7 Powerful Ways to Influence and Persuade

team meeting

You’ve got a brilliant new initiative which you’ve already piloted successfully. Your next step is to gain the support of your colleagues in your department and other stakeholders. How do you convince them all to run with it?

Persuasion expert Dr Robert Cialdini looked at the results of a thirty-five year, evidence-based research along with a three-year study on what motivates people to change their behaviour. He identified seven persuasion triggers:

  • Contrast
  • Liking
  • Reciprocity
  • Social proof
  • Commitment and consistency
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

All are described in detail in his highly acclaimed book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition, but below is a short summary of each and how to ‘activate’ them in work situations so persuading others becomes a breeze.

#1 Contrast

This trigger draws on the power of the benchmark. Judgment is relative, so when we make decisions, we base them on a benchmark.

To activate the contrast trigger, create a benchmark to ‘anchor’ the judgment of the person you’re trying to influence. For example, if you’re a salesman, you could show the client the most expensive item in your catalogue first. This makes other prices seem much more palatable.

#2 Liking

We tend to accept the ideas of people we like.  Liking happens when we feel appreciated by another person and when we have common interests.

To activate the liking trigger, work hard to unearth common interests with your colleagues at work. Demonstrate your appreciation of them by making positive comments about their proposals. It’s important, however, to make sure your comments are genuine.

#3 Reciprocity

This is the law of give and take. We tend to feel a real drive to repay favours in kind and interestingly, this drive exists all over the world.

To activate the reciprocity trigger, give before you ask. For example, a small favour to a colleague such as letting him use your laptop for an hour might be repaid threefold when you later ask for his support on a project.

#4 Social proof

Everyone goes there, so it must be good, right? That, in a nutshell, is the essence of social proof. People are more likely to follow another person’s lead if what they are advocating is either popular, part of a trend or standard practice.

To activate the social proof trigger, use the power of association. Make a connection to individuals or organisations the person you’re trying to persuade admires. Use peer power to persuade ‘horizontally’ -  for example if you’re trying to win over colleagues who are resistant to your proposal, find a trusted and respected colleague who is supportive of your initiative and ask them to endorse it for you.  If you’re selling a product, you could highlight the number of people that are using your product, or publish case studies that show how it’s being successfully used with similar companies.

#5 Commitment and consistency

The idea behind this trigger is that people are more likely to support a proposal if they’ve made a voluntary, public or written commitment to doing so.

To activate this trigger, try and get people’s commitment early on. For example, if you’re building support for an initiative, get your stakeholders’ views on various aspects of your project early on and take these on board, referring back to them when you need their support later on.

#6 Authority

“Trust me, I’m a doctor.” That we are more likely to obey the requests of authority figures such as doctors is the idea behind this persuasion technique. This is the reason why pharmaceutical companies use doctors to front their marketing campaigns, and with great success.  Authority comes from power and its associated credentials, for example academic and professional qualifications. ‘Dressing the part’ can also increase your chances of a successful persuasion.

To activate the authority trigger, ensure the people you are trying to persuade are aware of your authority. Use your credentials.  If you’re selling a product or service, highlight well-respected customers or use comments from industry specialists. Talk about impressive studies or highlight really impressive statistics.

#7 Scarcity

"Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member."  Groucho Marx, from his autobiography, Groucho and me

We tend to value things more when they’re in short supply. This could be information, opportunities or resources.

To activate this trigger, use ‘exclusive’ information (for example information that isn’t readily available) to capture people’s attention or, if you’re selling a product, limit the availability of your stock and/ or set closing dates on offers. If you’re trying to win support for an initiative, use urgency to motivate people to action. For example, you could point out the risks of not adopting your proposal.

Cialdini’s persuasion triggers are powerful ways of influencing people, providing they’re applied ethically and are in the best interests of everyone. To use them effectively it’s important to think about your ultimate objectives and which of the triggers would be best for you to use. Although they are not the only way to influence people, they are perhaps the best known.