Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Leadership

Persuasion: How To Get a Yes

In the last Magnetizer, I introduced you to Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., whose book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, summarizes his years of research into the psychology of persuasion. Today, we’ll take a quick (as possible) trip through the six categories of tactics that will help you persuade others more effectively.

On the journey, you may also recognize that you have responded when these tactics have been employed by skillful sales people, by manipulators, or by very persuasive “normal people.” (Sorry, sales people! Didn’t mean to imply you aren’t normal! :>) ) As you learn to recognize them, you’ll be better armed against unwelcome persuasion from others.

When you need to gain cooperation from others, to sell goods or services, to get approval…in other words, when you need a “yes”… choose methods based on the six principles Cialdini enumerates after careful scientific research.

1. Consistency

Research shows that we humans have a nearly obsessive desire to be and appear consistent. Once we’ve made a decision or taken a stand, we feel pressure to act in ways consistent with that commitment. The decision is made; we don’t have to think about it any more.

Persuasive Actions: If you can create a situation in which a person or group makes an active verbal or written commitment, particularly if this is done in public, the chances of compliance shoot up dramatically. “The magic of written goals”, for example, derives its power from the principle of consistency.

A second way to use this principle to persuade is to frame your request as related to another commitment the person has made. For instance, “I know how committed you are to your family. The time management tools we are talking about will free you up for more quality family time.”

2. Reciprocation

This principle, simply stated, is: We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. We are obligated to the future repayment of favors, gifts, invitations, and the like. In fact, note that “much obliged” has become a synonym for “thank you.” Studies show that even disliked or unwelcome others can trigger a feeling of indebtedness by doing an uninvited favor.

Persuasive Actions: Hopefully, you do not fall in the disliked or unwelcome category. However, you can definitely enhance your power of persuasion by going out of your way to do thoughtful and helpful things for others.

Don’t mistake my message. Don’t do nice things JUST for what you can get in return. That attitude will show. You might gain immediate compliance, but you won’t gain any true friends and colleagues.

Instead, I’m advocating a genuine, heartfelt habit of looking for ways to help others experience the things that are important to them. It will come back to you, many times over. It’s like the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping; help others, and when you need help, they’ll be more likely to help you. That’s a good way to live.

3. Social proof

One way we decide what is correct is to find out what others think is correct. Why do you think television producers use canned laughter to invite our laughter? We tend to assume an action is more right if others are doing it. (What parent of a teenager has not heard social proof as a persuasive tactic?) Social proof is most effective with people who feel uncertain in a given situation or who lack self confidence.

Persuasive Actions: When attempting to persuade, you may wish to interject accounts of others’ positive reactions to the suggested action. This is especially effective if the people cited are those that the person perceives as similar to self in some way.

In addition, you can use the power of positive people on your team to help you influence others to choose helpful and constructive behavior.

4. Authority

Research data suggest that people will go to almost any lengths on the command of a perceived authority. In the classic Milgram study, for instance, normally kind people continued to give electric shocks to (purported) victims, on the instructions of the authority figure, the researcher. (Just illustrative, not recommended!)

Cohen and Davis further documented this phenomenon in their book: “Medication Errors: Causes and Prevention.” They cited a Harvard University study that found that 10 percent of all cardiac arrests in hospital are because of medication errors. They suggested that this problem is largely caused from reluctance of other healthcare givers to challenge the “boss” (the doctor).

I was amused by the case of the “rectal earache” that Cohen and Davis described. A physician had ordered ear drops for an infection in a patient’s right ear. He abbreviated “right ear” as “place in R ear.” Though the rectal treatment of an earache made no sense, the duty nurse promptly put the prescribed number of drops into the patient’s bottom. (Also not recommended.)

Persuasive Actions: To apply this principle in your own persuasive efforts, you may:

  • Use legitimate titles and other marks of status to increase others’ perception of the importance of what you say and what you are requesting. (Don’t be obnoxious with this, please!)
  • Refer to supportive evidence from others perceived by the person as authority figures.
  • Dress in clothing styles and colors typically associated with authority (e.g., black, navy, or white).

5. Liking

We prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. No surprise there.

Consider the selling power in home parties like Tupperware or Mary Kaye. The organizers of these events successfully use several of the tactics we’ve already discussed: reciprocity (everyone wins prizes in the initial games); commitment (participants describe the benefits of the products they have used); and social proof (watching others purchase builds the idea that the product must be good because similar others want the product.)

The real purchase from request does not come from the salesperson, but from the attendee’s friend who invited her to the party. Someone she likes. The system is designed so that customers are buying from someone they already know and like. Brilliant.

Persuasive Actions: If you want the ear of someone, a shortcut is to have someone they like refer you to them. It’s unlikely that they will turn you away; it would almost be like rejecting the friend.

The most important application of this principle is… be likable! Make a practice of finding things in common with the people you meet and with whom you relate. Keep your word. Smile.

The people who are liked the most are those who make others feel good about themselves. Show genuine interest in each person by asking good questions that allow them to share things about themselves. Listen and show that you understand. Find genuine ways to compliment and encourage. Make a habit of looking for the good in people and focusing on that. Become a person who is easy to like and your influence will grow exponentially.

6. Scarcity

G.K. Chesterton said, “The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”

He was referring to the scarcity principle – the fact that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. The “deadline tactic” is often used to employ this scarcity principle in persuasion. Why do you think the “limited time offer” is so common in advertising? Because it works, of course. The seller indicates that a decision must be made now or within a short period of time, or the price will go up or the opportunity will no longer be available.

The scarcity principle also works in calculating the value of an item. If it is rare or becoming rare, it is more valuable.

As we lose opportunities, we perceive that we are losing freedoms, and we hate that. Research shows that when this happens, we desire the goods and services associated with our free choice more than before.

By the way, these principles have application in our personal lives, too. Many, many times I’ve sat with a sobbing partner who declares undying love and willingness to do “anything” for the loved one who has just walked away because of years of being ignored and taken for granted. There’s wisdom in the old song, “You Don’t Miss Your Water ‘Til Your Well Runs Dry.”

Persuasive Actions: When you are attempting to help others see the value of an open window of opportunity, point out facts about what will happen when this opportunity passes. Talk about the costs of not acting.

For certain personalities, opportunities to be on the cutting edge (by definition, where not many reside), to do “first ever” things, or to be among the few who (fill in the blank) are highly stimulating. Demonstrate these points to them, and they will be very likely to say yes.

Recognize that sometimes in persuasion “less is more.”

Is this manipulation

Some of you may be wondering, “Aren’t these tactics manipulative?” Maybe, if that’s the way you choose to use them. That’s a matter of personal integrity and ethics.

My assumption is that you have a good heart and good intentions, and that you want to understand how people think and what causes them to act. Having solid knowledge and skills is key in any endeavor you undertake.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Everyone lives by selling something.”

Use these principles to persuade people to think or act in ways that are in their own best interests (not just yours!), and everyone can become more successful.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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