How to Influence and Persuade

What influences us to say yes? The importance of persuasion is of paramount importance to today’s managers, leaders, entrepreneurs and executives; where the difference between success and failure can sometimes be contingent upon their ability to negotiate and/or persuade effectively.

Here are six universal factors that guide the decision making process:

Reciprocity: The obligation to give back what you have received from others. In a study, the giving of a mint by a waiter to the table they were serving increased the waiter’s tip by 3%. Two mints equaled an increase by 14%. If the waiter left one mint, walked away but then came back to give another saying “but for you nice people, here’s another”, tips increased by 23%. The increase was influenced not by what was given, but how it was given.

Scarcity: People want more of those things there are less of. When British Airways announced they would no longer be running the twice-daily route from London to New York concord flight because it had become uneconomical, sales the very next day took off (excuse the pun). Nothing had changed to the service or product, it simply became more scarce and as a result people wanted it more. It’s not enough to simply tell people about the benefits they will gain, you’ll also need to point out what is unique about your business product or service and what they stand to lose.

 Authority: People will follow the lead of credible and knowledgeable experts. At a Real Estate Agency, the staff arranged for the receptionist to mention the agent’s credentials to a caller that was a potential client prior to putting the call through. The receptionist would say “let me put you through to Sally, she has over 15 years experience in Property Management”. This approach led to a 20% rise in appointments and a 15% increase in signed contracts. Not bad for one establishing sentence!

Consistency: Activated by asking initially for a small commitment that can be made, before asking for something bigger. In a suburban street, few residents were willing to display an unsightly board in their front garden to support a drive safely campaign. In a similar street close by, nearly 4 times as many homeowners were willing to display the sign. Why? Because a few days earlier, in the street displaying the signs, homeowners were asked and had agreed to display a small postcard in the window of their home to support the campaign. The small card was the initial commitment that led to a 400% increase in agreeableness to display the larger sign.

Liking: People prefer to say yes to those they like. But what causes a person to like another? In a series of studies carried out at two business schools, a group of MBA students (the first group of two) were told to adopt the ‘Time is Money’ idea in a meeting and get straight down to business. In this group, 55% were able to come to an agreement with the person. In the second group, the students were told to exchange some personal information, identify a similarity they shared in common and then begin negotiations. In the second group, 90% were able to reach successful outcomes.

Consensus: People will look to the actions of others to determine their own. Hotels often place small cards in hotel bathrooms to persuade guests to reuse towels. Most do this by informing the guest of the benefits the reuse can have on the environment. This strategy leads to 30% compliance. But, when taking a lesson from the principle of consensus and including a sign in hotel bathrooms saying “75% of our guests reuse their towels, so please do as well”, this sign led to a 33% increase in towel reuse. This tells us that rather than relying on our own ability to persuade others, we can point to what others are already doing, especially many similar others.

These six scientifically validated principles of persuasion can provide small and practical changes that can lead to big differences in an individual’s ability to influence and persuade in an ethical way.

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