I just celebrated my 12th anniversary partnering with INFLUENCE AT WORK, the organization headed up by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. Cialdini, sometimes called “the Godfather of influence”, is the most cited living social psychologist on the planet when it comes to the science of influence. I have the privilege of being one of only two dozen people worldwide to have been personally trained and certified by Cialdini to teach his methodology when it comes to influence.
During my years working with people I’ve run into countless times where I’ve seen salespeople, marketers, leaders and many others incorrectly use the principles of influence. Here’s why it’s a big problem – when people use the principles incorrectly they don’t see the results they expect. That failure leads to, “Yea, it sounds good when he says it but it doesn’t work in real life.”
Trust me, used ethically and correctly, the principles of influence will move more people to act. There’s seven decades of research to back up that statement. To help you avoid that pitfall I want to share the 7 deadly sins – one for each principle – I see when people attempt to use the psychology of persuasion.
We all know it’s easier to say yes to those we know and like. Whether you’re in sales, coaching or leadership, the more someone likes you the more likely they are to follow your advice.
- Mistake. Knowing this, people work too hard to get others to like them. They end up coming across like a desperate salesman who will say or do anything to close the sale.
- Solution. Stop trying to get people to like you. Instead, try to like the people you’re with. As others sense you genuinely like and care for them, they will be far more likely to say yes to you.
Unity is about shared identity. We when see another person as one of us, saying yes to them is like saying yes to ourselves.
- Mistake. People think this is the principle of liking on steroids. With that thought, they try harder than ever to connect on what they have in common.
- Solution. Unity isn’t always available but when it is, tap into it. Do some homework to find out if you share something deep with the others person. It may be that you served in the same branch of the military, were in the same fraternity or sorority, or happened to share the same cultural heritage.
From the time we’re young we’re taught that when someone does something for us we’re expected to do something in return. Help someone first and they’re likely to help you in return.
- Mistake. I see marketers blow this one all the time. They encourage people to give a free gift after someone does something like sign up for a newsletter. That’s not reciprocity, that’s offering a reward as inducement and there’s a big difference.
- Solution. Encourage people to take advantage of a free offer then, after they’ve done so, you can ask for something in return. “I hope you enjoy the free article! In fact, I hope you enjoy it so much you’ll want to sign up for our newsletter to learn even more. Click here to do so.”
Humans are pack animals. Over the course of history, we’ve learned there’s safety in numbers and “everyone can’t be wrong.” Generally, it works well for us to follow the crowd.
- Mistake. Thinking highlighting a big number is all that’s needed. For example, telling incoming college freshman 65% of students cheat (I made that up) in order to highlight the problem only encourages more cheating, making the problem worse.
- Solution. Think about the behavior you want then emphasize stats that will encourage the desirable behavior. “College cheating has been on the decline each of the last five years,” would be a good message to encourage less cheating and get the behavior you’re hoping for.
People will listen to perceived experts, and follow their advice, far more often than they will someone whom they know nothing about.
- Mistake. Don’t wait until the end of your talk or meeting to highlight your expertise. By that time people may have tuned you out.
- Solution. Whether it’s a presentation or running a meeting, let people know your credentials up front. If possible, have someone introduce you for even more credibility. This approach causes people to listen more closely early on and likely throughout your presentation.
People tend to feel better about themselves when their words and deeds match. As little pleasure seekers and pain avoiders this is a powerful principle.
- Mistake. Too many people tell others what to do and think they’ve engaged the principle of consistency. When you tell someone what to do you’ve not triggered the psychology of wanting word and deed to match.
- Solution. Stop telling people what to do and start asking. When you ask and someone says “Yes” they’re far more likely to follow through on their word because they don’t want to feel bad and look bad.
It’s a natural human tendency to want we can’t have or whatever might be going away. We hate the thought of having missed out on something.
- Mistake. Manufacturing false scarcity will hurt your credibility. Don’t use the worn out line, “If you sign today I can save you 15% but I can’t offer you this deal after today.” Seldom is that true and people have learned to see through it.
- Solution. If scarcity isn’t available, don’t manufacture it. If it is naturally available use it but don’t come across in a fear mongering, scare tactic way. “I’d hate for you to miss out on this opportunity,” is more effective than, “You really should take advantage of this deal.” It’s a subtle difference that can make all the difference.
BONUS! Compare and Contrast
Compare and contrast isn’t actually one of the 7 principles of influence. It’s a psychological concept that’s always available because people are always making comparisons. Knowing this, it deserves mention.
- Mistake. Too often people make the wrong comparison. In sales this happens when people try to “upsell” customers. The problem is, once you’ve seen a low number it becomes an anchor and all other numbers seem bigger by comparison as you try to upsell. Not exactly what you want when trying to close a sale.
- Solution. Present your best solution, product or service first. You never know, the other person might just say yes. If they don’t, you have options to retreat to and when you do so, the price on those options looks better by comparison.
The principles of influence describe how people typically think and behave. Consider them communication tools and, like any tool, they’re only as good as the person who wields it. You may know how to use a saw and hammer but that doesn’t make you a carpenter. The same goes with the principles. Knowing and wielding them correctly (and ethically) are two different things.
To Do This Week
- Give these mistakes thought.
- Ask yourself if you’ve made any of these mistakes.
- Commit to keep learning and growing.
Do those three things and you will have more people saying yes to you more often.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, 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 planet on the science of ethical influence and persuasion.
Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 90,000 people around the world!