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Cialdini’s 6 Principles Of Persuasion: Weapons Of Influence Explained

    Cover page of the book reviewed here, Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion, By Robert Cialdini

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    A complete guide and explanation of Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion and influence. Understand how the principles work on us and how they make people say yes. This is a long read. But you will benefit tremendously and will be better equipped to deploy them correctly for influencing others.

    Social psychologist and bestselling author Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion are widely regarded as the foundational principles of influence in human decision making. Cialdini is known as the Godfather of Influence after the overwhelming success and adoption of his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

    In this groundbreaking book, Cialdini shows us that people say yes to us based on a few broad principles of persuasion. Knowing them, and how they operate on people, gives you the best chance at influencing others effectively. Being aware of them will also prevent someone from negatively persuading you to do things that are not in your interest.

    Why You Need To Know The 6 Weapons Of Influence

    If you are tired of everyone saying no to you all the time, you are surely not alone. Many of us feel that influencing is a skill that you are either born with or to get good at, you need extensive training. Cialdini explains to us how to easily leverage the known influence principles to devastatingly high rates of success.

    Simplified by Cialdini, they are principles that are quickly learn-able. And with little practice, can be used as weapons of influence at work and in life to get what you want. The key is to make people feel like saying yes to you even before making your request. Cialdini’s 6 shortcuts and principles of influence show you the right way to do this in his now widely cited book.

    How Cialdini’s Six Universal Principles Of Persuasion Operate On People

    To understand why the persuasion approaches from Cialdini work so well, you first need to know how human decision-making occurs. The latest research in social psychology shows us that humans make decisions in our primitive, limbic brains — our subconscious.

    This part of our brain is involved in what psychologists call System 1 thinking — fast, instinctive responses. There is no time to think about these decisions or else you get eaten up by the lion in the Savannah. Fight-or-flight, aversion, fear, anger and other strong emotions fall in this realm.

    Human Decision-Making Myths

    Only after our primitive (limbic) brains evolved did our neocortex region develop. This is where reasoning and most of our higher-order complex thinking occurs — System 2 (or slow) thinking. Most of us have been led to think that this rational part of our brain is where our decisions are made. But all the new research points to the opposite.

    We make our decisions based on emotional factors in our subconscious brain. What actually happens is a bit of a story-telling dance. The choice is made subconsciously based on some irrational factor. Our conscious mind then gets involved and is now only responsible for making up fake reasons for moving toward that choice. We make up these stories just to keep ourselves sane. The stories are so convincing that our conscious mind accepts them as the driving rationale for the choice.

    So, if you know how to control the factors that drive our subconscious minds towards these irrational choices, you can home in on the only persuasion and influence principles that matter.

    All of Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion draw on a fast, immediate subconscious tug on our decision-making. That is why they are so devastatingly effective in gaining compliance over people. In fact, they are downright dangerous if used unethically. But more on that later.

    A Visual Web Story version of this article can be found below:

    What Are Cialdini’s 6 Principles Of Persuasion And Influence

    Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion and influence are: Reciprocity, Liking, Commitment and Consistency, Authority, Social Proof, Scarcity, and his new 7th principle, Unity.

    You will first learn about the mechanism through which each of them operates. And how they get people to agree with you and say yes. Following that, and through examples, you will find out how they can be put to use in your life.

    Lastly, we show you how other people could be using the weapons of influence against your interests. In fact, Cialdini wrote his book precisely with this in mind. To educate people on the 6 principles of persuasion. With the hope that we would then be able to protect from their misuse on us by unethical compliance practitioners.

    Let’s now go over each of Cialdini’s 6 principles of influence in more depth so we better understand how they work.

    1. Reciprocity Principle Of Persuasion

    When we receive a gift or favor, there is a strong underlying feeling to reciprocate. This obligatory feeling prompts us to say yes later in order to relieve the social expectation.

    This repaying of a favor is a social construct going back to our pre-human ancestors. Individuals who do not return in kind are shunned by the social group and kept on the outside (freeloaders, leeches). Thus, this subconscious tug exists in our minds every time someone provides us with a resource.

    Our subconscious minds are somewhat burdened with this sense of having to repay the favor. When the gift-giver then makes a request to us later, we are automatically prompted to say yes. In the most potent of cases, we are usually not aware that we are complying because of the gift. The mental push occurs below our reasoning level making it surprisingly easy to succumb to this persuasion tactic.

