Cialdini’s principles of influence: Raising your effect on others

Speak First Avatar

15 December 2022
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

The ladder of success

In life and work, we’re constantly bombarded by people trying to influence us. There are colleagues at work who need us to sign on to new projects; politicians influencing us to vote for them; advertisers and sales teams want to influence our buying decisions; and there’s even a whole new career path – Influencers – whose main goal is to inspire their online followers to buy particular products or services.

Robert Cialdini is an American psychologist who has literally written the book (several of them!) on how to influence people. In his research, he identifies seven ‘Principles of Influence’ – the most effective ways to influence and persuade others and to get them to give you what you want.

We’re surrounded by people trying to exert their influence over us, so it’s beneficial to understand the methods being used and how they work. By recognising these strategies, you make yourself less susceptible to being manipulated into agreeing to something you don’t want, or that goes against your needs.

And, of course, knowing how to be more influential means you can achieve positive results, find mutually beneficial outcomes with others, and strengthen your personal relationships.


1. Likeability

When you don’t like someone, you’re less likely to trust what they say and will second guess their motivations. However, when you’re with someone you do like and trust, your guard can start coming down, making you more inclined to believe they have your best interests at heart. Even a friendly greeting and warm demeanour go a long way to making people feel comfortable, relaxed and happy with you.

When trying to influence someone new, aim to build trust and take the time to get to know them. When using a consultative selling approach, many salespeople won’t try to sell anything the first time they meet a customer. Instead, they’ll have a conversation, asking questions and building a relationship based on mutual understanding and trust.

It’s different when you’re dealing with people who already know you. They’ve already formed an impression of you, which can work for you or against you – depending on what’s happened in the past. If you’ve acted with integrity and proven yourself trustworthy, it’s likely you’ll already have a good relationship. If not, you’ll need to find ways to start rebuilding the relationship between you – but make it genuine, or it can seem manipulative and self-serving. To be most influential, you should spend time building your personal brand, firmly establishing yourself as someone people can like and trust. 


2. Social Proof

You’ve probably seen adverts which say something like ‘9 out of 10 people would recommend us,’ or ‘5,000 people can’t be wrong!’ These types of slogans are carefully designed to give the impression you’re missing out on something. There’s a strong sense of comfort in knowing other people have already used the product or service, and were happy with it.

Research shows that donations on charity websites go up when people can see the donor before them gave a large amount. No one wants to stand out from the crowd for being mean.

So, when it comes to your influencing abilities, being able to show that lots of other customers have already bought your product, or that most of your colleagues are onboard, makes it a much easier sell. This creates a snowball effect, where it’s hardest to influence the first few people but then it gets easier as you can start showing the popularity of whatever you’re selling.


3.  Reciprocation

The law of reciprocity (one of the principles of social psychology) states that in many situations, we want to pay back favours we have received from others. This makes reciprocation an incredibly powerful tool for influencing behaviour. If you want someone to invite you to their event, invite them to yours first, and if you need a colleague’s help, you are more likely to get it if you’ve helped them in the past.

If you’ve ever felt obligated to buy something after going into a coffee shop just to use the bathroom or sheltering in a shop to get out of the rain, then you’ve directly felt this sense of reciprocation.

Even something as small as offering a drink before a conversation can start to impact a person’s mood towards you, and the power dynamics at play, making them a little more open to what you have to say and how to even things out with you.


4. Authority

When you’re watching the news, do you pay more attention to someone introduced as ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor,’ or to a random person they talk to on the street? People tend to pay more attention and be quicker to follow authority figures, because we make the assumption they know what they’re talking about.

If a police officer tells people to leave a building, they get a much different response than a child would. We assume the police officer has the knowledge, background information and good judgement to make their decision. Similarly, when someone in a high-viz jacket on a building site gives an instruction or a doctor in a white coat gives a diagnosis, they are taken seriously. It all comes down to their authority – or, more importantly, our perception of their authority.

When you’re aiming to be persuasive, you should always try to appear as authoritative as possible. The way you introduce and present yourself, as well as the language you use can make all the difference. Outlining where you learnt something, why you’re the one speaking and why what you say matters will greatly increase your influence.


5. Scarcity and Urgency
Let’s say you’re in a shop and can’t decide whether or not to buy something. When there’s plenty of time to think and weigh up all the different options, then there’s time to talk yourself out of a decision or find it somewhere else. But, if it’s the last day of the sale, or it’s the last one on the shelf, suddenly it’s a lot harder to walk away. We’ve all seen the way people act during Black Friday deals! Time pressures make people act.

It's the reason why online stores show you how many other people are looking at the same items as you, and make a big deal when there’s low stock. It’s interesting how often there’s only one or two of your favourite items left.

When you’re aiming to influence people into action, consider the timelines you give and how you present them. Telling a potential client your stock or availability is limited, creates that sense of scarcity and urgency in their mind. You should never lie, but being deliberate and mindful in the way you present information can make a big impact.


6. Commitment and Consistency

When someone says out loud that they’ll do something, they become much more likely to actually do it. People want to honour their commitments to avoid disappointing others and damaging their reputation.  Once they’ve made an agreement, there’s an awkwardness to backtracking or not seeing it through.

We’re all taught as children not to lie or mislead others, particularly when people are relying on us. Therefore, the idea of backing out of a promise, or leading a seller or customer on when you don’t intend to complete the deal, can do huge damage to the relationship.

This makes a verbal or written commitment a very effective tool for influence. If you’re talking to someone and you get them to agree to what you want, it becomes much more likely they’ll do it. This is true for customers, colleagues, managers or friends.


7. Unity

Cialdini considers unity to be the most important principle, as it represents partnership and agreement. All of these tools for influencing are based around getting people to respond positively to you and inspire your desired actions. This final concept ties it all together, with the ultimate goal being genuine agreement.

Whether you’re asking for help developing a new project or speaking to a customer, clearly aiming for the same outcome – such as your customer buying something that fixes their problem, or working towards your organisational goals – creates a shared roadmap forward. When everyone involved can recognise your interests are aligned, they’ll be much more receptive to your ideas. 

Even when you disagree on the specific actions to reach the goal, building mutual trust and respect means you can continue your discussions and find a compromise that benefits everyone. You can’t assume people will immediately see how your objectives align, so you should find a way to clarify it when aiming to influence others.


Each of these seven tools has a huge amount of potential to make you more influential, persuasive and successful. They’ll also help you recognise when people are trying to use them to influence you. The most important thing is to understand how the way you act, talk and present yourself can drastically alter your powers of influence and persuasion. 


For more ways to improve your people's Impact and Influence, take a look at our Learning Solutions.