Cialdini's Six Principles of Influence
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Overview

In his seminal marketing book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr Robert Cialdini laid out principles to help people wield influence over others. 

Cialdini's Six Principles of Influence are reciprocity, scarcity, authority, commitment, liking and commitment. 

AN IMPACTFUL MODEL. 

Cialdini's research spanned years of practical experience in various sales domains including used car dealerships and telemarketing firms and his work is still widely referenced today, decades after it was first published.

SIX PRINCIPLES IN MORE DETAIL. 

The six principles, updated on Cialdini’s website are: 

  1. Reciprocity. 
    Based on the idea that if you receive something, you are more obliged to give back to others in kind. This might be expressed through respect, attention, kindness, or anything. A common example involves clients receiving free gifts from a company.
  2. Scarcity
    The principle of supply and demand states that the more scarce, the more valuable a resource becomes, assuming that it has some level of demand. This is amplified on a psychological level, with common examples of ‘closing down sales’ or ‘limited time offers’ to drive demand.
  3. Authority. 
    You are more easily convinced when you see an authority figure in a respective field. A common example is the use of specialists or doctors in advertisements to gain more attention and quick credibility.
  4. Commitment and consistency
    Also known as the ‘foot in the door’ technique, this approach focuses on establishing a commitment from you and relying on your need to be consistent to benefit from that commitment. For example, getting you to commit to ‘signing up later’ or taking a step in the required direction.
  5. Liking
    It’s probably no surprise that you prefer to say ‘yes’ to people who you like. You tend to like people who you can identify with and have a level of similarity with you; who pay you compliments and you feel good around; and who you cooperate with to achieve shared goals. 
  6. Consensus
    Also known as social proof, this manifests when you are uncertain, you will tend to look to how others behave to determine your own behaviour.
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Actionable takeaways
  • Offer ‘freemium’ options to people’s problems (reciprocity)

Offering free services or content greatly builds a positive image and relationship.

  • Book in an action (commitment).  

Asking people to state a specific time and place when they will take action will make it more tangible and likely to occur.

  • Cite relevant testimonials (consensus). 

Providing testimonials from relevant peers or people in similar situations will leverage social proof. 

  • Establish expertise (authority). 

Effectively and quickly establishing or referring to expertise will increase your influence.  

  • Identify things in common (liking). 

In conversation to marketing material, when trying to establish likability a key tactic is establishing what you have in common with the other person. 

  • Limit availability (scarcity). 

Provide a set time for purchase, a limited window for services or a closing time for a deal. 

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In Practice

Reciprocity: free mints to increase tips

One study seemed to show the impact of reciprocity, with a slight increase in tips as a result of diners receiving free mints at the conclusion of their dinners.

Commitment: Writing down the appointment

One study showed that missed appointments at health centres were reduced by 18% when staff wrote down the appointment rather than staff. 

Liking: closing the deal 

According to Cialdini, In a study on negotiations of MBA students, one group was told to focus on getting the deal done, the other group was told to identify something in common before they began. The first group came to an agreement 55% of the time, the second group came to an agreement 90% of the time.

Consensus: nudging tax payments

The Behavioural Insights Team in the UK, or original Nudge Unit, discovered that by tweaking the wording of letters to taxpayers to reference the fact that most people in their town paid tax on time, resulted in a 15% increase in timely tax payments. 

Limitations

These principles could easily lead people into pitfalls if used for evil instead of goodness. It might encourage predatory behaviour, indebting people through favours and using manipulation techniques. 

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This model will help you to:

These principles are often used in sales and marketing and tend to play on common unconscious biases. They have been further explored by cognitive psychologists exploring behavioural economics. That said, they can be used in developing relationships and influence. 

Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave Cialdini’s six principles of influence into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above. 

Connected models: 

  • Fast and slow thinking: which underpins many of these approaches.  
  • Social proof: as it relates to liking and even authority.  
  • Supply and demand: as it relates to scarcity. 

Complementary models: 

  • 4Ps of marketing: considering the combination of these methods with the 4Ps. 
  • Hanlon’s razor: to support the development of effective relationships. 
  • Non-violent communication: to help uncover needs and connect.
Origins & Resources

Find out more from Dr Robert Cialdini’s book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ and his broader services at his website  Influence at work.

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