Cialdini on Influence

When Robert Cialdini set out on a journey to find the answer to this question, he may not have known that his quest would end with him authoring a powerful book called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. In a candid interview posted online, he shares with us the distillation of his extensive research into six “universals of influence”, and explains how they can be used by us in various life-work situations…

How it is that one person can arrange more successfully to get another person to say yes to a request?

When Robert Cialdini set out on a journey to find the answer to this question, he may not have known that his quest would end with him authoring a powerful book called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. In a candid interview posted online, he shares with us the distillation of his extensive research into six “universals of influence”, and explains how they can be used by us in various life-work situations :

There are features of a situation that cause people to stop processing, stop thinking, stop researching, stop investigating the situation further and decide. At that point, when they get to that set of circumstances, or they encounter that particular principle and they say that’s enough. I can move safely in this direction now. I’ve been convinced that this is an appropriate thing to do. And at that point, a trigger is pulled, the bullet is fired, the decision in made.

One of them is scarcity. If we can’t have it, we want it. We make a decision we want it… we have to think about what it is that’s unique, that’s uncommon about what we have to offer that our clients, our customers, our vendors, our distributors, whoever it is we’re trying to influence can’t get if they don’t move in our direction. What is it that we give them that they lose if they don’t say yes to us? …the evidence is very clear now, people are more motivated by the idea of losing something than of gaining that very same thing.

…one of the oldest axioms in the world of sales is that people buy from people they like… how to do you get somebody to be likable, how does a sales person become likable? …fifty years of research now into the question, has implicated what I would say are three major routes to liking. Liking flows from positive connections, and those positive connections are: similarities, compliments, and cooperative endeavors.

Similarities – we like people who are like us… find something that’s genuinely in common between the two of you. Something that you can find a real connection with this person to, engage in a genuine conversation. And here’s the key… It’s not that your client likes you that’s important, it’s when your client sees that you like him or her that the influence barriers come down… And when we know somebody likes us, we know that they will not take advantage of us. We don’t take advantage of the people we like, no, we give them the best possible arrangement, the best possible deal. And they can exhale.

… we’re tremendous suckers for flattery in this culture, but more effective is to find something genuinely commendable about that person before you begin the influence process and remark on it, something admirable and remark on it. Give genuine praise and not only will that person come to like you, once again, you have found a way to like that person. And now, you’ve got the best context for business for ongoing continuous business that I know, two people who like one another dealing with one another.

And there’s a third aspect to liking… cooperation. We like those people who we cooperate with toward common goals… people who have genuine cooperative interests in a situation… don’t recognize that they have genuinely cooperative interests in the situation, they only see the differences of opinion. What needs to be researched, understood, brought to the surface is the dimensions of commonality and cooperative mutuality.

… let’s move to the next element of influence, and that is the element of social proof. One of the most important ways we decide what is important for ourselves in any given situation… is to look at what the people around us just like us have done or are doing there. And what that means… is that we need to provide people with evidence that others like them have made this choice that we’re recommending for them. That means testimonials, that means having a ready list of people whose phone numbers they could call, who’ve used your services.

… there’s another influence principle… which is reciprocation. There’s a rule that every culture trains into its members from childhood… you are obligated to give back to me the form of behavior that I first give to you. That is universal, so… you don’t have to worry that this principle won’t work… To really set the context for future influence, we want to say, “Whom can I help here?” If we give something first, if we provide something that benefits that individual, especially that person’s business, that individual is honor bound to help our business in return. And for me, that’s not pins and calendars and so on, it’s something like information. Information that will help them do their job better… will be very appreciated and will spur a desire for that person to help us to move to the next level that we want to achieve.

Another variation on that theme is that in many types of sales, and in particular, in business-to-business sales, there is an element of the sales process that is in effect a negation. It’s often better to be the first person to make a concession… When you make a concession the rule says the other person has to meet you half way, make a concession in return… The key is to be first. Be first with concessions, be first with information, be first with benefits, be first with a positive attitude and exactly what you give flows back to you.

… and that leads to the fifth element of influence — the element of authority… I think that the way it works most impressively is when the person that you’re trying to influence recognizes your expertise, your background, your credentials in a particular arena. And then feels, one of those triggers is there. I’m talking to an expert, I’m talking to somebody who really knows the ropes here. I can feel secure in following an expert’s opinion.

… just because this person is an expert doesn’t mean that this person is trustworthy, that they’re giving me expert information in a straightforward, honest way. Maybe they’re just trying to line their own pockets, maybe they’re just trying to serve their own interests in this situation… here’s the strategy that is effective under those circumstances. Before you provide your strongest argument, you mention a weakness in your case. You mention that you’ve got good competitors and they have excellent products, too or that you’re not the largest manufacturer in the industry. Something they already know but what they didn’t know is that you would be willing to say what’s wrong with your product as well as what’s right. And as soon as you’ve done that, you’re in the context of credibility.

I want to close with the last element of influence… commitment and consistency… your job is to link those existing commitments that this person has, let’s say to advance technology or cutting edge research or prestige or good value or whatever it is that this person thought. Then you have to show how what they already are committed to is consistent with what you can offer them and then the power is there in the situation inside them.

You don’t have to be there anymore, you just need to have drawn the link in their mind to what they already value and prioritize to your product or service and you can walk away… you don’t go in some predetermined direction that you’ve set, you let the customer determine what is important and then you go in a reactive way to what it is that they’ve staked out as their crucial commitments.

