S&P-StickerThere are some books that are “must reads” for entrepreneurs; some for marketers; some for salespeople; and some for programmers. And then there are a handful that everyone should read. IMHO, one such book is Influence–Science and Practice by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor at Arizona State University.

This book provides insights that you can use to make business and personal decisions. If you think you already know everything there is to know about influence, take this test. Frankly, I would be astounded if reading this book doesn’t make you a better (business) person.

Here is a short interview of Dr. Cialdini that provides a sample of his concepts and research.


Question: What is your definition of influence?
Answer: Influence means change-creating change in some way. Change can be in an attitude; it can be in a perception; or a behavior. But in all instances, we can’t lay claim to influence until we can demonstrate that we’ve changed someone.

Question: Who has influence?
Answer: We all have the potential to be influential, although some of us make more use of it than others.

Question: How do we get it?
Answer: The ability to influence is not simply inborn. We can learn to become dramatically more successful at it. For centuries, the ability to be influential and persuasive has been thought of as an art, but there’s also a science to it. And if it’s scientific, it means it can be taught. It can be learned. So we all have the potential to become more influential as a consequence.

Question: Are there any ethical concerns surrounding the use of influence to get people to say yes?
Answer: Because the principles of influence can be so powerful in causing change in others, we have to consider our ethical responsibilities in the process. Fortunately, the way to be ethical in the use of these principles is the same as the way to be profitable in using them:

Always be sure to influence another in a way that ensures that you haven’t damaged your ability to influence this person again in the future. In other words, the other person must benefit from the change you’ve created. We can do this by harnessing one or more of the six universal principles of influence:

  • Reciprocation. People give back to you the kind of treatment that they have received from you.
  • Scarcity. People will try to seize the opportunities that you offer them, that are rare or dwindling in availability.
  • Authority. People will be most persuaded by you when they see you as having knowledge and credibility on the topic.
  • Commitment. People will feel a need to comply with your request if it is consistent with what they have publicly committed themselves to in your presence.
  • Liking. People prefer to say yes to your request to the degree that they know and like you. No surprise there.
  • Consensus. People will be likely to say yes to your request if you give them evidence that people just like them have been saying yes to it.

Just because there are six optimal approaches to influence doesn’t mean that everyone uses them optimally. In fact, in my own research, I was able to detect three kinds of influence practitioners. There are bunglers of influence; there are smugglers of influence; and then there are sleuths of influence-the detectives of influence.

  • Bunglers are the people who fumble away their chances to use the principles in a beneficial way, either because they don’t know what the principles are or because they don’t know how to engage them properly. These people are always dropping the ball when it comes to the influence process.
  • Smugglers, on the other hand, do know–quite well–what the principles are and how they work. But they import these principles into situations where they don’t naturally exist. An example would be a salesperson who pretended to be an authority on a particular computer system in order to get a customer to buy it. Although the smuggler’s approach often works in the short run, it’s deadly in the long run. Because only one personOthe smugglerOwins. The customer, who gets fooled into buying the wrong system, will be unhappy with it and will be unlikely to ever return to that salesperson or dealer for future business.
  • Sleuths are more knowledgeable than bunglers, more ethical than smugglers, and overall more successful than either. They approach each influence opportunity as a detective, looking to uncover and use only those principles that are truly part of the situation, and that, therefore, will steer people correctly when to say yes.

For instance, if our computer salesperson genuinely was an expert in a particular type of system that a customer was interested in, it would be foolish not to share this information with the customer right at the outset. And if the salesperson had been good enough as a detective to find out that that one particular system had a unique feature that no other system had, he or she would be a bungler not to say so and make use of this scarcity principle that was a natural part of that situation. It’s not sufficient to know what the most powerful principles of influence are. We have to train ourselves to search every influence situation for the principles that reside there naturally, and to use only those principles. That way, we ensure an exchange in which both parties profit.

Question: What’s the most important thing in making a request?
Answer: Oddly enough, often the most important thing in making a request is not in the request itself. It’s what you do before you make that request. This is a little secret that’s understood very well by the most accomplished, influential professionals, the people who I call the influence aces. I’ve found that those who were most successful at getting what they asked for work very hard at first arranging a favorable psychological environment for their request. After all, even if you’ve got a perfectly wonderful idea to offer, many people won’t bother so much as to listen to your offer unless you’ve first done something to make them like you, to see you as an authority on the topic, or to feel a commitment to your ideAnswer: So by first establishing an environment of liking or authority or commitment or obligation or scarcity or consensus, you give your request the benefit of falling on fertile, rather than stony, ground.

Question: Please give an example of how to apply one of these principles of influence in a way that is effective, ethical, and enduring.
Answer: Let’s take the first principle I listed: reciprocation. People want to give back to you the kind of treatment that they’ve received from you. For a manager, this rule is simply a goldmine. We all know the value of having positive attitudes and personal relationships in the workplace. Now think of the advantages to a manager of understanding the rule of reciprocation in the achievement of those goals. Because people give back what they’ve received, it means that you can increase the level of whatever you want from your coworkers and employees by giving it first. If you want more information, you provide it to them. If you want to create a feeling of trust, you offer it first. If you want to foster a cooperative attitude, you show it first. By acting first, you get to set the tone for the type of workplace relationships you want.

Now let’s take information sharing as an example. It’s undeniably true that in any business, a manager will be able to plan, execute, and complete tasks more successfully to the degree that he or she has access to the necessary information.

