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7 Deadly Sins When Trying to Influence PEOPLE

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.

Liking

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

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.

Reciprocity

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.”

Consensus

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.

Authority

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.

Consistency

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.

Scarcity

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.

Conclusion

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

  1. Give these mistakes thought.
  2. Ask yourself if you’ve made any of these mistakes.
  3. 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!

Pre-suasion: Unity Means Together is Better

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Robert Cialdini’s 7th principle of influence, unity. When I introduced unity, I said it goes beyond liking because it taps into a shared identity with another person. Unity goes deeper than simply having something in common with someone. In his latest book, Pre-suasion, Cialdini writes, “The relationships that lead people to favor another most effectively are not those that allow them to say, ‘Oh, that person is like us.’ They are ones that allow people to say, ‘Oh, that person is of us.’”

Simply put; me and you aren’t as strong as us. How do we obtain or build a shared identity so we can tap into unity? Acting together and being together are two ways to accomplish this.

When we do things with each other – act together – those shared experiences help make us who are we are. In turn we share that identity with others who’ve been shaped in a similar way. Here are some examples:

Marines go through the crucible of training together. Those who see actual combat experience something very few people can relate to. Those experiences make the men and women who serve unique in many ways and it forms a deep bond.

Sports teams practice and play together. When I played football in high school we had “two-a-day” practices in the hot August sun. Something else we did was play under the lights on Friday nights. Both experiences forged deep bonds among the players. I’ve been out of school for 35 years and still have regular contact with the guys who were captains with me on our senior year. There is an “us” mentality with that group which includes our head coach.

“Hell week” for fraternities and sororities are difficult and not everyone makes it through. Failure to make it through means you don’t get it in the frat or sorority you pledged. But when you do get through hell week you can look at your brother or sister and know they understand you in a deeper way because of the experience.

Being together could entail something like vacationing together, meeting someone at a resort, attending a sporting event or some other event. For example, if you were one of the 400,000 who attended Woodstock in August, 1969, you’ll have a shared identity with anyone you meet who was also there.

Quite often businesses will arrange trips for top performers or give tickets to sporting events. The hope is that being together, especially if something amazing happens, will imprint memories that will tap into unity.

Here’s a personal example. Last year I was at the Ohio State – Tulsa football game when a huge storm rolled in. As it began to pour, and halftime approached, people quickly left the stadium for shelter. Because we were already soaked to the bone Jane and I along with our friend Dan stayed to watch the final plays of the half. It looked like it was going to be uneventful until an Ohio State player intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the pouring rain. We were going nuts and I turned to Dan and said, “We’ll never forget this moment!” as we gave each other high fives and hugged.

For you to effectively utilize the principle unity in your persuasion attempts focus on two things:

  1. Creating opportunities to do or experience things together, and
  2. Do some research on the person you’ll attempt to persuade because you might discover something that alerts you to a shared identity.

Remember, unity is about togetherness – not you and me – us.

Pre-suasion: Unity is about We and Me

My father is a Marine. He served from 1962-1967, having done a couple of tours in Vietnam. You might be thinking, “No, he was a Marine,” but you’d be wrong. If you’ve ever met anyone who served in that branch they always say, “I am,” not, “I was,” because they’re Marines for life.

Something I’ve always noticed about my father is this; when he meets another Marine, particularly one who has seen combat, you’d think he was closer to them than me, his own flesh and blood. My father wrote about his Marine experience and opened with this:

“Once while with friends, I was asked the most significant thing I had ever done in my life. My answer was quick and to the point, ‘Being a Marine and leading men in combat!’ My wife Jo, whom I dearly love, looked sad. I then said, ‘Marrying you was the second best.’”

His experience is a perfect example of Robert Cialdini’s seventh principle of influence – unity. Unity, a recent addition to Cialdini’s long-standing six principles of influence, goes well beyond the principle of liking.

Liking tells us it’s easier for us to say yes to people we know and like. One way to engage liking is by referring to what you have in common with another person. Commonalities could include having the same hobbies, growing up in the same town, attending the same college, or cheering for the same sports team to name just a few.

