Understanding How People Persuade and Influence Others

I want you to read this article.Have you ever wondered how a really good salesman can so easily convince someone to buy a product even if it’s something that they may not have really wanted in the first place?  Or perhaps you have wondered what could compel people of otherwise normal character to follow tyrannical leaders such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. These individuals, and others alike, have discovered ways to motivate and influence people into doing things that they would not normally do.

However, utilizing persuasive techniques doesn’t always mean that it is for nefarious purposes.  Being influential and persuasive is not the same thing as brain washing people or using a mind control device either. The truth of the matter is that all of the great leaders of the world have used persuasive techniques and their influence to get extraordinary things done.  In addition to individuals in leadership roles, sales managers, advertisers and marketing executives also use the power of persuasion to get you to purchase their products.

Through research and experimentation, psychologists have been able to categorize influential and persuasive qualities into six different categories: 1) Reciprocation, 2) Consistency, 3) Social Validation, 4) Liking, 5) Authority, and 6) Scarcity.  These categories are the subject of Robert B. Cialdini’s famous book: Influence.  If you’d like to continue on a deeper exploration of this topic I would suggest getting a copy of Influence on Amazon today (affiliate link).

Reciprocating Behaviors

Reciprocation is a very common method of persuading people to act or doing something.  This is because it plays upon social customs and ingrained behaviors within normal human interactions. One of the best examples of reciprocation in modern society is the act of gift giving.  When you receive a Christmas gift from someone I am willing to bet that you probably feel obligated to return the favor.  The effect is profound and immediate.

The simple act of receiving a gift can influence you to return the favor – even if you originally had no intention to purchase a gift for this individual in the first place. And on the same token, many people actually give gifts for others just so that they will receive something in return. By the way, I’m not advocating that you give gifts in an effort to get something in the return. Just under that this is common practice in our world today. Giving should come freely from the heart to benefit the receiving person.

Another example of reciprocation can be seen in the charity works industry. I am sure many of you have received free address labels, calendars, or other things in the mail from charities around the country.  Again, the idea is get you to reciprocate the behavior and send them a donation.  Many people have felt persuaded to donate to a charity that sends them “free” gifts. For many people, they will admit to feeling a sense of guilt when they don’t reciprocate the giving behavior, especially towards a charity organization.

Advertisers and marketers also use reciprocation to increase their customer base.  A famous example of this technique was how the once king of dial-up Internet service, AOL, used free software discs to encourage people to sign up for their service. The trick was simple.  The company would mail you a free disc (or hand them out at stores) with the expectation that the customer would reciprocate the giving behavior by signing up for their Internet service.  The advertising gimmick worked and at one time AOL had over 26 million subscribers!

Trust Hand Shake

Get a Commitment from Others

Another little known element of persuasion is judicious use of commitment and consistency.  Commitment is when people follow through with the things that they agree to. If you can get someone to verbally commit to something, then you’ve got your foot in the door. If you can get someone to write the commitment down, then that’s even better. If you can get them to agree to something publicly or in front of friends, then they are even more likely to follow through with it.  Why is this? Well, people follow though because they want to be seen as being consistent with their commitments – especially when there are other people involved.

There are many great examples of where the commitment and consistency in the world today. A good one is that of an Army Recruiter that approaches potential privates at a high school.  A recruiter might ask a series of questions of a student (while in front of his friends) in order to get them to make a commitment however an unwilling participant they may be.  Such questions could include: 1) How would you like to be a leader? 2) How would you like to be respected? or 3)Don’t you want to be a part of something honorable and prestigious? These focused questions will obligate many individuals to say a specific answer.  Obviously, this can lead to a commitment because the person wishes to be consistent with what they’ve told the recruiter.

authority figure in a suit and tiePeople Trust Authority

People are almost always more easily persuaded by authority figures.  Doctors, lawyers, police officers, etc are more persuasive because we assume that they know what they are talking about.  Authority figures tend to look like they are knowledgeable and tend to be very believable.   Advertisers and salesmen know this and will exploit it every chance they get. Someone companies will even create a fake authority figure for you to believe in if they have to. This is also precisely why a salesmen will wear a suit and tie just as an organization’s CEO would.  Wouldn’t you agree that someone in a suit and tie is more believable than someone dressed in shorts and a tank top?

 Social Validation

Social validation is probably the most well known tactic of persuasion.  Peer pressure is a type of social validation and is frequently the cause of many teenage antics.   A door to door salesman might say “I’ve already sold this [item] to your neighbors and you are the last house on my route.” How many times have you heard that (or something similar)? A car salesman might say “This car is the most popular car among people with young families such as yourself!” in order to persuade you to make the deal. Social validation works because people feel a need to conform to others around them.  The behavior of a group of people similar to ourselves will often help us to decide what we should do, especially when we are in unfamiliar territory.  As social beings, we don’t often enjoy the feeling of being the “odd one out.”

crowd of people with matching color shirts

Being Likeable

People are more easily persuaded by other people that they like as opposed to people that they don’t like. This is exactly why most salespeople strive to be friendly with you. A good salesman will first establish a good rapport with you before attempting to close the deal.  This can be accomplished using any number of techniques, but is most often done by claiming to have something in common with you.  Whether it’s where you are from, what school you went to, or your favorite football team, a salesmen who claims to have something in common with you may simply be trying to get to you like them.

The element of “liking” is also more than just becoming someone’s friend.   People that have ‘likeable’ personalities, who are viewed as being attractive, or who have pleasant voices, tend to be more persuasive than others.  Let’s put this another way.  If you work in an office, would you rather print and bind 500 reports for a boss that you love or a boss that you hate? That’s a no-brainer right!  All of us have been persuaded into doing things for others we like.

S beautiful diamond gemstoneScarcity

The use of scarcity is an advertiser’s bread and butter.  When people believe that something is scarce it generates artificial demand for it. How many times have you seen “limited time offer!” or “while supplies last!” plastered across an advertisement? A lot I’m sure!  These phrases, and others like it, are meant to encourage sales by playing on people’s fear that they might miss out on something. If there is a chance that we might miss out on something, we tend to want it even more. People also connect scarcity with rarity and desirability.  These also tend to go hand in hand with an objects perceived value.

One good example of the scarcity tactic is how the marketing genius’s at De Beers, the world’s largest diamond supplier, artificially inflated diamond prices. In reality, diamonds are not actually that rare. The demand for diamonds is was simply a marketing invention created by using a combination of clever slogans and marketing tactics as well as by carefully controlling the amount of gems that enter the market. Even though their idea of a diamond’s rarity was introduced in 1938, we still see the results of their successful marketing campaign today.

Another great (and a little bit amusing) example of how scarcity can influence people was the gas shortage that hit Savannah, Georgia in 2005. The shortage was actually caused by false claims of an impending gas shortage.  This became a self-fulfilling prophecy when the rumors quickly spread around the community and caused people to head to the gas stations to fill up their tanks. The perception of scarcity is what drove people to purchase gas, which in turn resulted in a shortage of gas!

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