Monday, February 21, 2011

Persuasion and Robert Cialdini

The current series of articles is about Persuasion, and your emails tell me you have done a good job using the general principles offered so far.

• Prepare yourself by thinking through your interests.

• Ask questions to understand the other party's interests.

• Be open to modifying your position in order to satisfy everyone's interests.

• Your credibility is crucial; don't do something that could sacrifice it in order to persuade someone. It is never worth it when they find out that you did.

• The emotional elements of a given situation are enormously persuasive; avoiding regret, appearing heroic, or feeling valued and respected are many times more persuasive than pure logic. Pure logic can help you choose between options, but emotion is what makes us WANT something to the point of NEEDING it.

• Do not criticize people if it can be helped, and it almost always can.

• Pay attention to behaviors, and not individuals; process, not people. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Let's talk about some of the things that Robert Cialdini, the pioneering social psychologist, has learned are at the root of what persuades us.

Cialdini’s groundbreaking work identified six different areas in which can create persuasive advantage. I will cover two of them this week.

Reciprocity - Relationships are most comfortable when they are balanced; when neither person is beholden to the other. When they get out of balance, we are driven to 'put them back in balance'. if a person does something for us, we want to reciprocate and do something for them.

To use this persuasively is simple to understand from a "you owe me one" perspective, but that approach has limits and Cialdini discourages using those words. Instead, you would like to cause your counterpart to appreciate the value of the thing you did, and reciprocate with something of equal value. "You owe me one" doesn’t always inspire others to look at the value of what you did as much as to figure out a way to reciprocate soon.

It is also important to consider something that we already know, and studies have confirmed; after doing a favor for someone, the value of the favor tends to INCREASE in the memory of the favor GIVER and DECREASE in the memory of the favor RECEIVER. Although I know of no way to prevent this effect, Cialdini describes ways to minimize it.

You need to “cement” the value of the favor in the mind of the person for whom you did it. If you stayed late and did extra work for them, you might wait until JUST after they have received the benefit of it and ask “You know that report I did for you the other night? Did that turn out to be helpful to you?” When they say “yes, it was – and thanks very much” reply with something like “well – I am glad it turned out to be valuable for you. And I know you would do the same for me, right?”

This is 5 times as effective as saying something like “oh, that’s ok – no big deal” when it comes to making the favor seem important longer AND in ensuring the other party reciprocates with something of value.

Liking – In Cialdini’s context, this means two things: a) we are more likely to be persuaded by someone we LIKE (vs. someone we DON’T like) and, b) we are more likely to be persuaded by someone we think is LIKE us (vs. someone we think is NOT like us). This, too, is pretty intuitive so how can we use this info to be more persuasive in a working environment?

The way we dress sends a message about who we are. If we want someone to like us, we could try to appear more like the kinds of people that they tend to like. We can notice other’s interests (golf, NASCAR, woodworking, music) and if we have common interests talk to them about them OR express interest in things they seem to have developed some acumen in that you would like to know more about. In other words, without risking credibility or being insincere, express an interest in who they are as a person and indicate that you, LIKE THEM, have an interest in building ships in a bottle (or whatever).

As with reciprocation, there are things you can do to make LIKING, in either sense, stand out as more memorable to the other person. First, be genuine…there is almost NO ONE I can think of with whom I don’t have SOME shared interest. I don’t need to “invent” a mutual interest; there already is a genuine one. Also, showing your like for someone with an overt act of kindness is a great way to demonstrate your liking them AND to leverage reciprocation. The act should be genuine, appropriate, and aimed directly to them as something between you and not as if it is for show. You shouldn’t tell other people that you have done the person the kindness unless it is alright with them – THEY may tell others, but YOU shouldn’t.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS remember that being sincere is more important than being persuasive in the long run.

Next time, we will talk a little more about tools of persuasion.

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