    A thank you card in a blue envelope near flowers and a wrapped gift.

    Variations Of The Reciprocity Principle

    Cialdini points out a variation of the reciprocity principle. Sometimes we are asked for something big first that we turn down. Having let them down once in saying no, we tend to have a desire to help them in the future. And it is as if we now owe them a favor in return.

    When you make a concession to someone, they feel as if they owe you one in return.

    Examples Of Reciprocity In Sales And Marketing

    The most common use of reciprocity in our sales world comes in the form of free samples and initial periods of free service (TV, internet). The small gift leads to multiples in future purchases and increased odds of staying with a provider.

    Charitable organizations have used the persuasion principle of reciprocity to great effect. Along with their envelope that contains their appeal, they will provide a small gift. A 25¢ coin or a booklet of adhesive address labels with your information. Studies have shown that charities receive significantly more donations from people who have been first given a small gift.

    Using The Reciprocity Principle At Work

    An ethical way to use the principle of reciprocity in the workplace is to always look for ways to do things for others and help them. Even be forgiving of mistakes they have made letting them know that they had no impact on you.

    If you do this without explicitly planning on asking for return favors all the time, there is no issue. This is one of the influence principles that is noble if only done for the purpose of being generous. And not just favors being done to people only because you knew beforehand that you were going to ask for something in return.

    In summary — give something to the other person first. Make it personalized and meaningful for even greater impact.

    Protecting Yourself From Being Exploited By The Reciprocity Principle

    There are times when people try to exploit us by giving us things merely with the intent to extract something out of us through the reciprocity rule. Usually something bigger and more favorable to them.

    What to do if you find yourself in a situation where a gift is given to you as a sales tactic? Rather than be obligated to give back, reframe the initial gift from the giver as just a ploy to get you inclined to comply. This rids yourself of the social expectation to reciprocate.

    A common tactic of some negotiators is to start with a ridiculously big initial price. They then retreat back to something still higher that fair. But since it demonstrates to us a concession, we feel obligated to accept. Again, in cases like this, redefine the initial tactic as an anchoring trick. Tell them that you are only willing to start the negotiation at the second offer or you are walking away.

    Video Guide To The Reciprocity Principle

    2. Commitment & Consistency Principle of Influence

    We prefer to demonstrate consistent behavior to others. Having made an initial commitment to something, we are driven to dig our heels in and stay consistent with future variations.

    Humans have a primitive need to show others that our actions are consistent. And not changing from one day to the next. Once we take a stand or accept a position, we feel social pressure to show that our first choice was right. And our inner selves compel us to look for reasons to justify our prior decision. Even if ill advised.

    In other words, if not for the previous demonstration of the behavior, it would have been unlikely for us to take on the second, stronger position. But being consistent makes our decision-making easy and efficient. And provides persuaders with a way to ease in our compliance gradually.

    Examples Of The Commitment & Consistency Principle

    Compliance practitioners who know this will often try and get us to commit to some initial item that is related to what they plan to get us to say yes to later. Salespeople will try and sell you a low-priced item. They don’t make much money off it, but they know they have made you a customer. The next time they stop by to sell you stuff again, your desire to be a consistent customer will lead you to keep buying.

    Businesspeople standing around and talking in an office.

    Using Commitment & Consistency To Persuade At Work

    First get people to say yes to a smaller request. Once committed, they are more likely to agree to a future, bigger request in order to be consistent.

    If you are managing a direct report and want them to take on a significant self-improvement initiate such as a training course on public speaking. You could first get them to research about public speaking tips online for some quick improvements on their part.

    Now they have committed themselves as an employee who is looking for ways to speak better. They will be more likely to agree to taking a more intensive training course on public speaking. If you had directly asked them to do the longer course, they would have likely balked and said no.

    Safeguarding Negative Persuasion From The Commitment And Consistency Principle

    According to Cialdini, the best way to protect from any negative influence from trying to be consistent is to go by the gut feeling or uncomfortable sensation in your stomach. If you find yourself forced down a certain choice because someone tricked you to support a version of that, you will likely experience that knot in your stomach that tells you you’ve been had.

