The Art & Science Of Persuasion: How To Convince People To Do Stuff

The art of persuasion can be taught, learned and applied.

Rarely do you find any person who was never persuaded to say yes, trapped into buying something he or she never thought of, and wondered after realizing his or her own foolish reaction to offers that might get treated differently if repeated in the future. The psychological pressure placed upon you can influence your decision and even convert you to opposing thoughts. Previously, it was thought that only a few gifted people possessed this amazing quality of persuasion, an art for them. But, recent study shows that persuasion evokes a set of ingrained human drives and needs and works in a scientific way.

Interestingly, the art of persuasion can be taught, learned and applied. Managers and top executives, faced with this painful challenge, often have to devise strategies, helping them to get the work done by today’s highly individualistic workforce.

Robert B. Cialdini, professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, propounded six fundamental principles of persuasion that suggest ways managers can apply for organizational success.

Art of persuasion

Art of persuasion

People Like Those Who Like Them

The principle of liking states that people who are like-minded, working with each other, can produce a better result than the people working with others of opposing mentality. Research shows that there are two important factors namely similarity and praise that increase the liking among the peers. According to an experiment published in Journal of Personality in 1968, People of same political beliefs and social values can attune very well once they learn that they have something in common. Praise, another important factor of the liking principle, also contributes to persuasion. A study, reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, shows that people love to be flattered and react positively to the people who praise them even if it is untrue.

You Should Give What You Want To Receive

Reciprocity, an essential part of human conduct, is one of the basic principles of persuasion. You will feel obliged to give a nice smile at your colleague just because he or she did it first. This is how reciprocity works.

If you give a hand to your colleague who is burdened with responsibilities and struggling to meet the deadline, you are increasing the possibility to get the same help when you will need it. The probability will be much higher if you smile and say, after being thanked by your colleague, “Glad to help, I know, you would do the same thing if I had been in your situation.

People Follow The Lead Of Similar Others

The principle of social proof, however, encourages using peer power whenever it’s available. In a study in the 1960s, published in Journal of Personality and social Psychology, a number of New Yorkers surveyed were asked to give back a lost wallet to its owner. Most of the residents of New York returned the wallets once they had been informed that other New Yorkers did so. However, many refused to return it after learning that someone from a foreign country had tried to return the lost wallet.

Imagine you have a great idea to streamline your company’s work processes. A group of professionals are most likely to refuse your idea and be reluctant to follow you. Rather than trying to persuade the professionals to implement the idea, involve someone who can convincingly speak up in support of your ideas at a team conference. There is a better chance that compatriots’ testimony can unite every employee in implementing your idea.

If you give a hand to your colleague who is burdened with responsibilities and struggling to meet the deadline, you are increasing the possibility to get the same help when you will need it. The probability will be much higher if you smile and say, after being thanked by your colleague, “Glad to help, I know, you would do the same thing if I had been in your situation.

Make Commitments Active, Public And Voluntary

People will not remain persuaded if they do not feel committed to what you expect them to do. People tend to stick to the stand once they commit to it. It becomes easier to persuade someone if it is possible to gain their commitment beforehand, be it a small or trivial thing. For example, a group of researchers from Bar-Ilan University in Israel asked residents of a large apartment to contribute to the establishment of a recreation center for the disabled. Two weeks before making the contributions, residents were asked to sign and give a commitment. Surprisingly, 92% of all the people who signed actually contributed while the percentage of people who were approached directly was only a little more than 50%. The residents of the apartment felt obligated to contribute as they committed actively, publicly and, of course, voluntarily to do so.

People will not remain persuaded if they do not feel committed to what you expect them to do. People tend to stick to the stand once they commit to it.

Expose Your Expertise; People Tend To Defer To Experts

We often hear people say “Four out of five doctors recommend”, “Scientists say that”, exerting much influence on our decision making. People pay more attention to those who have astounding qualifications or rare expertise in something. It is always recommended to expose the expertise, if possible, because it is often not self-evident. An expert opinion in a renowned newspaper such as New York Times alters public opinion up to 2%, according to a study conducted in 1992, described in Public Opinion Quarterly. In another study, described in American Political Science Review in 1987, it was found that an expert opinion, if telecast in a television, can account for as much as 4% shift in public opinion.

If you are a new employee in a large organization where most of the employees are not well conversant with your experience, or you are an MBA from Harvard, it is always good to expose your possessions earlier. A preliminary conversation that precedes important meetings or implementation of an idea might help you to persuade them beforehand.

The Less The Quantity, The More The Demand

The last but not the least, is the principle of scarcity. Study shows that things that are more valuable are usually very much less available. Managers can use this scarcity principle by making true demand of a scarce item in the organization. This mechanism works in cases of supply and demand. People are more likely to try not to lose things than to gain new ones.

If it is disseminated in the market, that due to a sudden tax increase, the import of Apple Computers will be stopped for the time being, people intending to buy this computer in the future, are highly likely to rush to the market and grab the scarce opportunity.

Putting All In The Same Basket

The science of persuasion deals with our intuitive understanding of the ways people assess information and form of decisions. Business leaders, by mastering persuasion skill, can bring scientific rigor to the business. However, every principle discussed above will be effective only if they are applied in combination. Moreover, result of deceptive and coercive use of these principles may be counterproductive. Only a proper use of these scientific findings can help managers exert greater influence on stakeholders.

Imagine you have a great idea to streamline your company’s work processes. A group of professionals are most likely to refuse your idea and be reluctant to follow you. Rather than trying to persuade the professionals to implement the idea, involve someone who can convincingly speak up in support of your ideas at a team conference. There is a better chance that compatriots’ testimony can unite every employee in implementing your idea.

Note: Thanks to Samantha Morshed for editing this piece. 

Image Credit: Chrisada

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Kamal Ahmmad

Kamal is a brand and marketing aficionado based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is a contributor to Future Startup focusing on Branding, communication and marketing.

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