Sunday, February 8, 2009

If you want to influence others, learn the six rules first.

When you understand how to use the six rules of influence, you move faster down the road of communication and persuasion. So, what are these six rules of influence? We have adapted them from the book, "Influence," by Robert Cialdini.

Cialdini's six rules include: reciprocation, scarcity, authority, commitment/ consistency, consensus (or social proof) and liking.

We will address the last, first. We already spoke about "liking" (in the last post) when we discussed the ways to achieve credibility. If people like you, they will believe you; and, if they believe you, they can be influenced by you. Many of Cialdini's studies prove this, and we all intuitively know it to be true. However, if you want to see the science behind this form of influence (and the other five forms), read Cialdini's book. You will not have wasted your time.

In the book, you will find "reciprocation" among the rules of influence. Simply put, when someone does something for us, we feel compelled to do something for them. This rule has been in place since the beginning of time. However, we may not always be conscious of it, or we may unconsciously understand it and reject it, not accepting gifts or favors from others because we don't want to be indebted to them. In any event, you can help people and not want anything in return. As a former boss of mine told me when I asked why he kept getting favors from a certain friend, he said, "We don't keep score." I liked that idea, not keeping score. It told me to do as much as possible for others and not expect anything in return (although it will come anyway).

In the same way that we know that helping others ultimately helps us, we know that we typically want what we can't have, as in the rule of "scarcity." How many times have you bought something because the "sale ends on Monday" or the "offer will not be repeated" because this is a "one-time-only opportunity." Perhaps you say you have become inured to this because it happens so often. Maybe so, but like all of the rules, scarcity is used so often because it works. It works in blatant ways and in more subtle ways (again I direct you to Cialdini's book for some scary evidence).

Let's move, then, to "authority" which we also discussed in the post on credibility. Those with authority can influence us to do things we may not have otherwise done. If you want scary proof of that, re-visit the Stanley Milgram, Yale studies in the 60's. You'll recall subjects administering lethal shocks to study participants because an authority figure told them to.

And, if you have signed a form to administer the shocks, you will more than likely continue doing so because of the rule of "commitment/consistency," a powerful motivator. How powerful? If you want to influence your child to wear a seat belt, ask her to sign a pledge and chances are great that she will always wear that seat belt. I know; I asked my daughter to do the same when I bought her a car on her 16th birthday. She has always worn that seat belt.

It doesn't hurt, of course, if her friends also wear their seat belts. Then the rule of "consensus" takes over. Nothing seems to influence teenagers more than the fact that "every one's doing it." All parents have heard this lament, "But, Mom, all my friends are doing it." And, of course, we lamely reply, "Yes, and if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?" The answer is probably, "Yes." That's how powerful commitment is. Remember Jim Jones and his People's Temple and their Kool-Aid?

If you want to be a powerful communicator, remember to achieve credibility and use the rules of influence. But, remember to use your knowledge ethically. No Kool-Aid.

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