I must remember to buy this book – It’s a must-read for any one interested in the psychology of persuasion.

The Elements of Style

A brilliant professor of ‘Effective Communication’ first introduced me to “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. I fell in love with the “slender volume” as soon as I’d laid my hands on it (the only copy in the college library). I wanted to own this thing of beauty, and looked for it in many bookstores. Alas, it was out of print for nearly 6 years…

A brilliant professor of ‘Effective Communication’ first introduced me to "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. I fell in love with the "slender volume" as soon as I’d laid my hands on it (the only copy in the college library). I wanted to own this thing of beauty, and looked for it in many bookstores. Alas, it was out of print for nearly 6 years.

Then, one day, I chanced upon it during my annual visit to the Strand sale ! And the very next day, following a twisted path of links on the Internet, I discovered that a good publisher has made available a significant part of its content online … for free !!!

Here are some excerpts :

Omit needless words

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic

A subject requires subdivision into topics, each of which should be made the subject of a paragraph. The object of treating each topic in a paragraph by itself is, of course, to aid the reader. The beginning of each paragraph is a signal to him that a new step in the development of the subject has been reached.

The extent of subdivision will vary with the length of the composition. For example, a short notice of a book or poem might consist of a single paragraph. One slightly longer might consist of two paragraphs.

Put statements in positive form

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

 

This little gem is a must-have for any student of English or effective communication. Two pages of this will do more for you than two hundred from the old ‘Wren and Martin’ or any other grammar bible you grew up reading. It is a delight to read even if you’re not looking to dive into the nuances of the English language.

Time Less

All of us must have, at some point or the other, wished we had more time to pursue our interests and goals. Most end up regretting the way they chose to allocate their time, wishing they had done more in their prime. For a long time, I used to argue that “Time is a function of interest”. But soon I found myself lagging behind in my own pursuit…

All of us must have, at some point or the other, wished we had more time to pursue our interests and goals. Most end up regretting the way they chose to allocate their time, wishing they had done more in their prime. For a long time, I used to argue that “Time is a function of interest”. But soon I found myself lagging behind in my own pursuit… wondering what I could do to amend that situation… wanting to do so much with so little time at hand.

Then, I came across an article in the Free Press Journal (a relatively unpopular Indian daily) which spoke of an author (I forget who) learning a lesson in Time Management when he was 14 years old. When his piano teacher learned that he spent an hour or more each day practicing the instrument, he was chided for doing so. The teacher explained that as he grows older he will have less time available at hand and more and more things to do in that time. If he makes hourly sessions his routine, he will never be able to make the time for it as life’s other priorities take precedence. Instead, he should try and snatch 10-15 minutes at a time, throughout the day. That way, the music will become part of his routine and his life. And he will be able to continue playing even when there is only 10 minutes to spare !

I only wish someone had taught me this lesson earlier. But better late than never.

BookCrossing : Set Them Free

While watching a local news channel the other day, I chanced upon a fascinating concept: BookCrossing is a book exchange of infinite proportion, the first and only of its kind.

While watching a local news channel the other day, I chanced upon a fascinating concept – BookCrossing.com :

It’s a global book club that crosses time and space. It’s a reading group that knows no geographical boundaries. And it’s free !

BookCrossing is a book exchange of infinite proportion, the first and only of its kind. Here at BookCrossing.com you’ll find tens of thousands of book reviews, book ratings, and book recommendations, because each time a book changes hands, our members can leave journal entries telling the world of their experiences.

As the website says : Read a good book. Register it on the site. Release it for someone else to read. It’s that simple.

At the time of writing, more than 700 people in India, including myself, are already members. The basic idea is to “release” your books in to the wild (or give it to someone you know), making the entire world one big, free, library ! Membership (and participation) is absolutely free. So sign up and get started !

“People say life is the thing, but I prefer reading.” – Logan Pearsall Smith (1865 – 1946)

The West Wing

There are very few things that make me feel as good as watching an episode of “The West Wing”. To me, the award-winning drama series highlights what a team of professionals can be capable of. I cannot imagine how many enterprises (private or public) can boast of access to such a treasure… But I do hope God has made more people like these…

There are very few things that make me feel as good as watching an episode of “The West Wing”. It’s not just the acting, or the story line. It’s not merely the production quality or its brilliant cast either. And, a quick look at the Wikipedia will be proof enough that it doesn’t get any better than this.

To me, “The West Wing” offers much more than ‘good entertainment’, though. On one level, its cast and crew personify excellence in television drama, gripping the audience with their exceptional acting, direction, cinematography and story-writing abilities. But, on another level, the series also highlights what a team of professionals can be capable of.

The staff of “The West Wing” behaves like any great team should.

They know the things they ought to know to do their jobs well. They are honest to each other, and do not shy away from criticism where it is due. They never procrastinate and they always work towards the common goal. Not that they don’t make any mistakes ; when they do, they own up to it, as professionals.

They stand by their principles, and are not afraid to take a stance on any issue or make difficult decisions. They have integrity. And they always have sight of the larger picture. Always.

I cannot imagine how many organisations (private or public) can boast of access to such a treasure… But I do hope God has made more people like these.

In the meanwhile, I await the next episode of “The West Wing” to transport me back to my Camelot….