    Pay attention to that feeling. Then point out to the would-be persuader that had you known they made you commit only for the purpose of having to comply with their subsequent request, you would not have taken that initial stand. And as such, under this framing, you are no longer obligated to show consistency. And you are choosing not to comply on account of the trickery.

    Video Guide To The Commitment & Consistency Principle

    3. Social Proof Principle Of Influence

    We take our cues from the actions and behavior of others. People are more likely to do something that they see other members of the social group doing.

    This is one of Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion that has the strongest basis in human social behavior. The tendency for us to rely on the decision-making of those around us. If we see a large enough group take a stand, we defer to the soundness of the judgement of the collective.

    “Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.”

    — Cavett Robert, National Speakers Association founder and sales consultant

    If several people are seen doing something, it serves as strong validation of the stance to us. It must be acceptable behavior from a moral and practical standpoint. Our automatic thinking pays attention to any clues that suggest widespread usage. And if detected, we reactively favor the choice. Compliance specialists know this and use social proof to influence us any chance they get.

    Woman in a brown floral dress sitting on a chair in the audience.

    Examples Of Social Proof In Sales

    Salespeople will often describe their product as fastest growing or best-selling. With this they are implying that many other people think it is good. Indirect persuasion on social proof works the best.

    They want this awareness of social proof to stay in your subconscious mind. And not appear as a direct attempt at persuasion. If presented directly, our rational mind might question the data. But our subconscious automatically prefers this decision-making shortcut. And takes us to it more efficiently.

    Another example comes from online retailers. They routinely show you items that other customers have purchased for similar search words. Again, to prompt you to consider buying those additional items because many others have done the same.

    Using The Principle Of Social Proof At Work

    When people are unsure of a decision, they are most susceptible to bowing to social norms. Thus, this principle of influence works best in guiding people in the workplace on areas where they lack confidence and experience.

    If you need to push people (senior management or employees) to take risk with an initiative, pointing to how many other people or organizations do the same thing will be the most influential. Use visuals like pictures or videos of others demonstrating the behavior you are persuading on. Or provide statistics and examples from outside sources.

    Avoid Being Led Down a False Path By The Principle Of Social Proof

    Social proof and the example of others is usually a good principle to adhere to. Often the behavior of people around us is a good guide for us to follow. Except when used deceptively and with false information. Fortunately for us, the cases where social evidence is faked can be easy to spot. Their red flags tend to be obvious. When you see them, simply refuse to comply.

    Video Guide To The Social Proof Principle

    4. Liking Principle Of Persuasion

    We are more willing to say yes to someone who we view favorably and like.

    If someone takes the time to invest in us enough that we start to like them, our minds give them a privileged place as well-intentioned advisors. Liking someone implies that we know them more intimately. They are like friends to us.

    Thus, liking can easily produce assent in us. We are motivated to be more receptive to the needs and suggestions of people we like. We don’t want to lose the bond we’ve established with them. When those we like ask us to do something, there is less resistance from us to reconsider other choices. Or look for additional proof. We comply.

    Again, as with the other 6 persuasion principles, the motivation to say yes to people we like occurs beneath our reasoning mind. We will often say yes to those we favor, merely because we like them. But our rational minds manufacture the reasons after the subconscious mind has encouraged us on.

    Woman dressed in a black coat embracing a man in a brown coat.

    Using The Influence Principle Of Liking At Work

    The optimal way to use the liking weapon of influence is to highlight similarities that you share with the person you are persuading. We build a stronger emotional bond with people who are like us. If you notice that someone supports the same sports team that you do, mention it to them.

    Another approach is to mimic and pace the other person’s behavior and emotions. Match their speaking tone and style. Use the same words that they do. We like those who are behaving the same way as us.

    If you give people genuine and personalized compliments, they will also grow to like you in return. Praise from you to them indicates that you like them. And when they realize that you like them, they will also like you.

    Examples Of The Liking Principle In Sales And Marketing

    Salespeople are trained heavily on getting customers to like them. Physical presentation like sharp dressing, smiling, and humor are heavily taught. Customers that like you will be willing to buy much more from you.

    Video Guide To The Liking Principle

    5. Persuasion Principle Of Authority

    We comply more willingly with requestors who we view as experts and authoritative figures on the subject.

    People often don’t know what their best choice is. They simply lack the expertise and knowledge. But are unwilling to admit this to themselves and others. During uncertain situations like these, we look to secondary aspects of the requestor, like their qualifications and authority.

