If leadership, at its most basic, consists of getting things done through others, then persuasion is one of the leader’s essential tools. Over the past several decades, psychologists have learned which methods reliably lead people to concede, comply, or change.
Dr Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor from Arizona State University, is an internationally respected expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation. His books Influence: Science and Practice and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion are the result of years of study into the reasons that people comply with requests in business and other settings. His research, shows that persuasion is governed by several principles that can be taught and applied:
Now, if you think you already know everything there is to know about persuasion, take this test before going any further.
- Reciprocation: People try to repay what others have provided, whether it is a gift, favour or concession. By obligating the recipient to an act of repayment in the future, an individual will often agree to a request for a substantially larger favour, than the one he or she first received.
- Commitment and Consistency: - If people commit, verbally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honour that commitment. Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with that stand.
- Authority. People will be most persuaded by individuals who are seen as having authority, knowledge and credibility on the topic. Deference to authorities can occur in a mindless fashion as a kind of decision-making shortcut, even when the symbol of authority lacks substance.
- Scarcity. People assign more value to opportunities when they are less available. The use of this principle can be seen in such sales techniques as ‘limited number only’ and a ‘deadline’ set for an offer. Such tactics attempt to persuade people that number and/or time restrict access to what is offered.
- Liking. People prefer to say yes to those they know and like. This rule is driven by three principles: (a) Physical Attractiveness – engenders a halo effect that extends to other traits such as talent, kindness and intelligence; (b) Similarity – we like people who are like us and are more willing to say yes to their requests, often without much critical consideration; (c) Familiarity – through repeated contact.
- Consensus. People will be likely to say yes to a request if they are given evidence that others like them have already said yes to it. Consensus is most influential under two conditions: (a) Uncertainty – when people are unsure and the situation is ambiguous, they are more likely to observe the behaviour of others and to accept that behaviour as correct, and (b) Similarity – people are more inclined to follow the lead of others who are similar.
When influence is employed correctly, it efficiently moves people in positive directions. Those who wish to create and sustain positive change in others need to understand how the influence process works. Unfortunately, the same principles can be employed unethically and for the worst reasons.