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Persuasion Techniques: The Psychology Of Finding Effective Influence Principles

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    In the field of influence and compliance there are may persuasion techniques that we are exposed to. Some are useful while most of the rest are dubious, at best. Other than the authority of the source (LinkedIn Influencer or best-selling author), it is difficult to sort the good persuasion techniques from the ineffective ones.

    They are all presented in the most positive light with plenty of anecdotal evidence to back them up. But can we believe this and should we invest our efforts in learning and then deploying those methods?

    Here you will learn a cognitive-science backed way to separate the wheat from the chaff with the help of the famous Müller-Lyer illusion. We will strip out all the complexity around the elusive art of persuasion and make it so simple you will almost doubt its effectiveness. But if you want to achieve a higher level of persuasion skills, give it a try. It will blow your mind away and change how you see the world. Your life will never be the same again.

    The Elements Of Effective Persuasion Techniques

    First, let us go over a fundamental but overlooked way of identifying good persuasion and compliance techniques. It is counterintuitive but highly accurate.

    It Will Look Far Too Ordinary At First To Be Effective



    Based on a basic human social construct.


    Easily Summarized

    Can be explained or summarized in two or three sentences without fancy buzz words.


    Doubt It Will Work

    Once you understand it, it will look too simplistic. You won’t think it will persuade others.

    But Eventually You Will Realize Its Potency

    On careful and honest reflection, you may soon see the following pattern with something that is effect at persuading someone.


    But It Has Worked

    You will come up with instances in which the persuasion technique worked on you.


    I Won’t Fall For It

    Now that you think you know the trick, you will expect that it will no longer work on you.


    Master Persuasion

    But after more time passes, you will keep falling for it when others use the influence method on you.

    At this point, you will have no choice but to admit it works and is effective. Learn the persuasion technique and deploy it ethically in appropriate situations.

    Müller-Lyer Illusion Test For Identifying The Best Persuasion Techniques

    We are going to call this the Müller-Lyer illusion test for identifying weapons-grade persuasion techniques in situations around us.

    You’ve likely encountered some form of the Müller-Lyer illusion before. But if not, try judging the lengths of the three black lines below.

    Müller-Lyer Illusion, three black lines with black arrows that appear to be of different lengths.
    Which line is the longest?

    It appears that the middle line is the longest of the three black lines and the top line the shortest. But is that the case? Let’s look at the same figure but with some color aids and additional lines drawn out.

    Müller-Lyer Illusion, three red lines with black arrows that are shown to be the same length with dotted lines.
    All lines are the same length

    When actually measured out in red, it is clear that all three lines are the same length. The directional arrows make you misjudge the lengths. But here is the kicker. Now that you know this, look at the black lines again in the top figure. Try to convince your mind to stop falling for the illusion. You can’t.

    That’s the same thing that happens with a good persuasion technique. Even if you know how it achieves compliance, you will still find yourself falling for it when others use it one you. That’s the best tell for a master persuasion technique. The mechanism through with assent is achieved with the approach is so powerful that it works even when all parties know it is in play.

    The Psychology Behind Effective Persuasion Techniques

    Black and white photo of a girl with black hair wearing a hood painted on the side of a building.

    Let’s peel away the layers behind the best influence methods and understand why they are so potent. Why do persuasion techniques work even when we know how they make us comply?

    System 1 And System 2 Thinking

    According to modern psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman (winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics), there are two main thinking processes that occur in human brains. They call them System 1 and System 2 thinking.

    System 1 is the fast and automatic way we decide things. It is also emotion-driven. If there is a sudden loud noise behind you, you will instantaneously turn around. You don’t think about it. You can’t prevent yourself from reacting and turning towards the sound. It is an unconscious reaction to your fear of something dangerous behind you.

    System 2 is a slower, deliberative and more reason-based way of thinking. If you are asked to add up a couple of two-digit numbers in you head, you will engage System 2 thinking to slowly come up with the answer.

    The Best Persuasion Works Through Unconscious System 1 Mechanisms

    Effective persuasion approaches always engage System 1 thinking. It automatically and immediately triggers your subconscious mind to either make the choice or pre-dispose you to the message of the persuader.

    Going back to the Müller-Lyer illusion, we continue to succumb to it because our System 1 thinking overrides the slower System 2 thinking process. System 2 is trying to get us to see the lines as the same length but without success.

    The same is true with influencing techniques. The best ones are simple, and engage System 1 thinking in the subjects you are trying to persuade. Slower, System 2 thinking is not able to overcome or reverse the initial choice. And in most cases, is not a factor in the decision-making process.

    Main Types Of Persuasion Techniques: Cialdini’s 6 Principles Of Influence

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

    Now is a good time to talk about the most authoritative analysis of influence principles that are universally used by the best compliance practitioners. Compiled by the famed social psychologist, Robert Cialdini, in his seminal book “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion.”

    The Godfather of Influence, Cialdini was the first to realize the 6 universal principles behind why people say yes to someone. He recently added a seventh one in a more recent book. Here is a short summary of his persuasion shortcuts.

