The Psychology of Persuasion

About a week ago, I had dinner with one of my favorite friends. Andy’s mind is always racing. He had served as CEO of a very successful company in Buffalo, NY that was recognized as being a model for one of the most outstanding places to work in that region. Andy is also a serial entrepreneur and his quick and agile mind has enabled him to create, build and overcome almost any challenge.

I enjoy our dinners for so many reasons. It is a chance to catch up with a friend whom I admire and at the same time, I always discover that I have learned something insightful and valuable after we have spent time together. After four hours of dining and conversation with Andy, I found myself mentally exhausted but intellectually stimulated.

A significant portion of our evening’s discussion focused on the work of Dr. Robert Caldini. He’s the Ph.D. referenced in one of my earlier posts. I had bought his seminal work, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, about the same time as I had read the Time Magazine article. It was on my list of must-reads – I just hadn’t created the space to get through it.

Andy had met with Cialdini and was very favorably influenced by his thinking. This was the impetus that I needed to pick up Cialdini’s book.

Cialdini’s book is a mix of theoretical study and empirical research. He cites the works of others but frequently intertwines their research with his own experiences and investigations into how our minds assist others in moving us to certain decisions – often without us even realizing it.

His work is important. While it teaches us how our minds work, it also teaches us how to move people to appropriate directions. I don’t view his book as a study in manipulation. In fact, I believe it to be just the opposite. If you subscribe to the strategy of pre-eminence, that is, that as leaders and business consultants we have an obligation to help people past their fears while addressing their concerns, Caldini gives us methods to consider. Like everything in the world, it can be used appropriately or not.

With that as introduction, let us look at the six factors that he refers to as “weapons of influence.” These six are:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Effectively employing these six factors allows one to perform a mental ju-jitsu on the other party. In his terms, it allows one to leverage the natural beliefs and inclinations of the buyer to create a preferred outcome for the seller.

To illustrate these weapons of influence / ju-jitsu perspectives, he poses the question about whether a salesperson would be more effective selling a high priced item before selling a low priced item or the other way around. In other words, which approach is more likely to result in both items being sold?

One’s initial thought might be to sell the low priced item and establish a “foot in the door.” However, marketers have discovered, particularly with higher priced items, that the exact opposite is true.

Think about it.

After you have bought the tailored suite or the fashionable dress, it is only then that the salesperson suggests that you might want to look at shirts, ties, socks, or accessories and shoes. There is a simple reason for this approach and it is the concept of “contrast.”

After spending a significant amount of money, the cost of the additional item does not seem all that much. By contrast, buying a sweater to complete a look is an insignificant purchase.

In our next post, we’ll look at the first of these weapons that Cialdini outlines – reciprocation.

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