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The Art of Persuading Others to Change

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Persuading others to change—rather than forcing, ordering, or directing them—is an essential skill in every partnership. Family units, workspace, volunteer boards, community planning (tribes) all have people sharing various ideas that not all can be implemented at the same time. This then sparks discussion, debate, and arguing from those not skilled in the art of persuasion.

Dr. Robert Cialdini , an expert in persuasion, has developed six principles for persuading people to change their ideas or course of action:

  1. Reciprocity: You give something personal and unexpected so that the other person wants to give back to you. Someone invites you to a party so you feel compelled to invite them to yours. Your waiter gives you a free taste of a dessert or after-dinner drink right before the bill arrives. A vendor invites you to a special VIP event shortly before their contract renewal. An employee brings your favorite snack after a big project and right before raises are announced. These are all examples of the Theory of Reciprocity.
  2. Scarcity: You create a sense of urgency around the idea or action that highlights what is unique about your proposition and what people would lose if they don’t accept it. The toilet paper scare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Removing cuddle time with your kids if they aren’t in bed on time. Any parent trying to find that one, high-ticket item for birthdays and holidays. A manager creating a sales prize for top goals.
  3. Authority: You cite the recommendations of experts and/or you show your own qualifications to elevate credibility. This immediately increases the audience’s confidence and trust. Hang diplomas, certificates, awards, and achievements publicly where people can see them. Have people introduce you as an expert, showcasing experience and accomplishments. Provide links to podcasts, social media posts, and online sources where you are the specialist.
  4. Liking: Persuasion science says people are more likable when they: 1) Have more in common with their audience 2) Pay people compliments 3) Collaborate towards mutual goals. If you are liked, your ideas are more apt to be accepted and supported. Highlight similarities such as living in the same area, age of children, alma maters, or hobbies before jumping into the main discussion. Positive chit chat about the day, environment, and hobbies will go far when breaking down walls to build trust. Authentic compliments establishes a rapport of collaboration and partnership.
  5. Consistency: When you ask for small commitments that lead to the larger action or change first, studies prove participants are more than 400% likely to follow through to the real, desired outcome. Have patients write down their own upcoming appointment times. Employees promote a company-wide initiative by wearing specific color clothing. Spouses thread in more intimacy through their day by adding reminders in their phones.
  6. Consensus: Explain, show, and/or observe other’s behaviors that lead to successfully creating the desired outcome from the audience. Coined by Cialdini in his 1984 book “Influence,” this principle is also known as Social Proof. When you want to run a 5k and struggle to believe it’s possible, go volunteer at one and talk to people on how they got started. Visit another organization doing what you want and find out how they did it. Gather user testimonials. Read non-fiction stories of survivors.

Apply the Principles at Home and Work

  • Start in the early stages. It’s always easier to influence change when issues are small or events are manageable. The sooner you act the more persuasive your changes are to land positively.
  • Use verbiage that supports forward movement together, especially – “Let’s give this a try,” or “We can start and evaluate in a few days,” and “If at any time either of us doesn’t like how it’s going, we can speak up and we’ll adjust.” Choose to use the “we” and “us” pronouns over the “I” and “me” as it promotes group-think.
  • Understand who your audience is. They may be your spouse of 25-years, coworker for a decade, sibling, or neighbor but don’t rob them of the individual contribution by assuming you know their reactions or position. Everyone has the opportunity to show up differently. Give them your time and attention by allowing them to talk first and share what they need and validate their perspective.
  • Refer to time constraints and deadlines looming. A greater sense of urgency often sways people to consider change and ideas to avoid negative consequences.
  • Studies have confirmed compliance techniques almost invariably work when persuading others. This means providing choice by offering, “But you are free to…,” (BYAF technique)  and, “You are free to do otherwise.”
  • Gather the facts, provide metrics for results, and otherwise demonstrate your knowledge of a comprehensive view of the situation. Call in experts to support your viewpoint when appropriate.

Caution: Be mindful of coming across as a know-it-all with lots of facts. Aggressively contradicting others is a fast way of losing your influence.

  • Listen closely to the other person’s or group’s perspective. Finding areas of agreement keeps you on the same side as opposed to becoming ‘the opposition.’ Provide honest compliments about the parts you agree with and emphasize a partnership in working together to reach a goal on the point you don’t.
  • Keep your goal and their goal in mind at all times—you may not change someone’s mind or behavior immediately, but you can still achieve commitment to your idea.
  • Gather information from other organizations, teams, or leaders in how they have approached the problem solving or decision making in similar situations and—for your own sake—how they have influenced the decision.

What To Do If You Fail to Persuade

If you receive a “no” at the end of the request, or even, “I’ll think about it,” you don’t necessarily need to concede complete defeat. Your discussion with the individual(s) should have brought out information about their concerns and obstacles to change—elements of the situation that you may not have considered in your first attempt.

The more you know about the other person’s reluctance to change, the better armed you will be at a second encounter with this person regarding this situation or at your first encounter with a different person in a similar situation. You will know what objections you are likely to hear and can prepare to meet them.

Key Takeaways

There are principles and steps in the art of persuading others to change. Expert Robert Cialdini has identified six foundational elements. They are:
1. Reciprocity
2. Scarcity
3. Authority
4. Liking
5. Consistency
6. Consensus

These principles apply to both home and work situations. Being proactive, using specific verbiage, active listening, and open-mindedness are some of the ways to apply Cialdini’s work to influence others.

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