Mastering the Power of Influence
By Robert B. Cialdini
Whether watching television ads, reading a project proposal at work, or even listening to your children plead for higher allowances, your entire day is spent fending off or embracing efforts to influence your every action. And who is most successful? The people you like and trust, the others who match the right pitch to your values and interests, and the folks who seem to know the best time and way to make the request.
As a social scientist, I have spent years studying the psychology of compliance, examining the principles that influence the tendency of people to comply with a request. This research concludes that the best way to increase your influence is to be absolutely straightforward and credible in all dealings, to recognize that opportunities for influence exist all around you, and to develop an understanding of the influence process, so you can recognize which of the six principles to adopt in any situation.
Like professionals in many fields, association leaders are not as adept as they could be at wielding their influence for maximum effectiveness, because most aren’t born with this kind of natural recognition of how the influence process works. That’s why it’s fortunate that there is a science to influence, a set of principles and laws that you can learn to become significantly more influential.
The concept of influence is different from the concept of persuasion. Persuasion usually refers to changes in a person’s attitudes or opinions, whereas influence normally refers to changes in a person’s behavior. Frequently, one way to change a person’s behavior is to change that’s individual’s attitude or opinion, but not necessarily. For example, I could influence you to see a movie without persuading you it’s a good movie if I simply said, “You chose the movie last week, so it’s my turn.” If you complied, it would be simply due to obligation, the first principle of influence. Let’s examine all six and show a practical application for association leaders.
Principle 1. Reciprocation
Recently, I spoke in Australia about the rule of reciprocation, the tendency to want to pay back someone who has done something for you. Suddenly, I saw a man in the crowd turn pale. Asked if he was okay, he responded, “I just realized something I never understood before.” As the owner of a software firm in Sydney, the man had learned that a major customer was having problems with the software. Because the client was important, the man sent an entire team of people to fix it, and he accompanied them. The problem was solved, and the information technology director thanked the group, saying, “I appreciate your effort to come here.” The company owner replied, “Don’t think anything of it. We like to come to Melbourne whenever we can.”
The man told me, “I saw her face change, and we never got another deal from them. Now I realize why – because she said, ‘Thank you for your help,’ and I essentially told her, ‘We didn’t do this for you; we did it for us.’”
What a blunder. Although the businessman really did do it for the client, he was trying to be polite, and he bungled away a moment of power. People often don’t recognize that moment of power immediately after someone says, “Thank you.” What the owner should have said is, “Of course we were glad to do it, because that’s what long-term partners do for each other.” The implication is, “Of course we would do this for you, our partner, and should we need something from you in the future as a long-term partner, we know you would help us.” He’s implying there’s an exchange here. You find influential people doing that all the time.
For an example of how reciprocation could work for a membership campaign, remember that your organization has provided information, contacts, and credentials – things members should feel good about – so these individuals should feel they owe the association. To ethically use your clout, use language that communicates, “One way you could help us would be to speak to friends or colleagues about the advantages we’ve provided you, so they can attain those advantages as well.” That’s an exchange.
But the exchange must have value. We’re well advised to give people things that benefit their professional role or position if we want that in return, so a pen with your association’s name is not what people really want, and you’re not going to get much in return for that. But if you can give real value, information that helps them do their job better, they will want to do whatever they can to help you with your professional goals.
Principle 2. Commitment and Consistency
No one is swayed by a person who rarely follows through on a promise. Indeed, psychologists have long recognized a desire in most people to be and look consistent within their words, beliefs, attitudes, and deeds. Leaders who understand these psychological traits know that the key to practical use of this influence principle is to nail down an initial commitment. After committing to a stand or action, a person often agrees to requests related to that original commitment. For instance, if an association wants to convince a busy person to volunteer for the organization, it should ask for a lesser commitment first – say, an agreement to receive the organization’s newsletter or to respond to a survey.
Also important to recognize is that one way people decide what to do in the future – rejoin an association, attend an event – is to look at what they’ve done successfully in the past. An association can influence their decision by going deeper than the database records of members’ past activities. It instead can identify what the true values are that each individual has. What does this person prioritize as the value that he or she truly is committed to internally? Then you can show the person that what you offer is logically consistent with the commitment this person already owns to that particular value. That is a way to move people in your direction in an entirely ethical way. You’re just showing them that what they already value would be furthered by the move you are encouraging. However, this approach requires you to do some homework, such as marketing research and analysis of individual values.
Principle 3. Social Validation
No single principle is more important than another; it depends on the situation as to which principle results in the most success. But I have found that the principle most widespread in the repertoires of influential professionals is the principle of social validation or what I call “social proof.”
Giving people evidence that others just like them have decided to move in the direction you’re recommending is the most frequently used of all the influence principles, because leaders recognize how powerful it is. That’s why testimonials are so crucial in getting people to move off the fence. When people are uncertain about what to do, they don’t look inside themselves for an answer; all they see there is uncertainly. They look outside, but because they want to know what to do in that situation, they look for people in similar circumstances. That means when we give someone a testimonial regarding the success of our service or association, we should choose a testimonial from a person most similar to her in her business circumstance. The thing you might be most proud of – enthusiastic words by a famous politician – may be irrelevant to the person you’re now talking to. Frequently, we let our egos get in the way, and we talk about things we think are significant but may not be to our audience. You need to match the testimonial to the audience.
