You Want to Persuade
October 2012

 David Skinner

If you are in business, sales, a personal relationship or perhaps a parent of a teen, you've likely had moments when you wish you had superpowers of influence and persuasion. Yes, imagine the possibilities! You could get your initiatives accepted by colleagues, your choice of vacation spots, movies or even spend an enjoyable evening with the texting stranger living under your roof! According to one well-known expert such persuasive power is within your reach and for thirty years he has educated, written and promoted these views. His name is Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, Regents' Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

Most Famous For

Among his most famous books is "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," an engaging read, with sales exceeding 2 million copies, translated into twenty-six languages and designated by Fortune Magazine as one of the "75 Smartest Business Books."  In case you missed it, you'll find an Amazon link to purchase and a short video of Dr. Cialdini discussing his 6 key principles below." In the mean time the principles in brief are:

  • Reciprocity - "Gimme Five," the concept is we want and expect the return of favors, even simple handshakes. That's why you get all those free samples at Costco. We hold the reasonable expectation of gifts and good deeds coming back to favor us; kind of a Karma - back scratch sort of thing!
  • Commitment and Consistency - You are more likely to keep a promise when it is consistent with the way you see yourself, even when the other side fails to meet your expectations. Honesty tends to prevail.  
  • Social Proof - You Tweet because your friends Tweet. We are likely to follow the path of 'crowd think', believing so many Frenchmen can't be wrong!
  • Authority - The people we look up to, give us permission to act out differently than normal; even when it's wrong. That's why good boys may often do bad things.
  • Liking - We are more likely to follow the advice or buy the brand endorsed by a famous movie star or idol. It wasn't really the Corinthian leather that sold those Chryslers. Thanks Ricardo!
  • Scarcity - If you didn't have to stand-in line to get an Apple product, you wouldn't be as likely to buy one.


These six keys of persuasion can be used for good as well as nefarious purposes. They are universal. Here's an example Cialdini uses to show a human behavior that is both subtle and accessible. You'll want to begin using this superpower immediately Because you want to be persuasive. 


The Experiment in Persuasive Superpowers

Cialdini demonstrates the powerful auto-response to a verbal stimulus. He cites an experiment by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer. It is commonly believed when asked a simple favor, we are more likely to oblige if the request is accompanied by a plausible reason. Here's the real facts:

PART 1.  Langer first demonstrated the results by asking a 'small favor' of people in line at . . . Let's say a Starbucks,"Excuse me, I need to get my caffeine fix. May I go ahead in the line, because I'm in a hurry?" The effectiveness of this request-plus reason was nearly total: Ninety-four percent of those asked allowed her to skip to the front of the line.

PART  2. Compare this success rate to the results when she made the request-only, "Excuse me, I have to get my caffeine fix. May I go ahead in the line?" Under those conditions, only 60 percent of those asked complied. It would imply that the difference in results was due to the additional information offered in Part 1, "because I'm in a hurry."

PART 3. But a third request tried by Langer demonstrated this was not quite the case. It seems it was not the series of words that made the difference, but solely the first one, "because". Langer's third attempt used the word "because", but added no new information or reason for the request, merely restated the obvious, Excuse me, I need to get my caffeine fix, may I go ahead of you, because I need my caffeine fix." The result was once more nearly all (93 percent) allowed her to cut in line even though there was no justifiable reason given.

Like a hunter's duck call attracts the flock overhead, the human psyche is programmed to respond automatically when "because" is used to trigger a desired response. Do I need to repeat that? When you make a request of someone else, regardless of the reason, humans are programmed to respond positively to the stimulus word "because". There would be no reason not to use this in your next presentation, date night discussion or teen directive.

Programmed from Infancy

You'll have to judge Cialdini's claims for yourself; even try out a few. However for me, I have vivid memories of my mother using some of these persuasive principles. For example, I was often told to comply with her order of cleaning up my room, with "Just Because". And that was enough. I did it! 

Here is the Amazon link to purchase Dr. Cialdini's book!

Below watch an informal dialogue about the book "Influence" with Professor Donelson R. Forsyth of the Jepson School of Leadership.