Nowadays we are overwhelmed by impressions. We spend more and more time on social media; for many of us, the work environment has become more dynamic. And even one who’s not interested discovers that the TV offers more and more channels. In order to make the right decisions in this cacophony, most people navigate on a compass that consists of a number of psychological mechanisms.
At the same time, others use the those mechanisms to influence people. Think of companies that sell their products and services, charity institutions that acquire gifts, or political parties that try to win your vote.
Therefore, insight into these mechanisms is important for anyone who wants more grip on his or her decisions – or who is interested in influencing others.
That insight was provided in 1984 by Robert B. Cialdini in “Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion“. He distinguishes six ‘weapons of influence’ that can be very powerful:
- Social proof
According to the mechanism of reciprocity, people tend to return a favor. Thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. Quid pro quo or biblical: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.
On the one hand, this rule strengthens mutual compromise in society. This means that you can easily ask a favor, even if you can only return it with something small. On the other hand, this is a mechanism used by sellers. Those who got a ‘free’ product are keen to buy from the donor, often for much more than the value of the gift.
Keep in mind that this works very subtly because, according to Cialdini, the first concession (the ‘free’ product) should not be too big.
According to the mechanism of commitment, people act in accordance with their choices. We are consistent with our commitments. That consistency is indispensable for daily decisions, but the problem is that we are reluctant to recognize and correct wrong decisions.
This mechanism gains power when you tell your decisions to other people. You are most faithful to something that you have publicly committed to. Examples are writing good intentions or signing a petition. You tend to keep your promises.
Be careful when accepting small requests. This leads to the willingness to accept much larger requests. And be explicit about your feelings if your heart says you made the wrong choices and you'd rather correct them.
3. Social proof
People tend to copy the behavior of others. What are my friends doing? What does the rest of the country do? In other words, what is considered ‘normal’? This is how it works with the (annoying) canned smile of TV comedies that tells us when to laugh. This is how it works with testimonials in ads. And it’s how it works with religious sects.
Especially in situations where we do not exactly know what is expected of us, we tend to copy the behavior of others.
People rather grant something to people they like. Thus, Tupperware parties are organized by acquaintances, and we rather agree to charity requests from acquaintances.
Cialdini mentions some factors related to liking someone:
- Physical attraction. A seller must be dressed neatly.
- Similarity. We rather like people with a style of clothing, background, and interests, similar to our own.
- Compliment. People are prone to flattery.
- It looks familiar. We rather like people with whom we collaborate than with whom we are in competition.
People say "yes" more easily if they have the impression that the sender of a message has specific expertise or a special reliability. We are vulnerable to the symbols of authority: cars, clothes (uniform), academic titles. The appearance of authority is sufficient and does not need to be substantiated.
This form of obedience is part of our education. It provides stability to our society, because in general people with authority certainly know what they are talking about.
You can defend yourself against the influence of authority by being alert: beware of the symbols of authority. Ask yourself this question: is this authority really an expert?
People get more motivated if they think they may lose or win something. Something is more valuable if there is less of it. What is scarce is attractive, especially if something was amply available before. Scarcity may refer to the available stock or available time (deadline). The seller says "You have to buy now," so you have no chance to reconsider the offer! Therefore, sellers often create artificial scarcity.
You can resist the appeal of scarcity by realizing that an article is not better because it's scarce. The value of the item is determined by the desire to use it and not to possess it.
Finally, Cialdini declares war on anyone who abuses these mechanisms, because as a result of this abuse, you as an individual can no longer afford to navigate on the compass that these mechanisms provide.
And now the practice
To put the theory of Cialdini into practice we can consult Dale Carnegie. As early as 1936, he published the book "How to win Friends and Influence People". I wouldn’t have mentioned an eighty-year-old book, if it wasn’t a bestseller until today. Part of the Carnegie legacy is a training institute, Dale Carnegie Training in New York: www.dalecarnegie.com.
Carnegie presents his book, consisting of short chapters, as a real workbook: he wants you to read, repeat, study, and apply it the chapter by chapter – if there’s one person that can influence people, it’s Carnegie.
The chapters are organized into four themes:
- Fundamental techniques in handling people
- Ways to make people love you
- Ways to win people to your way of thinking
- How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment.
3 Fundamental techniques in handling people:
- Don’t critize, condemn, or complain. When people are criticized or humiliated, they rarely respond well and will often become defensive and resent their critic.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation. Appreciation is one of the most powerful tools in the world. People will rarely work at their maximum potential under criticism, but honest appreciation brings out their best. Appreciation must be sincere, meaningful, and with love.
- Arouse in the other person an eager want. To get what we want from another person, we must forget our own perspective and begin to see things from the point of view of others.
6 Ways to make people love you:
- Become genuinely interested in other people. You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you.
- Smile! Chinese proverb: “A man who's not smiling should never start a shop.”
- Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. The golden rule is to treat other people how we would like to be treated. Don’t interrupt when the other person is talking.
12 Ways to win people to your way of thinking:
- The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
- Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're wrong."
- If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- Begin in a friendly way. As Lincoln said: “A drop of honey can catch more flies than a gallon of gall.”
- Start with questions to which the other person will answer “yes”. Do not begin by emphasizing the aspects in which we and the other person differ (the 'Socrates method').
- Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
- Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
- Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
- Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
- Appeal to the nobler motives. If we can appeal to others' noble motives we can successfully convince them to follow our ideas.
- Dramatize your ideas. Turn it into a show.
- Throw down a challenge. If we want someone to do something, we must give them a challenge and they will often rise to meet it.
- Begin with praise and honest appreciation. Give your criticism later on.
- Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
- Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
- Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
- Let the other person save face.
- Praise every improvement, even the smallest one.
- Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
- Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
- Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.
This is a repost of my (Dutch) March 6, 2017 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.