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Influence: The Ultimate Power Tool

In business today, effective influence is essential. Want your ideas implemented? You must influence others to act on them. Want more clients? You must influence people to buy from you. Want more advancement or responsibility? You must influence executives to see the value you offer. In all respects, being able to influence others is the ultimate power tool.

So, what makes people say “yes” to your requests? Researchers have been studying influence for more than 60 years. While it’s nice to think that we are all logical beings who study facts and information to guide our thinking and decision making process, scientific research shows otherwise. Following are the six proven universal principles of persuasion that when used ethically, can influence others to change their behavior.

1. Reciprocity

There’s a powerful rule that says that we should try to repay what others have done for us. If someone gives us a gift or invitation, we feel compelled to give one in return. And if someone does us a favor, we owe them a favor in return. By virtue of the Reciprocity Principle, people feel obligated to the future repayment of items, actions, favors, and gifts.

You see reciprocity initiated in business every day, even if you don’t immediately recognize it. From suppliers sending relevant industry specific information to clients, to managers providing personalized guidance, to co-workers helping each other meet a deadline, reciprocity can be initiated in many ways. The key to effectively using reciprocity is to be the first to give, give unconditionally, and be sure that your “gift” is personalized and unexpected.

2. Scarcity

Have you ever noticed that people seem to want more of those things they can have less of? That’s the Scarcity Principle at work. Marketers know the power of this principle, which is why their ads often contain such phrases as “Limited Time Only” or “Limited Quantities Available.”

When true, scarcity affects the value of information too. So the next time you gain access to information that is not readily available and that supports an idea or initiative you would like the organization to adopt, gather the key players and say, “I just got this information today. It won’t be distributed until next week, but I want to give you an early look at what it entails.” Your listeners will lean forward and listen intently. The key to using scarcity successfully, whether for a product, service, or information, is not only to tell people the benefits they’ll gain, but also point out what’s unique and what they stand to lose if they don’t move in your direction.

3. Authority

Research shows that people typically follow the lead of those they perceive as credible and knowledgeable experts. That’s because people tend to defer to legitimate experts for information and guidance on what to do.

Surprisingly, people mistakenly assume that others recognize their experience. To ensure that they do, first determine what your relevant background, experience, and expertise are for the person you are trying to influence. If you don’t do this, you will be sabotaging the power of your own message. For maximum impact, arrange to have a third party communicate this information. Another option is to direct the person you want to influence to something in writing that highlights your credentials (e.g., LinkedIn profile, your bio on your website, etc.) The key to using authority successfully is to signal to others what makes you credible and knowledgeable before you make your influence attempt.

4. Consistency

People feel compelled to be consistent with their prior behaviors or statements they have made. When someone makes a commitment actively, either by writing it down or speaking it out loud, it’s even more likely that they’ll follow through with that commitment.

For example, suppose you want an employee to submit reports in a timelier manner. Once you believe you’ve won agreement, ask him or her to send you a summary of that decision in writing. By doing so, you’ll have greatly increased the odds that he or she will fulfill the commitment because people tend to live up to what they’ve written down. The key to using consistency successfully is to look for voluntary, active, and public commitments…and get them in writing.

5. Liking

People prefer to say “yes” to those they know and like. Science tells us there are three important factors that contribute to likeability: 1) we like people who like us (and tell us); 2) we like people who are similar to us; and 3) we like people who cooperate with us toward mutual goals.

The key to using liking successfully is to be honest in your praise, find genuine similarities, uncover opportunities to work together toward common goals, and get to know people more meaningfully before talking business.

6. Social Proof

Humans are social creatures. And as such, we rely heavily on the people around us for cues on how to think, feel, and act. This is why using testimonials from happy and satisfied customers is so effective in marketing campaigns.

You can use the Social Proof Principle when attempting to get your ideas implemented. Imagine that you’re trying to streamline your department’s work processes, but a member of your group is resisting. Rather than try to convince this group member yourself, ask a couple of veteran employees who support the initiative to speak up for it at a team meeting. The veterans’ testimonies stand a much better chance of convincing the group member than yet another speech from the boss, as social proof is often better exerted horizontally rather than vertically. The key to using social proof successfully is to have peers convey their positive story to your target.

Exert Your Influence Today

Influence is a very powerful tool. When you ethically implement these six scientifically validated principles of persuasion, you’ll be making small, practical, and often costless changes that can lead to big differences in your ability to change others’ behaviors. In the end, you’ll not only achieve your objectives, but you’ll also guide the other party to the best decision for their needs. That’s when true success transpires for everyone involved.

About the Author

INFLUENCE AT WORK (IAW) was founded by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing and author of the New York Times bestseller, Influence. Dr. Cialdini is a highly sought after keynote presenter on the ethical business applications of the Science of Influence. For more information, contact: Influence at Work, (480) 967-6070,

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