Friday 6 March 2015

Cialdini's Influencing Principles

During a workshop in Cardiff the other day, I butted into a conversation because... well, it was one of those conversations I had to butt into. I had just heard a discussion between a couple of participants where two examples of effective influence mapped perfectly onto one of the models of influence I often work with, the work of Robert Cialdini. So I asked if they had heard of Cialdini's work, and they hadn't. I proceeded to explain that he had identified six 'decision triggers' which, he claims, are 'features of a situation that cause people to stop processing, stop thinking, stop researching, stop investigating the situation further and decide.'

I then explained how the two examples they had just been talking about exemplified two of them, and they were interested enough for me to carry on (or just very polite). So I went on to list the other four. Or rather three. Because, of course, the final one eluded me. Luckily even as I was speaking one of them had googled Cialdini on her phone (so entranced by my eloquence, clearly...) and was able to prompt me with the sixth.

Despite my memory lapse, I do think the model good, and the principles interesting, so here they are:

The Principle of Liking

This principle is based upon the observable fact that people tend to like those who like them. As Cialdini has put it: ‘If you want to influence people, make friends.’ In his conception, there are three paths toward liking:

The Principle of Reciprocity
According to this principle, people the world over feel obliged to respond to generosity. It is no coincidence that in many languages, one way of thanking people is to say 'much obliged.' (Obrigado, etc)

This is extremely powerful and can often stimulate unequal exchanges. In one experiment, for example, half the people attending an art appreciation session were offered a soft drink. Afterwards, all were asked if they would buy 25-cent raffle tickets. The people who had been offered the soft drinks purchased twice as many raffle tickets, whether or not they had accepted the drinks! 

The Principle of Social Proof
We often decide what is correct behaviour in a new situation by noticing what other people think is correct. If everyone else is behaving a certain way, many of us assume that is the right thing to do. 

Based on the cultural assumption that people will follow the lead of respectable ‘others,’ (particularly those who are ‘like them’) the principle of social proof amounts to the strategic use of peer power. Cialdini suggests that persuasion can often be at its most effective when it comes from peers. In a sales or marketing context, this can mean finding testimonials that demonstrate a high level of satisfaction; but to be effective these testimonials must be drawn from clients in a similar situation to the proposed clients.

The Principle of Commitment and Consistency
Once people have made a choice or taken a stand, they are under both internal and external pressure to behave consistently with that commitment. This desire for consistency offers us all a shortcut to action as we recall a previous decision we have already made. When you can get someone to commit verbally to an action, the chances go up that they'll actually follow it through.

The Principle of Authority
This principle is based on the cultural trait of deferral to the word of a perceived ‘expert.’ Cialdini attributes the tendency to defer to expert opinion to the ‘teeming complexity of contemporary life.’ In this context, the expert offers an ‘efficient shortcut to good decisions.’ Most of us are raised with a respect for authority, both real and implied. 

In order to instigate the use of this principle, you must expose your expertise and talents. It may not be adequate to assume a foreknowledge of your standing. However, you need to find ways to do that which will not be perceived as boasting.

The Principle of Scarcity
The principle of scarcity is based on the skewing of the value sense by short supply. This method of influencing has been used extensively as a marketing strategy, but may be adapted to other scenarios. Highlighting the unique benefits of a product purchase or behavioural change, or the exclusivity of some information held by you can give you leverage in a negotiation situation.

His book on all this is very good reading, packed with examples, and entertainingly written.

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