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Optimum Talks Blog

Harnessing the Science of Persuasion

by Céline LeMay
February 25, 2019

“Playing the ‘because I’m the boss’ card is out.’ In [this] environment, persuasion skills exert far greater influence over others’ behaviour than powerful formal structures do”.

18 years ago, Robert B. Cialdini wrote a popular article known as ‘Harnessing the Science of Persuasion’. Although nearly two decades old, the six principles outlined in his paper are still extremely relevant. Together, these principles can be some of the most influential tactics in getting someone to be a good team member.

  1. “Liking: People like those who like them”. You are more likely to buy something from someone you like, or someone you aspire to be like, than you are from a stranger. A person who is warm and open, offers compliments voluntarily, and emphasizes similarities can be ‘likeable’. If you demonstrate that you like and appreciate your team members, they will be inclined to like you in return. Find things in common, openly praise employees on a job well done (even if it was a small task) and demonstrate support.


  1. “Reciprocity: People repay in kind”. When we are given a birthday gift from a friend, we feel obligated to give them a gift in return when their birthday comes along. It works the same way in business. If you help someone out when they are in need, or offer enthusiasm and keenness towards a project, you are more likely to receive the same response when it’s your turn. Leaders who demonstrate positive attitudes and excitement are more likely to see this reflected in their teams.


  1. “Social Proof: People follow the lead of similar others”. It is natural to want to ‘fit in’. People often conform to whatever their peers are doing. If you can get a group of employees to be excited and willing to participate on a project, you are more likely to convince more individuals to jump on board. This has an even bigger impact when the individual you are trying to convince has notable similarities to the rest of the group. In other words, “influence is often best exerted horizontally rather than vertically”.


  1. “Consistency: People align with their clear commitments”. It is easy to forget or brush off commitments if they haven’t been made ‘official’. Cialdini suggests that some of the simplest ways to ensure people follow through on a commitment is to have them come up with the idea themselves and then put it in writing. If you want to produce a genuine commitment to change, give your team member constructive criticism or feedback, and then have them come up with their own goals. If they come up with goals themselves, they’re more likely to follow through on them. To take it a step further, have them put it in writing by sending you a memo.


  1. “Authority: People defer to experts”. Proof of genuine expertise can have a massive impact on the opinions or perspectives of your followers. We trust people who know what they’re doing. One way to generate authority and respect is to lightly touch on your relevant background or tell an anecdote of a time when you successfully solved a similar issue. Gloating won’t get you any respect but sharing your past experiences when applicable can help build trust and gain perspective. Employees are more willing to follow your lead if they understand your wisdom, background and trust you.


  1. “Scarcity: People want more of what they can have less of”. It is easy to be persuaded or pressured into making a quick call when you think you might lose out. One way that scarcity can have an impact is through loss vs. gain figures. Telling a person that they could lose out on $50 in sales if they do not make a certain move is more impactful than telling them that they could potentially win $50 if they do. The possibility of loss has a greater impact on decision making than the potential for gain. This pressure is even more pertinent when we feel as though we could be one of the ‘special few’ to take the jump.

The above six principles are impactful.  Although the principles can be discussed individually, they work best when they are combined, but keep in mind, “any approach that works to everyone’s mutual benefit is good business, don’t you think?”.

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