Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Social Proof

In five previous posts, I’ve covered the noted psychologist Robert’s Cialdini’s five principles of persuasion: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency, liking and authority.

Now, we come to Cialdini’s last principle: social proof. People follow the lead of similar others, and this condition of social proof intensifies when there exists a condition of uncertainty (Sales are down! What should we do?) or similarity (All the other computer companies offer package deals.) The most powerful example of this is peer pressure among teenagers. Studies show that teens are more likely to vape if their friends and family approve.

Social proof holds sway in the office, too. If you notice coworkers signing up for the United Way HomeWalk, you will be more inclined to do so. If you see that others are working late at the office, you more than likely will start setting aside a few evenings to stick around, as well. If everyone appears to be on board with the new marketing direction, you will probably be on board, too — even if you’re not a fan of the new marketing direction.

We are social creatures.

The absolute best way to leverage social proof in a business setting is through the use of testimonials and referrals, which demonstrate that others have benefitted from knowing and working with you. And now your target will, too. That is the power of social proof.

It’s important to know that people often use Cialdini’s six principles, individually or in combinations, to make decisions. And now that you know them, so can you.

Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Authority

We defer to experts. Whether you’re a scientist, a medical doctor, a Ph.D., or a professor, if you have a level of expertise — and your target is aware of that expertise — you automatically become more persuasive.

This ties in well with Robert Cialdini’s fifth primary principle of persuasion: authority. (In other recent posts, I’ve covered Cialdini’s first four principles: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency and liking.)

If you have a title, credential or significant certification, make it known in subtle yet powerful ways. Put that distinguishing credential in your email signature or post your diploma in your office.

I know a professional who once attended a prestigious executive education program, but rather than tell everyone he attended, he simply showed up at meetings with a coffee cup from that university! Subtle … yet effective.

Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Liking

We like people who like us (and state so publicly). We also like people are who are like us. Whether they share similar political views or hobbies, hail from the same part of the world or simply both smoke cigarettes, individuals with commonalities feel an affinity for one another.

In other recent posts, I’ve covered Robert Cialdini’s first three principles: reciprocity, scarcity and consistency. Now I’m going to briefly explore the fourth principle: liking.

I’ve heard the argument that respecting somebody is more important than liking somebody. Fair enough, but if you actually like that person, you’re more willing to consider his arguments more carefully, give him more time to communicate and be more receptive to his messages. Again, this is human nature; you just can’t help it.

The takeaway here? Be approachable, seek similarities and don’t be afraid to pay someone a compliment every once in awhile.

Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Consistency

What do you call someone who says one thing, yet does another? Hypocrite. Liar. Flip-flopper. Politician. Teenager. Most of those terms aren’t considered glowing characteristic traits.

This is where Robert Cialdini’s third primary principle of persuasion comes in: consistency. (In other recent posts, I’ve covered Cialdini’s first two principles, reciprocity and scarcity.)

We like, trust and want to interact with people who follow through on what they say. When a co-worker tells you he’ll hand in a report by the close of business, you think highly of him when he does just that. If he doesn’t, that colleague’s credibility drops a notch. Similarly, when company management promises to make a change to a problematic tuition reimbursement policy that never comes, the culture in that organization shifts to the negative.

The good news is that these occurrences aren’t likely to happen. Why? Once most people make a decision or take a position, especially publicly, they strive to act in accordance with that publicly stated notion. This demonstrates consistency, and it has been proven time and time again.

Next time, I’ll explore what “liking” has to do with all of this.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, consider reading Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Scarcity

In a recent post, I introduced Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasionwho created something akin to a “Unified Field Theory of Persuasion” by categorizing almost every persuasion approach into one of six primary principles: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency, liking, authority and social proof.

Last time, I covered reciprocity. In this post, I’ll focus on the second of those principles: scarcity.


Call it the rule of the rare, the fact of the few or the coefficient of the insufficient. People want more of what they perceive to be a dwindling supply.

Countless examples exist of how individuals have responded to a decreasing supply of something. One of my favorite reactions is the panic caused when Hostess Brands Inc., the 82-year-old maker of Twinkies and other snacks, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. Shoppers began stockpiling Twinkies, fearing they’d find no alternative for their sugar fixes. News outlets reported that at least one person tried to capitalize on the scare by offering a single Twinkie on eBay for $8,000!

