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Six Principles of Persuasion





Six Principles of Persuasion


If you want to influence people, don’t tell them who’s boss. You know from experience that if you try to persuade using you positional power, most of the time it will backfire on you. And even if you can get someone to do what you want because “you’re the boss,” they’ll either quit doing it when you’re not around or they won’t innovate or ask questions. That’s human nature. So it’s imperative, in order to bring your own agenda forward, that you find ways to persuade the other person to move in your direction, even if it means changing their own direction in order to do so.


The six principles are not mutually exclusive – it depends on the situation as to which principle or principles are to be used. Each one is based on human behaviour, elaborated in countless studies.


The first principle is reciprocity. It tells us that people feel obligated to give back to those who have given to them. This is a deceptive simple principle, with some interesting applications, based on the notion that if you’re the first person to give, you stand a better change of getting back. This mindset works in all kinds of situations.


Take networking, which can be tedious and feel so contrived. But if you go into a networking situation not thinking what it can do for you but what you can do for someone else, all kinds of situations open up. Or, consider that when you want to make a request, the order in which you make it can have a major impact on whether you will get it or not. As human beings we don’t want to hear the word “no.”


The strategy is to start off with a bigger request, the one that is more likely to receive a negative answer. Then, when you move to a smaller request, you’re more likely to get what you want. There is an important caveat, which is that you don’t make things up in order to act strategically. The key is all of this needs to be done ethically; in applying the principles, it’s extremely important.


The second principle is consensus, which tells us that when people are unsure what to do, they look to what others in similar situations are doing. We should never underestimate the guiding role that others play in our choices. Like in business, when testimonials work as a way of assuring a new client, you try to influence someone in the workplace by letting them know what similar people are doing. And make it positive, he says.


Don’t say: “These six people haven’t done this.” But that “These nine people have.” You want to normalize the behaviour you’re seeking from other people and you do this by using consensus information.


The third principle is authority, because when people are insure what to do, they often defer to legitimate experts. This becomes persuasive information in an argument. Of course, it depends on who your target sees as an expert; and it’s all the better if you can position yourself as one.


Consistency is the fourth principle. Nobody wakes up in the morning looking to be erratic. We have a preference to align with our commitments. Let’s say you want your company to adopt a course of action. If you can align your request with the company’s values, you’re going to make it harder for that company to say no to you. What we find is that values are one of the strongest ways you can influence someone. It’s not about changing your request, it’s just about the way you make the request. Our challenge is understanding what it is that people hold important.”


The fifth principle is scarcity. This, too, is deceptively simple: People want more of what they think is scarce. They’re afraid to lose out on opportunities. So you can position your request by talking about what people stand to lose and make sure you use any new information at your disposal to make your case.


Information is an important tool. It is more like a bagel than wine. Rather than letting it age, you want it fresh and hot. If you have exclusive information, you’ve got something that is scarce and people will value it more highly because it’s new and fresh. So you should share it right away. And you may start to see how sharing information is a way you can invoke reciprocity.


The sixth principle is liking, which means that people prefer to say yes to someone they have a rapport or connections with – someone they know and like.


These principles apply in all types of business activities, from fundraising to leadership and coaching. What it means is understanding that human beings have certain biases, and what activates their decision-making processes can have a deep impact on your results and your relationships. Ignore this at your peril.


Adapted from an article by Donna Nebenzahl

Edited by Jim Moir