The psychology of influence – Seven psychological insights to increase your influence

May 29, 2018

I’m sure most of us would like to be more influential.  You probably won’t be surprised to hear that understanding a bit of psychology can help. Ultimately, influence is all about decision-making. You want someone to decide to do what you want them to do. What psychological research tells us is that decision-making is such hard work that our brains take shortcuts. We don’t even notice it’s happening. Understanding those predictable shortcuts can help us influence decision making in others.

Dr. Robert Cialdini has identified six psychological levers of influence, which I’ll outline below, along with a seventh based on a the work of Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

1. Liking

We are much more inclined to say yes to people we like. You can’t make people like you but you can increase the chances that they will. We tend to like people who are similar to us, who pay us compliments and who cooperate with us towards mutual goals. This needs to be genuine. You don’t want to become the kind of obsequious charmer who tries to sweet talk their way through life. We tend not to trust people like that. So look for real common ground. Be interested in people. Don’t be rude. If you want to be more influential, start by being nice.

2. Reciprocity 

If you give me something, I’m likely to feel an obligation to give back. GiftIt’s why charities send a token gift, such as a pen, with their appeal letters. You may be sceptical that this works but research says otherwise. For example, if you give people a mint with their bill at the end of a meal tips increase by around 3%. Giving two mints more than quadruples that –  a 14% increase. Somewhat manipulatively, if the waiter provides one mint, then adds an extra mint “because you’ve been so nice”, tips go up by a staggering 23%, influenced not by what was given, but how it was given.

Don’t be too calculating about it – I think the waiter would only get away with that once. But think about how you can genuinely be generous to the person you’re trying to influence. Remember generosity isn’t just about gifts or buying lunch. You can give your time, you ideas or your support.

3. Authority

We’re take more notice of people who have authority because of their status or their qualifications and expertise. What’s interesting is that, even when we know we’re talking to an authority, we’re more influenced if we’re reminded of their credentials. People are more likely to comply with an exercise programme, for example, if the physiotherapist has their diploma on the wall.

Of course, it’s not always appropriate to tell people about your qualifications and experience. You may become less likeable if you blow your own trumpet too much. The good news is that you can increase your influence by getting someone else to do it for you, even when they have a vested interest. For example, an estate agent trained their reception staff to mention their colleagues’ credentials: “Lettings? Let me connect you with Sandra, who has over 15 years’ experience letting properties in this area.” The result? A 20% rise in appointments and a 15% increase in the number of signed contracts.

(Incidentally, my husband would like you to know that he’s married to a chartered psychologist with over 20 years’ experience.)

4. Consensus 

One of the shortcuts we take when faced with a decision is take account of what other people do in similar circumstances. KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe may not even realise we’re doing it. For example, we’re more likely to reuse the towels in a hotel if that little card says  “75% of our guests reuse their towels at some time during their stay, so please do so as well”, rather than simply asking us to reuse the towels.  We’re even more likely to do so if it says “75% percent of people who have stayed in this room have reused their towel.” Reuse rates go up by 26% and 33% respectively. I’m pretty sure the people concerned would have said they were unaffected by what the card said, but results show they were influenced without knowing it. So when you’re trying to influence someone, see if you can demonstrate that the outcome you want is what most people would do.

5. Consistency

Although it may not always be true, we like to think of ourselves as acting consistently: “I’m the sort of person who…….exercises regularly/cares about the environment/supports the arts” or whatever. So if you’re trying to influence someone, getting a small initial commitment makes it more likely you’ll get a larger commitment later. For example, people are four times more likely to agree to put  great big sign on their front lawn urging people to Drive Safely if, 10 days earlier, they’ve agreed to put a little postcard in their window saying the same thing. What’s the smallest step you can persuade someone to take towards the outcome you’re looking for?

6. Scarcity

“Only 40 tickets left”. “Final performance ever”. “Limited edition”. These phrases grab our attention because we want things that are in short supply. Fear of missing out is a strong driver. In a business context, it may seem more difficult to present something as scarce, but compare the difference between these two appeals: “We’re looking for 10 people to take part in the pilot project” or “The pilot project will be limited to just 10 people”.

7. Fear of loss 

It’s bold of me to suggest that the foremost psychologist researching influence missed a trick, but here goes.  Pound CoinsAn even stronger driver than fear of missing out is fear of losing what we already have. An example of my own flawed thinking demonstrates this. In the wake of the financial crash, VAT rates were reduced from 17.5% to 15% to stimulate the economy. I was highly sceptical that saving 25p on a ten pound bill could possibly make a difference. Fast forward a few years and it was announced that rates would be going back up to 17.5%. I decided immediately that we should replace our ageing fridge-freezer before the rate rise. Suddenly, losing that 25p (or multiples of them) was a big deal.

When you’re putting together a business case try re-framing potential savings as current losses. For example, the second of these statements is proven to be more effective:

“If you insulate your house, you could save 50p a day”

“If you fail to insulate your house, you will continue to lose 50p a day”

So there you go, seven psychological insights to increase your influence. If anything there persuades you to get in touch, you can contact me here:

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William Warby

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