    Persuasion PrincipleHow It Works On People
    ReciprocityGive something to the other person first. Make it personalized and meaningful.
    CommitmentGet agreement on small requests. Obligation to be consistent for future requests.
    Consensus/Social ProofIf people are aware of others doing the same thing, they are more likely to comply.
    LikingGive compliments (genuine and personalized), pace/mimic to win favor.
    AuthorityEstablish your credibility first and highlight relevant expertise.
    ScarcityShow limited supply of what you offer. People value dwindling resources more.
    UnityHaving a shared identity with someone. We are willing to do things for those that are like us and who are acting like us.
    Cialdini’s Seven Principles Of Persuasion

    Learn The Most Effective Persuasion Approaches

    All of Cialdini’s influence principles operate through System 1 engagement. They are all fast acting, and for which people have little or no natural defense.

    We won’t discuss Cialdini’s principles extensively here because you can find a more detailed analysis and summaries of all seven of his principles of persuasion in this article.

    Testing The Compliance Techniques

    To apply this test to influencing techniques, ask yourself – despite knowing the method, do I still fall for it when others use it on me? If so, that is persuasion gold and you’ve found a technique that you should continue to use.

    Influence gurus who peddle techniques that stop working on you after you learn them, are not worth following. These are mainly done by System 2 processes and involve reasoning as the main basis for persuasion. They sound like they might work, but they don’t.

    You’ve probably been taught that reasoning with people is a good way to persuade them. That’s wrong too. New research has shown that reasoning in humans evolved more for argumentation and not for decision making. This is covered in the book “The Enigma Of Reason” that is highlighted below.

    Persuading people through reasoning (System 2) is unlikely to move others to your point of view. Reasoning makes people argue with you instead. Leading to non-compliance in most cases.

    Advertising billboards in Times Square New York at night.

    Persuasive Techniques In Advertising

    Many advertisements start off by letting prospects know that they are not to blame for their predicament or situation. If you are struggling with debt, it’s not your fault. If you are overweight, it could be caused by your genes/hormones. People who hear this consider the messenger sympathetic to them.

    This opens up a System 1 door (positive emotion that someone understands you). And now they are more receptive to what else is being advertised or sold to them. Read more on this method of persuasion in Blair Warren’s book, “The One Sentence Persuasion Course.”

    The use of music and singing in commercials is another persuasive tactic used in advertising. Research has shown that music suppresses our System 2 thinking capabilities. The emotional System 1 brain is then easier to persuade when our reasoning mind is turned down. The other benefit of song is that the words and message are then easier to recollect later. Much like the effect of poetry and rhyming.

    Sales Persuasion Approaches

    Woman in a red dress and black boots leaning on a shiny red Mercedes Benz car.

    Get your prospect to “think past the sale.” Force them visualize or respond to something as if they had already made the purchase. This would be like a car salesman asking you what color you would prefer. To answer that you would need to imagine yourself with the car of a particular color.

    Highlight rare of uncommon features of the item you are selling (scarcity principle of persuasion). This drives their System 1 to react to an emotional tug of not wanting to miss out on something that won’t be available any more.

    How To Use Persuasion Techniques In Negotiation

    Anchoring is one of the most effective techniques to use in a negotiation. Use a number or an amount that is higher than what you want to settle for. Then when they discuss your price they will compare it to the higher one (contrast principle). You anchored your parents to a higher price making your actual price seem cheap.

    Persuasion Techniques In Writing

    The best persuasion techniques to apply to your writing skills are using simple (fifth-grader) language and making your points visual.

    People are more easily persuaded if they understand your pitch quickly (System 1). If then need to spend time re-reading or asking follow-up questions, they could engage their System 2 thoughts which will increase their chances of arguing and resisting your proposal.

    Bringing out a visual element in your writing will have the same effect. The visual they paint will allow their subconscious to instantly connect with your message. Compare your request to something relevant that people can easily picture in their heads. The visual aspect will be more impactful than rattling off a list of all the positive attributes of what you are persuading on.

    Additional Reading On The Best Persuasion Techniques

    Supporting information for the concepts discussed in this article can be found in the books listed below. The first two are excellent sources for developing as a persuader. The latter two are deeper and provide a psychological dive in to behavioral sciences aspects of decision-making.

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

    Learn The 7 Principles Of Influence

    Influence, New And Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion

    By Robert B. Cialdini, Harper Business; New York, NY; 2021 (New and Expanded Edition).

    Cover page of The One Sentance Persuasion Course By Blair Warren

    How To Win People Over As A Persuader

    The One Sentence Persuasion Course – 27 Words to Make the World Do Your Bidding

    By Blair Warren, eBook 2012.

    Cover page of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

    System 1 and 2 Thinking

    Thinking, Fast and Slow

    By Daniel Kahneman, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY 2011.

    Cover page of Enigma Of Reason By Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber

    Why Reasoning Makes People Argue

    The Enigma of Reason

    By Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2017.

    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].


    Persuasion Techniques; Marketing; Sales Techniques; Persuasive Techniques In Advertising; Negotiation; Müller-Lyer Illusion; Persuasive Writing; Decision Making; Robert Cialdini; Daniel Kahneman; Blair Warren; Cognitive Sciences; System 1 and System 2 Thinking

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