Sometimes, when you want to get your way with people without them realizing what you are doing, you can use the power of persuasion.
Not too long ago, I taught a course at the University of Toronto titled the “Psychology of Persuasion.” I believed the course was worthwhile not to encourage manipulative behavior or unleash general psychological malice onto society—characteristics the word “persuade” tend to conjure up; rather, I felt that such a course would benefit people who strive to do well in the world and could use a leg up when it comes to knowing how to get their way—something people pleasers have an especially tough time with—and how to protect themselves from being swayed. These six research-backed principles, noted by Robert Cialdini, the “father of influence,” are worth taking note of:
Here Is How You Can Use The Power Of Persuasion To Get Your Own Way
As a child, I noticed that whenever I was in a mall, salespeople would reach over to my mother and offer her a dollop of hand cream, a tiny vial of perfume, or a branded knickknack, to which she would, almost without fail, wave her hand in protest. When I asked her why she refused the kind gesture, she would say it was because she didn’t want to be indebted to the gift-giver to purchase anything.
Indeed, the principle of reciprocity is a strong one, because in our evolutionary history, cooperation is a skill of survival, and if someone gives, we feel the need to give back.
When trying to persuade through reciprocation, the key is to provide information that is helpful and positive, because, as Cialdini puts it, “there is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news. The simple association with it is enough to stimulate our dislike.” And, as detailed below, there is very little hope of exerting influence if we are disliked.
2. Social Proof
Here’s an easy exercise you can try at home: Play your favorite show which featured a laugh track (Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory are all good examples), and then watch it with the laugh track removed (some muted versions of popular shows are available on YouTube) or just on mute with closed captioning on.
Chances are, the scenarios in the shows won’t be as funny as you had first thought. According to research, audiences laugh longer and more often when a laugh track is running, and they rate the material as “funnier.” Why might this be? As Cialdini noted, it’s social proof.
In any given situation, we view a behavior as more correct to the degree that we see others enacting it. This is why in situations that are awkward or difficult, people tend to look across the room at others before behaving, in order to ensure their reaction is socially acceptable and/or “correct.” After all, no one wants to be the odd man out.
Social proof is important to us because we might make fewer mistakes, hypothetically, when we go along with the crowd. Although there are pitfalls to going with instead of against the grain (such as the bystander effect), people skilled at persuasion have exploited the idea of social proof by touting that “everyone’s doing it” or, especially in sales, that they have the “fastest-growing” or “largest-selling” product or service.
In other words, we tend to think that if everyone else is doing it, so should I. Whenever considering a purchase, or being swayed in a certain direction, ensure that you are doing so in alignment with what you yourself value, and not because you’re being told that your neighbors value it too.