To truly leverage the principle of scarcity, the scarcity must truly be real. There really needs to be “Only three days left!” or “Limited inventory!” Anything else, and lack of ethics comes into play. And if you think people are worried about what they might be missing, they’re even more concerned about losing what they already have. That’s why “loss language” (forfeit, surrender, forgo) is always preferable to “gain language” (acquire, obtain, secure) when playing the persuasion game.

Try incorporating the principle of scarcity into your persuasion efforts this week.

Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Reciprocity

It’s been almost 35 years since Robert Cialdini, now regents’ professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, wrote Influence: The Psychology of Persuasionin 1984. (It later was published as a textbook under the title Influence: Science and Practice.) The original book stemmed from Cialdini’s literature review of almost 50 years of scientific research regarding persuasion, plus his own ethnographic studies.

Today, Influence is regarded as one of the most, ahem, influential books on the topic.

Cialdini is so highly respected in the field that he was a part of a “dream team” of behavioral scientists who helped create persuasive approaches for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Regardless of your political leanings, you’ve got to admit that Cialdini’s additions were subtle and brilliant.

“We know you’ve voted in the past … ” was a subtle prompt known as “consistency” that convinced voters in 2008 to vote for Obama again in 2012. Cialdini also helped teach campaign volunteers to address rumors that Obama was a Muslim by reframing them: “Obama is not a Muslim” actually repeated the claim and reinforced it in the electorates’ collective mind. “Obama is a Christian,” on the other hand, reframed and refocused the discussion.

Cialdini created something akin to a “Unified Field Theory of Persuasion” by categorizing almost every persuasion approach into one of six primary principles: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency, liking, authority, and social proof.

In this post, I’ll focus on the first of those principles: reciprocity.


Reciprocity involves the give and take of human exchange. People repay others in kind. Every culture in the world teaches this principle in one way or another. When you do something for someone else, it’s almost embedded in human DNA to want to return that favor in kind.

Reciprocity can range from the simple and instantaneous to something much more involved and complex. Examples can be found in day-to-day life on an individual level, such as helping a co-worker prepare for a presentation after he helped you prepare for yours.

On a departmental level, the sales team might assist the marketing staff with some unusual but critical market data, and then marketing reciprocates by providing extraordinary support for sales.

Reciprocity can even occur between companies, such as when two companies share resources, knowledge and sometimes people.

If you stop to think about it, reciprocity helps societies evolve. People inherently realize that when they do something for somebody else, they are not simply giving of their time, energy, and financial resources; they eventually will receive something in return. The best way to leverage reciprocity is to enter every situation by asking yourself, “Who here can I genuinely help?”

Next time, we’ll explore scarcity.

The Role Emotions Play in Persuasion Success

More than 400 words exist in the English language to describe “emotion.” In fact, neurologists have even identified distinctions between emotions (the automatic brain response) and feelings (the subjective way we interpret those emotions).

Depending on how thinly you’d like to slice the topic, you could literally list dozens of human emotions — from acceptance, affection and aggression to pity, pleasure and pride to shame, suffering and sympathy. And of course, there are degrees of emotions that measure the intensity level of any particular emotion.

To simplify things, let’s consider that there are three categories of emotions: positive (hope, love, satisfaction), neutral (acceptance, detached, unenthusiastic) and negative (anxiety, frustration, loneliness).

Now it’s time to get strategic and purposeful about how you use emotions in the act of persuading. What emotions could you create? What emotions should you create, so that you can do the right thing for all involved?

Here are my seven emotional objectives to consider when building your case to persuade — or dissuade.

  1. Provoke, by causing a reaction, especially an angry one.
  2. Inspire, by giving people a particular feeling, often positive.
  3. Invoke, by enabling someone to see a particular image in his or her mind.
  4. Awaken, to make someone experience a new feeling or emotion.
  5. Arouse, to create an emotion, especially one that excites.
  6. Touch, to create a sad or sympathetic emotion.
  7. Ignite, to jump-start a particular feeling.

Building one or more of these ideas into your business case will materially improve your chances of yes success.

When Going Negative Can Be a Positive

If you want to be hired for the job, you’d like the person in charge of hiring to have interest and hope in you and your abilities. If you’re looking to partner with a venture capitalist, you’d hope that your potential partner is ecstatic about your idea.

