Powerful Persuasion

by Vicki on July 4, 2014

For the past few months, I’ve blogged about related phenomenon –

  • The tendency for groups of people in complementary fields who “should” be able to appreciate alternative points of view but who do not, and
  • How professionals’ inability to see complementary points of view can partially be explained by the groups to which they subscribe and group biases.

By the time I was done writing my last post, I was convinced that the process of persuasion was also central to understanding how people can be drawn in to see alternative points of view.

To recap, persuasion is:

the process by which a person’s attitudes or behaviour are, without duress, influenced by communications from other people.
persuasion. (2014).

According to Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation, persuasion works by appealing to a limited set of basic human drives and needs and it does so in very predictable ways. Research has shown that because persuasion is governed by basic principles, these can be taught, learned and applied.

The 6 principles of persuasion and their associated applications to influence attitudes and behaviours include:
Liking – People like those who like them, and we are more likely to agree with those we like.
Application: Uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise

Reciprocity – People repay in kind. People are more likely to say yes to people they owe.
Application: Give what you want to receive

Social proof (or consensus) – People follow the lead of similar others
Application: Use peer power whenever it is available

Consistency – People align with their clear commitments
Application: Start with small initial commitments and make commitments active, public and voluntary

Authority – People defer to experts. Subtle signs such as displayed diplomas or white lab coats leverage this principle.
Application: Expose your expertise, don’t assume it is self evident

Scarcity – People want more of what they can have less of. It is not enough to tell people about the benefits of they will reap from your service or product, highlight what they will lose by not partaking in the service/product.
Application: Highlight unique benefits and exclusive information

[source: Cialdini, R.B., (2001). Harnessing the Science of Persuasion. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from]

Although the principles and their applications tend to be discussed separately for clarity, Cialdini suggests applying these principles in combination to compound their impact.

If your interest has been piqued and you want to know a bit more about how you can leverage the art and science of persuasion, here is a short video:

Do I still think persuasion is a relevant piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping others see alternative points of view? You bet. When done genuinely and ethically I think it is one of the most powerful tools we have to open people to new ideas and behaviors.