use of influence!

What is the science of persuasion? How can we, as individuals, harness its power? Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, generally regarded as the leading authority on the subject of persuasion, describes six powerful principles in his seminal book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. These principles are ones that anyone can apply on a daily basis both professionally and personally to make their influence and persuasion techniques more effective.

1) Reciprocity

Remember the golden rule: “Treat others how you want to be treated”. People feel indebted to you if you do something for them or give them a gift. This could be information, free samples, a favour of some kind, or a positive experience or attitude. They feel compelled to return favours, as no-one likes to feel indebted! Get in first and people will want to give you something in return!

 2) Consistency and Commitment

People do like to behave consistently. We have a deep desire to remain consistent with prior commitments we’ve made. Once we’ve made a commitment or choice, whether written or oral, we prefer to stick with it, especially ones made publicly. Once you own a decision then you’re more likely to honour it. Being reminded of your previous commitments increases the likelihood that you will say yes to a request that’s aligned with this commitment.

3) Social Proof

People like to follow the wisdom of a crowd, especially one they like or trust. They are more likely to say yes if you give them proof that people just like them are also saying yes. Remember, there’s safety in numbers!

4) Authority

This is not about being in authority, but rather being an authority! People are more easily influenced if they believe that you are knowledgeable and a credible source of information on a topic.

5) Liking

People are more easily persuaded and more likely to say yes to requests from someone they actually know and like, who is similar to them, that they find physically attractive or who compliment them. Basically, get a rapport going by mentioning similarities or by giving genuine praise and your quids in!

6) Scarcity

FOMO, people don’t like to miss out. They will snatch up with glee any opportunity that’s billed as rare or for a limited time only! If something is less available or in short supply, it’s seen as having greater value and the more people want it.

The good news is that all six principles occur in all cultures. The not so good news is that the influence of each one changes depending on the specific culture. Cultures that are focused on the group dynamic rather than the individual such as Russia, Indonesia, Ecuador or Pakistan find social proof a very powerful influencing technique. In more individualistic cultures such as the US or Western European countries, consistency and commitment are very powerful.

The trick is not to have one style of influence, but like any muscle flex the appropriate one for the situation. In every circumstance, assess which of the six techniques is the most appropriate, applicable or more importantly relevant. It will only work if it’s genuine. If you have genuine authority then use it, if scarcity is genuine then use that. Fabricating the influencing reason is manipulative and unethical at best, and immoral at worst! If it’s genuine, use it, and if not, look harder for a solution.

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