    If we know that someone has an MD, we will gladly take their medical advice. And we need to be reminded of this. This is why doctors and lawyers display their diploma certificates on their office walls.

    Using Authority To Persuade In The Workplace

    Other than highlighting your relevant expertise at work to get more people to agree with you, there a second element that is worth leveraging through the authority principle. The act of establishing your trustworthiness and credibility to the people you are persuading.

    Cialdini, points out an effective maneuver for doing this when influencing. Admitting to a mistake rather early on but then quickly pivoting to the rest of your strong points. Usually, people do the opposite. They save the cons for last.

    But when you show people a disadvantage, they feel you have their interests in mind. And that they can trust you. Now, when you talk about the pros of your proposal, they will give them more weight. They are taking them in from someone they deem trustworthy.

    Young businessman in a blue suit adjusting his tie and feeling good about himself.

    Examples Of Authority In Marketing

    In the field of advertising the most common use of the persuasion principle of authority is the use of celebrities to endorse products. Even in cases where what the celebrity is famous for has nothing to do with the product being endorsed. Such as Tiger Woods promoting Buick cars.

    How Not To Succumb To False Authority

    While it is mostly beneficial to take the advice of experts, we should not be misled by fake attempts at the principle of authority. In the case of Tiger Woods, ask yourself if you should really decide to buy a Buick because someone who is good at golf thinks so. If you separate the person from the merchandise, you can make a more informed choice.

    Also, be aware of experts who are looking out for their own interests. Here you should try and ask yourself if the authority figure can be trusted. Of if they have falsely assigned this to themselves.

    Video Guide To The Authority Principle

    6. Scarcity Principle Of Influence

    People place higher value on scarce resources. We are averse to missed opportunities and do our best to avoid losses.

    We automatically think that things which are in short supply are highly prized and desirable. Otherwise, why have other people used them up? This unconscious bias causes us to want to act quickly in our decision-making before we lose the chance of acquiring the item.

    And it is not just the possibility of us losing out that drives this principle of influence, it is also that we place a much higher value on something that is rare. The very reason that gold is so highly valued is due to its low abundance on earth. Gold does not have many actual uses.

    Examples Of Scarcity At Work

    Psychologists estimate that people suffer twice the amount of pain on losing a sum of money than they experience joy when gaining a similar amount. At work, show people limited supply of what you have to offer. People put more value on dwindling resources.

    If you are trying to sell someone on something, let them know how rare or uncommon its features are. Focus more on what people could stand to lose if they do not accept the choice. And less on trying to tout what they might gain.

    Two brown Labrador puppies sitting in the grass.

    Examples Of Scarcity In Sales And Marketing

    Online retailers will routinely remind you of how few items they have left in stock. “Only 5 items remaining,” they will say. Or they tell you that the current discount is a limited-time offer.

    Several grocery stores used a somewhat insidious adaptation of the scarcity principle. They placed a sign telling customers that they could only buy a limited number of certain items (limit 5 only). This encourages customers to buy many more than needed as they think that the product is in limited supply. When in fact it isn’t. It was only done to drive people to buy more because if their mental fear of losing out.

    How To Prevent The Principle of Scarcity From Getting The Better Of You

    When you find yourself feeling pressure to make a decision soon, you should stop to consider if this is for the right reason. Examine if the item or opportunity is really rare or in short supply. What you want to avoid, of course, are artificially induced reasons for scarcity on the part of the persuader.

    Video Guide To The Scarcity Principle

    7th Principle of Persuasion: Unity

    The last one, Unity, comes from Cialdini’s more recent book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. It is included here as it completes his list.

    Those who are similar to us and who behave like us have a greater chance of getting our assent.

    We tend to act more favorably towards people who resemble us. Ethnicity, nationality, and other related commonalities make us see ourselves in the other. There is an overlapping, unitizing effect. It is as if doing something for the other person gives you the same fulfilment as if you did it for yourself.

    Influence practitioners who emphasize similarities that we share with them will be the most persuasive to us.

    Audience at a music concert with an orange stage in the background.

    Using The Unity Principle Of Persuasion In Life

    Remind people of any common identity they share with you. A shared location, ethnicity, hobbies, previous company/industry, or a favorite sports team.

