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The Art of Persuasion

6 secrets you can use to seal a deal

In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State University, describes six psychological secrets behind influencing another human being.

Sound persuasion tactics are a necessity in the business world. There are countless situations where negotiating, persuasion and influence come in handy in everyday business situations. Whether you are trying to "seal the deal" with a customer or are just trying to send some positive vibes about your company to a potential partner, the ability to influence can be a unique and powerful tool to have in your war chest.

Cialadini dictates six golden principles to be a powerful persuader:

1. Reciprocation: This rule is simple--and quite potent. It basically says that we must repay what another person has provided us. So if someone sends me a Christmas card, I should send one back. If someone invites me to a party, I should invite them to mine. There is a sense of obligation on the part of the receiver. Further, there's a notion of reciprocal concessions. If a kid knocks on your door and asks you to buy five tickets at $5 a pop to the local circus to benefit an AIDS foundation, you may say no simply because you do not like the circus and you do like dollars. But if that same person knocks on your door a week later and asks you to buy a chocolate candy bar for a dollar, even if you despise chocolate, chances are you'll buy it. Why? Because the kid made a concession to you by asking for less, thus you feel an obligation to make a concession to him by buying.

2. Commitment and Consistency: Once we announce an opinion, or take a stand on an issue, we feel pressure to behave consistent with that commitment. Many companies try to get public commitments and statements on how wonderful their product is from customers, because once a customer has publicly called a product "super easy to use," it will always be easy to use in that customer's mind.

3. Social Proof: The principal of social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. In other words, when attempting to decide what is the correct behavior or action, we often look to see what others think. The most obvious example of social proof is canned laughter in comedy sitcoms.

4. Liking: The premise of the liking principle is very straightforward. It has to do with friends calling us saying we just have to buy this new dishwasher. Or it's the impulse to buy because "it's the official nose hair plucker of the US Olympic Team."

5. Authority: Figures of authority play a vital role in influence. Clothing (such as uniforms) and titles (for example, Professor or CEO) are just a couple examples of how authority influences our every day lives.

6. Scarcity: "Buy them now! Only 100 left!" and "First 500 fans get a limited-edition Barry Bonds bobblehead" are two examples of how advertising employs the scarcity technique. Human instinct is to get the ultra-rare gizmo or autograph and have the pride of knowing we are one of the few.

Consider these persuasion tactics when going about your everyday business activities or negotiating big contracts. Remember, you have to be a powerful persuader to know a persuader. If you are armed with the knowledge Cialdani outlines, you can effectively defend yourself against people who try to use their influence strategies against you.


Fourteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in over 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.

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