Five Useful Principles of Persuasion

“Flattery’ll get you anywhere.” – Jane Russell (in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953)

While salesmen and business leaders have developed and refined the skills of persuasion in their daily working lives, experimental psychologists have been studying it from the outside — trying to figure out what the principles are that can reliably lead people to concede, comply, or change.

In a review of these studies, Robert Cialdini, writing in the Harvard Business Review, identified five principles:

1. People are more likely to follow someone who is similar to them than someone who is not.

MMF: How good are you at making yourself seem like “one of the guys”? (Be careful here. You don’t want to pretend you are something that you are not.) The trick is to resist any inkling of condescension.

2. People are more wiling to cooperate with those who seem to like them.

MMF: Do you like the people you are in charge of? If not, make an effort.

3. People tend to treat you the way you treat them.

MMF: When trying to persuade any single person at any particular time, conjure up positive feelings about him.

4. Individuals are more likely to keep promises they make voluntarily and explicitly.

MMF: Make it a habit to ask for some sort of specific action or result. Passive agreement is OK as an interim measure, but for big jobs it’s not enough.

5. People are willing to defer to experts.

MMF: It is self-evident that people defer to expertise — all the more reason for you to develop expertise in a financially valuable skill.

A friend of mine made a miraculous change in his career just by persuading one person that he would be a good partner. He did that by liking and being likable.

Another senior publishing executive I know honed his “I like you” skills to such a degree that he rose to the very top ranks of the industry without — by his own admission — having any special skills or having accomplished anything particularly impressive.

Bill Clinton is said to be one of the most persuasive men alive. (Just ask a string of ladies who worked for him.) Staunch Republicans I’ve spoken with changed their minds about “Bill” after spending five minutes with him. What did he do? Argue politics? No. He complimented them.

How can you use this information?

Use it as a checklist. First, rate yourself. Then, make some changes.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]