Unity goes beyond liking because it taps into having a shared identity with another person, which is much deeper than simply having something in common. Cialdini puts it this way, “The relationships that lead people to favor another most effectively are not those that allow them to say, ‘Oh, that person is like us.’ They are ones that allow people to say, ‘Oh, that person is of us.’”

I would imagine people who attended the same college and played the same sport, even if they played at different times, feel a very strong sense of unity too. For example, in Columbus, Ohio, there’s nothing bigger than Ohio State football. If someone played ball for the Buckeyes they’re part of a lifelong brotherhood. I’m sure former players at Notre Dame, USC, Alabama and other programs feel the same way.

Other examples might include:

  • Being part of a fraternity or sorority.
  • Connecting with distant relatives.
  • Growing up in the same neighborhood.
  • Winning the same award (Grammy, Oscar, Nobel Prize).

In a sense, each of these makes you part of a certain club or class that sets you apart. When you engage another person on the level of unity it’s as if you’ve connected on liking but on steroids. It’s much more powerful because, as Cialdini writes, “We is the shared me.”

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a jock, Marine, frat boy or award winning actor/actress to connect on unity. In Pre-suasion Cialdini sites some activities that can lead to a sense of unity and that’s what we will explore next week.

If You Were My Son

Have you read Robert Cialdini’s new book Pre-suasion? If not, make sure you get your copy today because in addition to learning how to set the stage for persuasion, a strategy he refers to as “pre-suasion,” you’ll learn about a new 7th principle of influence.

That’s right, a new principle is introduced in Pre-suasion. For more than 30 years, since publishing Influence Science and Practice, Dr. Cialdini has referred to six universal principles of influence. In Pre-suasion he tells readers there’s a seventh principle that was hiding underneath the surface all along. He introduces readers to the principle of Unity, otherwise known as “we.”

The principle of togetherness highlights the reality that we are most likely to help those with whom we share some kind of bond. It’s not necessary for liking to be activated although the principle of liking may facilitate togetherness.

Consider for a moment your family. You might have family members you don’t particularly enjoy but you’re more inclined to come to their assistance over a stranger or perhaps a close friend for no other reason than the bond of family.

Another example comes from the few, the proud – the Marines. Marines don’t just go through training; they go through the crucible. It’s said that Marines forge a bond amongst themselves like no other branch of service. I see this firsthand every time my father, a Marine who served in Vietnam, meets another Marine. If that other Marine happens to have seen combat I’d swear my dad was closer to him than his own flesh and blood.

So what can you do if you don’t have the bond that comes through family, team sports or the military? Sometimes you can create a sense of togetherness by the words you use, which leads me to a story.

Many years ago there was a position I aspired to at work that had just been filled by someone else. Because of my interest I was asked to mentor with the person who had the job I wanted someday.

I’ll never forget our first mentoring session. He walked into my office, sat down, looked me in the eye and said, “If you were my son I’d say stay as far away from (name withheld) as you can. Do you understand me?” A little shocked I replied, “I don’t think you can be any more clear than that.” He reiterated, “Stay away from (name withheld) because for some reason (name withheld) doesn’t like you and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Wow! Do you see what he did? He was much older than me and he treated me like family as he gave me the same advice he would have shared with his son. His approach was much more powerful than leaning on the fact that we were coworkers or just sharing advice without prefacing it at all. After all, a parent would never knowingly steer his or her child in the wrong direction. He created a “pre-suasive” moment based on the principle of togetherness and that was all he needed to do. I stopped pursuing the position and focused on other priorities.

How can you tap into this “new” principle to become a more effective persuader? If you truly would give the same advice to someone that you’d give to your spouse or children, then let the other person know that. Family is the tightest unit of togetherness there is because you share the same genes.

I’ve also seen a powerful response when you label someone as a friend. You might know you’re friends with coworkers but when you tap into that saying, “Thank you, friend” or “Thank you, my friend,” it changes things. I remember the first time someone responded in an email, “Thank you, friend,” because it really caught my attention. I knew in that moment everything changed in a very positive way.

Remember, together is better! Don’t simply look to connect on the principle of liking, seek to go deeper and tap into the sense of togetherness you may have with the person you’re trying to persuade. Doing so will make you more persuasive and deepen your relationship.