These examples are self-evident, but there also may be times when you need to provoke a negative emotion.  For example, when attempting to convince a sluggish manager that it’s finally time to do something about his department’s lackluster customer service, make him feel the same frustration you, your colleagues, and your clients feel about his lack of performance in that area. You may even want him to experience some regret, as he realizes he’s not reaching his full potential as a department head.

If momentarily experiencing these negative emotions is the catalyst to spur someone to fix the problem, then what’s the problem?

Beware, however, that just like rafting through grade five whitewater, it’s the way in which you navigate the rapids that determines your success.

Out-of-Office Dissuasion in Action: Please Don’t Leave a Message

I’m encountering an increasing number of auto-respond emails from intended recipients who are out of the office, claiming they will delete all emails sent to them while on vacation. This approach employs a warning system and is a less-than-subtle effort to persuade senders to hold that email until later — or maybe even reconsider whether the message needs to be sent in the first place.

It’s also an effective, if unconventional and arguably offensive, way to let people know you don’t want to be bothered. Which makes it a perfect example of dissuasion — the act or process of trying to persuade someone not to take a particular course of action.

I once worked with a woman who would leave out-of-office messages that sounded like an emergency drill had been activated: “This is a voicemail alert! This is a voicemail alert! I am out of the office and will not be returning calls or answering email until I return on August 1. This has been a voicemail alert.”

Let’s just say the first time you hear that it gets your attention.

Again, unconventional and arguably obnoxious. But it sure was effective at dissuading callers from leaving a message.

A third approach to out-of-office dissuasion is to be brutally honest with whoever deigns to call you when you’re not available: “Hey, this is Kim. If I don’t call you back, you’re the reason I screen my calls.”

Will you bother to be bothered this week?

fancy rotary telephone

How to Make a Compelling Phone Call

Just because you use something often doesn’t mean you use it well, or even correctly. That’s right: I’m talking about the telephone. Don’t hide behind technology; take advantage of it by placing a call wherever and whenever you want to whoever your persuasion target may be — from anywhere in the world.

Skip email. Skip Skype. And skip texting. Instead, actually use the phone!

Here’s how to make an effective and persuasive phone call:

1. Remember that it’s imperative to communicate your professionalism and start a conversation. Business relationships — all good relationships, really — start with a conversation. Which means you must comport yourself in a manner that makes you accessible to the largest number of targets. That is why early phone conversations need to be polite, upbeat and neutral in tone.

For example, when I call old friends, especially friends from back home in Philly, I may respond to their “Hello?” with a casual “Yo! Tommy! What’s goin’ on?” I use the regional language (in the Philadelphia area, “yo” has the poly-utility of being a greeting, a question or an affront), I call Tommy by name, and I’m colloquial in my speech (“goin’ ”).

I would never use that kind of greeting in a business situation with someone I’ve never met or don’t know very well. Doing so is too risky. Instead, identify yourself by first and last name, the organization you represent and the reason you’re calling. Then inquire if your target has a few minutes to talk, and restate the purpose of your call — perhaps reminding the person on the other end when and where you met or about previous conversations.

2. Make your objective neither underhanded nor manipulative. Rather, you want to persuade the person your calling to meet you face-to-face, so you’ll be able to prove your point — which can be anything from winning that individual’s business to gaining support for an idea or looking for an ally. The best way to accomplish all of those things is in person.

3. The best way to broach an in-person meeting is by wrapping up your conversation with these six words: “Here’s what I’m going to recommend.” And then explain your recommendation. When you use the word “recommend,” you leverage the principle of authority. You’re the expert here, and when experts give advice, people are inclined to take it. Terms such as “recommend,” “suggest” and “advise” work particularly well for reinforcing this point. Be sure your recommendation includes at least two options, thus avoiding the clichéd “either/or” close, which often creates something called “reactance” — meaning that your target feels a choice is being forced upon him, so his immediate reaction would be to say “no” to both options. Concluding your recommendation by asking, “Do either of those times work for you?” can make a world of difference.

If a face-to-face session is not possible, ask your target for a date and time that works for him, and sign off by requesting permission to call him back in the meantime if you have additional questions or would like to bounce other ideas off him. Your target will feel appreciated and respected, and will most likely respond with a resounding, “Sure — not a problem!”

You’ll be amazed by how one properly executed phone call will open new doors to persuasion success.