By providing to others the amount, the level and the quality of information that he or she wants, the manager will get the amount, the level and the quality of desired information in return. And it will flow naturally. No need for any arm-twisting or surveillance because as the research clearly shows, disclosure is a reciprocal thing.

I did some research in the airports of our country to see how one particular organization, the Hare Krishnas, use this principle to get people to give them money when they don’t know anything about this organization-and don’t especially like this organization. They had hit upon a strategy that worked remarkably well. Before they ask you for a contribution, they give you something. It can be a book; it can be a flower. In the most cost-effective version, they walk up and they hand you a flower or they pin a flower on your lapel, and you say, I didn’t ask for that. Here, take this flower back. And they say, Oh no, no, no. That’s our gift to you. However, if you’d like to give a few dollars for the good works of this society, that would be greatly appreciated.

I saw them work for an entire day in the O’Hare Airport. And what I saw was a remarkable testimony to the power of this rule that people feel that if they have received, they can’t just walk away without giving something in return. It goes against all our upbringing. Remember our teachers told us, our parents told us, “You must not take without giving in return.” We have very nasty names for people who take without giving in return. We call them moochers or takers, or, as somebody at a conference where I was speaking said, teenagers. Nobody wants to be thought of as immature or a moocher or a taker. What the Krishnas learned was that if they could get somebody to accept something, then that person would feel an obligation to give something back.

What the Krishnas are doing is giving people something that they don’t want, it has no value for them, in exchange for something that does have value: their money. And that has created an immediate success for the Krishnas and a long-term disaster. Did you know that they declared bankruptcy in the United States?

Question: Why?
Answer: Because once people have encountered this kind of ploy-this exploitation of the influence principles, they don’t want to deal with this person again. If people believed that they received something of value, then they feel that you’re entitled to get something in return. You’ve established a relationship with them. A relationship that leads to referrals, leads to repeat business, good word-of-mouth advertising and so on. And that relationship is a very positive lever for future profit.

Question: What is your definition of ethical influence?
Answer: The ethical approach to influence is to find one or more of these six principles that we talked about. Find something that people would value, give it to them, and they will want to give you something of value in return. They will want to return that business. If they’ve seen that you’ve done a good job, then they will want to have a relationship with you-a continuing relationship.

Identify what it is about what you can offer that your competitors can’t give them. It may not be any one single thing. It may be a bundle of opportunities or benefits or services that you can provide-especially maybe customer service. Tell them what it is that they can’t get anyplace else. If you can find this and show that to them, they’ll want to move in that direction because that will be beneficial to them.

Let me give you one quick example that should finish our discussion of reciprocity. Something that we’ve already alluded to: People feel indebted to those who give to them, and information is one of those things you can give to people.

Let’s say a customer owns a trucking business or a dry cleaning store. You read an article in a newspaper or in a magazine about how the trucking industry is working or the dry cleaning industry is working in another city like Cleveland. You need to cut that out and send it to your past customer. That’s a way of saying, Here, I thought you’d be interested in it. Here’s some information for you.

Now, he’s going to know two things about you as a consequence. First, you care about them. Second, this person is interested in improving my business. So what does the rule of reciprocity say? I have to be interested in improving his business.

Question: What are some ways to recognize and construct elusive moments of influence during which people are particularly receptive to requests?
Answer: It’s what you do beforehand. So, for example, there is a moment of power that you are afforded immediately after someone has said, “Thank you” to you. You need to fill the moment with a request for a testimonial or a referral, or some sort of written commitment that doesn’t allow that honest recognition of your good work to evaporate into the air. You deserve it.

In that moment, you should say, “Well, I really appreciate that. If I have other customers in your situation who have the same kind of housing floor plan or same kind of situation, I would love to be able to demonstrate to them that we do a good job in these kinds of situations. Would you mind writing me a note to that effect or sending me an e-mail?” Or, “Would you be willing to receive a phone call from a customer who is kind of wondering, and tell them what you think?” And at that moment after they’ve said, “Thank you,” they just can’t say, “No” after they’ve just told you that you did a wonderful job.

It’s more than just recognizing that moment. It’s getting a commitment to that thank you. There’s something that you need that’s more than a verbal acknowledgment that you’ve done well. You need it in writing. People live up to what they have written down. And that’s the key. That’s the key to leveraging that thank you into the future, getting a commitment to it.

And the more public that commitment is, the better. There was a study done on college students, who as freshman, were having trouble in their first year with their study habits. They weren’t doing very well in their classes. And they went into a particular program that was scheduled to help their study habits. One group made a commitment to study at regular and specific times, in a systematic way every night. And they kept that commitment in their heads. Another group wrote it down and kept it private. Another group wrote it down, and showed it to everybody else in the room and said, “Here’s what I promise that I’m going to do.”

The first two groups didn’t improve at all on their next test. But in the group that showed their public commitment to everybody else in the room, eighty-six percent got one full grade better and moved from a C to a B or a D to a C on the next exam. Eighty-six percent versus virtually nothing from the other groups, because they made those commitments public. And that’s one of the advantages of written commitments.


He also answered this question about blogging:

Guy: A blogger says to me, “I’ll link to you if you link to me,” and then he links to me. Under the rule of reciprocation, I should link to him–or at least do something nice back. Am I obligated to link back if I think his blog is not that great?

Dr. Cialdini: Under the rule for reciprocation, we are obligated to give back to others the form of behavior that we have received from them. However, we have some latitude in determining what we give back. In your example, you wouldn’t be required by the rule to link to the other blogger’s low-quality site. But you should try to do something nice for him or her–like providing some useful information that would improve that blog, which might make it more likely that you would want to link to it in the future.