Principle 4. Liking
People like to do things for people they like, so to influence people you need to get them to like you, right? It’s not that simple. Here’s the secret of the liking principle: it’s not that people want to comply with you and your request because they like you. It’s that they are willing to comply if they see you like them. There’s no reason why if I like you, I should be willing to follow your suggestion. You haven’t shown me any greater knowledge or wisdom because I like you. But if I know you like me, I can relax because you won’t steer me wrong. We always protect the people we genuinely like. What I’ll be looking for is evidence you like me because then I can feel safe; I’m on the so-called “likeability route.”
This route involves developing genuine likeability between you and the person you want to influence. An easy start is to identify things you both have in common and then raise those commonalities in your preliminary discussion before you get down to business. What’s interesting is that not only will the person come to like you if you find genuine similarities (because we like people who are like us), but you will come to like that person because you’ve identified an authentic similarity. The question you should ask yourself going into an interaction is not “How do I get this person to like me?” It’s “How can I come to like this person?”
Principle 5. Authority
Our society is trained since birth to respect people of perceived authority, whether that authority is real or not. Remember that “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” ad for health products? Ethical professionals use their true expertise to prove authority. One device used much more extensively in other cultures is the letter of introduction. Sent before your meeting, this letter allows you to introduce yourself and describe your background, skills, and experience. It’s perfectly appropriate to do that in a letter, but that appropriateness stops the minute you walk through the door, since you can’t say, “Let me tell you how great I am.” The person will immediately think you’re a jerk.
One thing associations can do to improve their marketing is to remind members of the credibility that comes from membership in their organization, that people can use this social and professional affiliation as a way to convince their own customers and clients of their expertise. Obviously, you want members to tout certifications earned from your organization – and most do – but you also can encourage them to validate their professionalism through simple membership, making that association part of their own marketing appeal. Membership in an organization says, “Here is somebody who regularly gets and learns new information and is associated with a peer group with professional standards.”
Principle 6: Scarcity
The sixth principle confirms that people want things that are scarce. To use this influence principle for marketing, for instance, a leader should identify things – association benefits, products, whatever – that are unique and that only your organization can provide. You might not offer any single thing that other organizations don’t. Instead, your uniqueness could be a particular bundle of features that no one else can provide. Then you must promote that unique combination.
Second, the rule of scarcity tells us that people are especially persuaded and motivated not so much by what they stand to gain but by what they stand to lose if they don’t do something (e.g., act now, attend a function). That loss is more powerful psychologically. This use of influence has to be done delicately. We’re not in the business of trying to scare people, but research shows people weight their decision more on what could be lost if they don’t move than what could be gained if they do. People want information about what decisions cost, so they can choose correctly. Thus, when an association presents its members with a set of unique benefits, it should describe them not only in terms of what the person stands to gain, but also what benefits will be lost if the person doesn’t move in the desired direction.
Leaders often bungle away the chance to use the scarcity principle. For instance, they’re often given access to information that others don’t have, such as early copies or draft reports. Research shows that if they call people whom they want to persuade, they will be more successful if they do so before the information is widespread. Instead, leaders usually let information sit on their desks, not because it’s confidential but because they fail to use it when it’s most powerful and persuasive.
Association leaders need to get on the phone and fax, and into people’s offices as soon as they get a new piece of information. Today, information is the most valuable gift. If you have what others don’t, and you share it so they benefit, everybody wins – and they want you to win in turn. This is the kind of help that will advance your association and career.
The Ethics of Influence
Some people who learn there is a “science” to influence initially think I’m talking about manipulation. But the crucial difference is that manipulation changes people by deceiving or coercing them into compliance. Properly conducted influence educates people as to why it would be a good idea to move in a particular direction.
This issue of ethics is central to a professional’s long-term and short-term success. Professionals who confuse influence with manipulation try to move others in ways that will succeed in the short term, but people who feel deceived or coerced into compliance don’t come back. They don’t want to deal with a person who has changed them in that way. Modern business simply doesn’t allow that kind of approach to be successful in the long run because we need relationships, ongoing alliances, and partnerships that require good feelings generated by our interactions with others.
A common mistake people make is to think that if they manipulate one person, no one else will know about it. In fact, research shows that people are so connected to one another that reputations are broadly known. Thus, dishonesty in dealings with one person means many others will recognize that wrong, and your influence will suffer much more than you think.
I’m often asked about ethically using influence in sales tactics. There’s research on what the single best sales strategy is – it’s to have no single best sales strategy, to adjust your approach to the situation at hand. If you’re a genuine authority about something, you’d be a fool not to let people know that. People want to know what the experts have to say to help them decide well. That’s not manipulative – that’s education.
Modern life offers an overwhelming diversity of options. Increasingly, we must resort to shortcut decision-making. Compliance professionals who infuse their requests with one or several triggers of influence are more likely to succeed in today’s workplace and society. Although we traditionally have not considered influence as a professional skill, it has become a core skill for leadership, management, marketing, and sales.