How do you influence others?
You've come up with a fantastic idea for a new product. Now you need to convince everyone to support it.
However, you haven't had much success with this in the past. So, how can you get everyone to support your idea?
Influencing others is challenging, which is why it's worth understanding the psychological principles behind the influencing process.
This is where it's useful to know about Cialdini's Six Principles of Influence.
In this article, we'll examine these principles, and we'll look at how you can apply them to influence others. We'll also think about the ethics of doing this, and we'll explore how you can "see through" people who try to use these principles to manipulate you.
The Six Principles of Influence (also known as the Six Weapons of Influence) were created by Robert Cialdini, Regents' Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. He published them in his respected 1984 book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion."
Cialdini identified the six principles through experimental studies, and by immersing himself in the world of what he called "compliance professionals" – salespeople, fund raisers, recruiters, advertisers, marketers, and so on. (These are people skilled in the art of convincing and influencing others.)
The six principles are as follows:
As humans, we generally aim to return favors, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us. According to the idea of reciprocity, this can lead us to feel obliged to offer concessions or discounts to others if they have offered them to us. This is because we're uncomfortable with feeling indebted to them.
For example, if a colleague helps you when you're busy with a project, you might feel obliged to support her ideas for improving team processes. You might decide to buy more from a supplier if they have offered you an aggressive discount. Or, you might give money to a charity fundraiser who has given you a flower in the street.
Cialdini says that we have a deep desire to be consistent. For this reason, once we've committed to something, we're then more inclined to go through with it.
For instance, you'd probably be more likely to support a colleague's project proposal if you had shown interest when he first talked to you about his ideas.
This principle relies on people's sense of "safety in numbers."
For example, we're more likely to work late if others in our team are doing the same, put a tip in a jar if it already contains money, or eat in a restaurant if it's busy. Here, we're assuming that if lots of other people are doing something, then it must be OK.
We're particularly susceptible to this principle when we're feeling uncertain, and we're even more likely to be influenced if the people we see seem to be similar to us. That's why commercials often use moms, not celebrities, to advertise household products.
Cialdini says that we're more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likability comes in many forms – people might be similar or familiar to us, they might give us compliments, or we may just simply trust them.
Companies that use sales agents from within the community employ this principle with huge success. People are more likely to buy from people like themselves, from friends, and from people they know and respect.
We feel a sense of duty or obligation to people in positions of authority. This is why advertisers of pharmaceutical products employ doctors to front their campaigns, and why most of us will do most things that our manager requests.
Job titles, uniforms, and even accessories like cars or gadgets can lend an air of authority, and can persuade us to accept what these people say.
This principle says that things are more attractive when their availability is limited, or when we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favorable terms.
For instance, we might buy something immediately if we're told that it's the last one, or that a special offer will soon expire.
Be careful how you use the six principles – it is very easy to use them to mislead or deceive people – for instance, to sell products at unfair prices, or to exert undue influence.
When you're using approaches like this, make sure that you use them honestly – by being completely truthful, and by persuading people to do things that are good for them. If you persuade people to do things that are wrong for them, then this is manipulative, and it's unethical. And it's clearly wrong to cheat or lie about these things – in fact, this may be fraudulent.
You can use these principles whenever you want to influence or persuade others.
First make sure that you understand the people in your audience and that you know why you want to influence them. Think about your ultimate objectives, and decide which principles will be most useful in your situation.
We'll now explore some strategies you can use with each principle.
To use reciprocity to influence others, you'll need to identify your objectives, and think about what you want from the other person. You then need to identify what you can give to them in return.
Our article on the Influence Model takes an in-depth look at how to use reciprocity to gain influence.
Remember that you can sometimes use this principle by simply reminding the other person of how you have helped them in the past.
Here, try to get people's commitment early on, either verbally or in writing.
For example, if you're building support for a project, talk about ideas early on with stakeholders, and take their comments and views into account.
Or, if you're selling a product, sell a very small quantity (a "taster"), or make it easy for people to change their mind once they've bought it. (Here, buying the product is the early commitment, even though they have the right to return it if they want to.)
You can use this principle by creating a "buzz" around your idea or product.
For example, if you're trying to get support for a new project, work on generating support from influential people in your organization. (These may not always be managers.)
Or, if you're selling a service, highlight the number of people using it, use plenty of relevant testimonials, encourage people to talk about it using social media, and publish case studies with current customers to demonstrate its success.
Also, don't try too hard to be liked by others – people can always spot a phony!
Here you can use both your own authority, and the authority of others, as influencers.
When you use your own authority, be careful not to use it negatively. Our article on French and Raven's Five Forms of Power has more on different sources of power, and explains how you can use power and authority positively.
To use authority, get support from influential and powerful people, and ask for their help in backing the idea. (Use Influence Maps to help you network with people who can help.)
If you're marketing a product or service, highlight well-known and respected customers, use comments from industry experts, and talk about impressive research or statistics.
Things like well-produced brochures, professional presentations, impressive offices, and smart clothing can also lend authority.
With this principle, people need to know that they're missing out if they don't act quickly.
If you're selling a product, limit the availability of stock, set a closing date for the offer, or create special editions of products.
This principle can be trickier to apply within your organization if you're trying to influence others to support your ideas or projects. You can, however, use urgency to get support for your ideas. For example, you can highlight the possible urgent consequences of the problem that your idea helps to solve.
Remember that these are just six ways that you can influence others. Use these principles alongside other tools such as the Rhetorical Triangle, Monroe's Motivated Sequence, Win-Win Negotiation, the Persuasion Tools Model, and the Minority Influence Strategy.
You can also use this tool when others are trying to influence you.
In these situations, bear the following points in mind:
The Six Principles of Influence were created by Robert Cialdini, and published in his 1984 book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion."
The principles are: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.
You can use the six principles whenever you want to influence or persuade others. However, it's also useful to use them with other tools. And, by knowing about the principles, you can become resistant to people who try to use them to manipulate you.
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Cialdini, R, B. (2007) 'Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,' Revised Ed. HarperCollins: New York.