Human relationships are based upon a largely unconscious system of give and take. “I will do this for you even if I won’t get something in return right now, because you will ‘owe me one’ for future redemption.”
Robert B. Cialdini, professor in psychology at Arizona State University, has been studying the importance of persuasion in influencing our social and workplace relationships.
From his research in this area, Cialdini has identified six widely used and usually successful principles of influence:
People are more willing to comply with requests (for favors, services, information, and concessions) from those who have provided such things first. Because people feel an obligation to reciprocate, Cialdini found that free samples in supermarkets, free home inspections by exterminating companies, and free gifts through the mail from marketers or fund raisers were all highly effective ways to increase compliance with a follow-up request.
For example, according to the American Disabled Veterans organization, mailing out a simple appeal for donations produces an 18% success rate. Enclosing a small gift, such as personalized address labels, nearly doubles the success rate to 35%. “Since you sent me some useful address labels, I’ll send you a small donation in return.”
2. Commitment and Consistency.
People are more willing to be moved in a particular direction if they see it as consistent with an existing or recently-made commitment. For instance, high pressure door-to-door sales companies are plagued by the tendency of some buyers to cancel the deal after the salesperson has left and the pressure to buy is no longer present.
When you visit a car dealer to purchase a new car, one of the first questions asked by the sales person is, “What kind of qualities are you looking for in a car?” They then proceed to direct you to models that have attributes that are consistent your needs in a car.
People are more willing to follow the directions or recommendations of someone they view as an authority. Few people have enough self-assertiveness to question authority directly, especially when that authority holds direct power over an individual and is in a face-to-face confrontation or situation.
This is why children are especially vulnerable to adults (and especially trusted adults such teachers or camp counselors) — they are taught to view adults as authority figures, and will often do what they are told without question.
4. Social Validation.
People are more willing to take a recommended step if they see evidence that many others, especially similar others, are taking, buying or using it. Manufacturers make use of this principle by claiming that their product is the fastest growing or largest selling in the market. Cialdini found that the strategy of increasing compliance by providing evidence of others who had already complied was the most widely used of the six principles he encountered.
Some people need to feel like they are a part of the “in crowd” by using or doing what everybody else is perceived as using or doing.
People find objects and opportunities more attractive to the degree that they are scarce, rare, or dwindling in availability. Hence, newspaper ads are filled with warnings to potential customers regarding the folly of delay: “Last three days.” “Limited time offer.” “One week only sale.”
One particularly single-minded movie theater owner who managed to load three separate appeals to the scarcity principle into just five words of advertising copy that read, “Exclusive, limited engagement, ends soon.”
6. Liking and Friendship.
People prefer to say yes to those they know and like. If you doubt that is the case, consider the remarkable success of the Tupperware Home Party Corporation, which arranges for customers to buy its products not from a stranger across a counter but from the neighbor, friend, or relative who has sponsored Tupperware party and who gets a percentage of its profits. According to interviews done by Cialdini, many people attend the parties and purchase the products not out of a need for more containers that go pffft when you press on them, but out of a sense of liking or friendship toward the party sponsor.
A social network’s business value is in the sheer number of people who sign up to use it. And what better way to induce people to drive new users and traffic to their sites than to have friends recommend the site to their other friends? Free “grassroots” marketing, 2.0-style.
Obviously, not every situation is open to direct persuasion or influence using one of these six factors. But being aware of these factors may help you better navigate a personal, family or work situation better in the future.
As Dale Carnegie once said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” People are far more willing to help you get your way with something if they view you as someone similar to them, are friendly and polite, and treat the other person as though you were asking a favor or task of yourself.