    Another way to emphasize unity with someone is to act like them. Speak using similar words and phrases. Maintain the same body language and gestures. Synchronize with them, particularly their emotional state.

    This shared identity propels them to merge us mentally with their own self. And so they will readily act on our behalf.

    You can read our book review on Pre-Suasion here, which is a separate topic in the field of persuasion.

    Channeling Attention In Persuasion

    In, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way To Influence And Persuade, Robert Cialdini highlights the importance of channeling influence in the moments just before you make a request. A book review on “Pre-Suasion” can be found here.

    Cover page of Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way To Influence And Persuade by Robert Cialdini

    Video Guide To The Unity Principle

    How To Use Cialdini’s 6 Universal Principles of Persuasion For Maximum Impact

    Think of a retailer or store sending you a booklet of coupons. They are giving you a discount without you asking for it (reciprocity). You feel you are getting special treatment from them (liking). The coupons will have an expiration date (scarcity, limited time). And all this will push you to contemplate the use of the coupons and invoke yet another principle of persuasion — commitment and consistency.

    Marketers don’t use one principle of persuasion at a time. They deploy several weapons of influence on us. And so should you. As long as you do so ethically.

    Here is how a master persuader can apply all of the universal principles of persuasion in a highly potent package.

    A) Get People To View You Favorably

    The first step is to develop a positive association with the people you are trying to influence. You do this by deploying the persuasion principles of reciprocity, liking and unity. This provides initial fondness for you. And thus, a willingness from others to be more receptive to your requests.

    B) Address Their Doubts And Develop Credibility

    In the second step you need to address things that people are uncertain about. This is done best through the influence principles of social proof and authority. You build up their confidence by pointing to other examples and people who are doing similar things. And establish your trustworthiness, credibility and expertise to reassure them that their choice is backed by overwhelming wisdom.

    C) Give Them Reasons To Say Yes To You

    The last step is that ultimate push that gets them to take action on what you are persuading on. A final motivator for listening to someone they like and view as credible. The ideal weapons of influence to wield for the finishing touch are the persuasion principles of consistency and scarcity.

    Remind them of past statements and commitments they have made. Highlight rare features of your request. And emphasize what they would stand to lose or miss out on if they turned down what you are asking them to do.

    The Misuse Of Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion

    A word of caution on the 6 principles of influence from Robert Cialdini. As you can see, these are powerful ways to gain compliance from people. One should use this persuasion skillset only to persuade people ethically. That is, towards things that benefit them. Not just for manipulating them to buy things or give up what is rightly theirs.

    The people who tend to use Cialdini’s persuasion techniques unethically are easy to spot. Firstly, you will hear them brag about the influence principles and drop Cialdini’s name often. Secondly, they will use the principles incorrectly. They will use them in a direct and obvious way. Luckily, this limits the damage they do.

    Using The 6 Principles of Influence For Good In Your Life

    The right way to use the 6 principles of persuasion are to have them hover in the background. The people you are influencing should be unaware of their use. If used this way, their reasoning mind does not pick up on them but subconsciously the techniques work their magic.

    If you use the influence principles for ethical persuasion, their impact will profoundly change your life for the better. You will find that others are more willing to take suggestions and advice from you. And you will be able to stamp your leadership style on major accomplishments at work. So many things you’ve been trying to change in your life will now become easy to alter to your benefit.

    Cialdini’s Principles On The MCAT Psychology And Sociology Sections

    There is a more recent indicator of the importance and prevalence of Cialdini’s principles. They are now known to come up in the psychology and sociology sections of the MCATs (Medical College Admissions Test). If our medical students need to know how influence works, you certainly do too!

    Get The Book To Learn More About Cialdini’s 6 Principles Of Persuasion

    Influence,” a national bestseller, will truly transform your life and is a must-read if you want to understand how to persuade people.

    Cover page of Influence The Psychology of Persuasion New And Expanded By Robert Cialdini

    Further Reading On Influence And Persuasion

    If you want to get deeper insights and advice on other topics in the field of persuasion, here are some books that will help you.

    Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at [email protected].


    Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion; Weapons of Influence; Reciprocity; Social Proof; Authority; Commitment and Consistency; Scarcity; Liking; Unity; Robert Cialdini; Principles of Influence; Career Development; MCAT; Leadership Tips

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