Ever since he wrote his ground-breaking book Influence: Science and Practice, psychology research legend Robert Cialdini has been wrestling with the ethical issues of persuasion. He had identified simple principles of human behaviour that quite simply get under the radar of our reasoning and influence us unawares and unavoidably.
These occur naturally and they are open to exploitation, but Cialdini is at pains to offer more benign uses for these principles of influence, and here’s a quick run-down of them.
Give and take, tit-for-tat, ‘you scratch my back’ etc.. That moment when someone does you a small favour and you feel compelled to return it. The free sample that caused you to buy something you didn’t actually want.
Ethical suggestions: be the first to give genuinely useful information and service. Go first in offering a real concession. Let your giving be genuine.
‘Offer ends tomorrow,’ ‘While stocks last,’ ‘Don’t Miss Out!’ the irrational pursuit of the rare or hard-to-get, rushing you into a deal or purchase before it is lost forever, allegedly.
Ethical suggestions: present scarcity only when it actually exists and not as a ploy. By all means dwell on unique features – that USP, that personal touch, that special opportunity. And it’s fair to offer exclusive information or access to premium clients.
3: Commitment and Consistency
Ever gone on a diet or exercise regimen or some program and announced to all your friends that you’re doing it so that you’ve got to follow through on it? This sort of accountability is commitment and consistency in action. Ever been caught on the thin end of the wedge, eventually agreeing to far more than you’d ever intended, because you’ve let yourself be seen as that person?
Ethical suggestions: of course you keep your word. With others, start from existing commitments, advancing in a small, organic way from agreed opening positions towards genuinely voluntary choices, rather than cornering them.
4: Social Proof
‘Everybody’s doing it.’ ‘One million customers can’t be wrong,’ and so on, creating pressure to do likewise.
Ethical suggestions: consensus. One million customers can be wrong, but there’s still wisdom amongst the many. Explore it, present it. Use the power of testimonial, celebrate others’ successes.
Ever bought a piece of junk from someone just because you liked them? ‘I wouldn’t normally, but we had so much in common…’ And we all know it helps to be physically attractive in the first place, although personality definitely counts.
Ethical suggestions: it’s perfectly fine to be pleasant to people and to find your similarities. Genuine rapport and appreciation of someone’s good points are appropriate, as is seeking opportunities for cooperation.
What the doctors told you, what teachers taught you, what the experts say (with references), what the boss told you to do. And anyone who puts up a good show of being one of these things.
Ethical suggestions: establish and maintain your own appropriate degree of authority by keeping to professional standards, knowing your field or industry as thoroughly as necessary, keeping up your real credentials, and by not being afraid to own up to weaknesses before they are pointed out.
Being subliminally primed to be receptive to an idea. Being made to write down a BIG number before having to negotiate a buying price. The subtle suggestion that sets the tone for the deal that follows. Even doing the food shop while hungry – it’s going to be expensive.
Ethical suggestions: keep your own integrity upfront and maintain posture in all circumstances; presuppose belonging together and acting together, while each being free to make their own minds up. Connect with similar values.
See also Cialdini’s website, www.influenceatwork.co.uk