Cialdini on Influence

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.