Even Superheroes Need the Power of Persuasion

When I thought about this week’s blog post I felt I’d run dry. I’ve been writing weekly for more than a dozen years. That’s a long time and it’s not always easy to come up with fresh ideas to write about. 

No matter how much I pondered topics over the weekend, nothing jumped out. Then, as I was sitting in Starbucks on Monday morning it hit me. I was listening to Coldplay’s Something Just Like This and decided to share a post I’d written nearly a decade ago. The beautiful thing is that it ties in with last week’s post, What’s Your Superpower to Change the World? Coldplay’s opening lyrics that jarred me are:

I’ve been reading books of old

The legends and the myths

Achilles and his gold

Hercules and his gifts

Spider-Man’s control

And Batman with his fists

And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

The Original Post 

As I was watching Spiderman 2 with my daughter on a lazy Sunday afternoon something leaped out at me. No, it wasn’t Peter Parker from the top of a tall building; it was Spiderman’s need for the power of persuasion when his superhero powers couldn’t do the trick.

As the movie concludes, Spiderman battles Dr. Otto Octavius who had become the evil Dr. Octopus. Spiderman momentarily bests the evil doctor and pulls off his mask to reveal his true identity. Dr. Octavius recognizes Peter Parker, a former student. The following exchange ensues as Peter tries to convince the doctor to shut down the octopus-like machine he’s created.

Spiderman: You once spoke to me about intelligence; that it was a gift to be used for the good of mankind.

Dr. Octavius:  Privilege.

Spiderman:  These things have turned you into something you’re not.

Dr. Octavius:  It was my dream.

Spiderman:  Sometimes we have to give up the thing we want the most.

Dr. Octavius:  You’re right.

At that point the doctor, having regained his old notion of right and wrong, proceeds to help Spiderman defeat the tentacle monster.

Despite his “spidey” superpowers our superhero decided the better course of action was to tap into a different superpower; the power of the principle of consistency. This principle of influence tells us people feel the psychological need to be consistent in word and deed. This need arises from the fact that most people feel bad about themselves when they say one thing and then go back on their word. This principle is so powerful that sometimes we even find ourselves doing things we don’t really want to do just because we said we would.

A Real World Encounter

An example of this might be the appliance salesman noticing you looking at a particular refrigerator model. Knowing full well there’s plenty in stock he might say, “I think we just sold the last one earlier today.” This taps into scarcity and makes you want it all the more. Then he taps into consistency, “I could go in the back and take a look if you like. If we have one left do you want it?” Feeling the tug that it might be the last one, then giving your word that you do want it, might lead you to make a purchase you might not have otherwise. After all, it will be hard to back out when he returns and tells you, “Great news, I was wrong. We do have one left. Let’s go get the paperwork started.”

Fortunately, Spiderman didn’t rely on stretching the truth like the salesman might have. During that final exchange between Peter Parker and his former professor, Peter simply reminded Dr. Octavius he told students his goal was to use artificial intelligence for the good of mankind. The doctor acknowledged it was indeed a privilege and this was the turning point where the foe became a friend and the two worked together to defeat the evil machine.

Tapping into the power of consistency is available to us more often than you think. We can do so by asking questions or learning about the other person in advance of the conversation where you need to be persuasive.


So, here’s my persuasion advice: next time you want to persuade someone do your homework first. Can you find out something about the other person’s values and beliefs? Can you learn their stated position on things or uncover some of their prior actions? If you can and you figure out how to align your request with them, the odds of them saying “Yes” to you will go up rather dramatically. You might not be in a battle for the supremacy of good versus evil or trying to save a city from a mad man but nonetheless, I’m sure your request is important to you.

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His second book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller in several categories. 

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 385,000 people around the world.

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