Article Collection

Get expert support for your case

01 Jun, 2020 Persuasion, influence, motivation

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

Use the principle of authority – people defer to experts.

The application: reveal your expertise; don’t assume it is self-evident.

People believe an expert. Research has consistently shown that the opinion of an expert quoted in a major newspaper or on a national television news program can shift public opinion immediately by up to 5%.

Also, findings from the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer survey echoed consistent results from previous years in rating company technical experts and academic experts as “very or extremely” credible sources of information about a company. The details were as follows:

  • Company technical expert 68%
  • Academic expert 66%
  • A person like yourself 61%
  • Regular employee 54%
  • CEO 47%
  • Financial industry analyst 47%
  • Successful entrepreneur 47%
  • Board of directors 44%
  • NGO representative 44%
  • Journalist 36%
  • Government official 33%

(In our ‘post-truth’ age, this principle isn’t quite as true as it used to be. Some people only want to hear their own pre-set views repeated by others, especially in politics. This is called Confirmation Bias, which is alignment with a person’s current beliefs. Accepting a claim that fits in with our belief system is easy to do. However, accepting a different view may pose a challenge our beliefs and makes the change harder to accept. Nevertheless, I suspect over time, truth will become more respected again as events unfold.)

When someone has expertise in a particular field, their credentials should be communicated to the target audience so the audience understands the value of the credentials. When this is done, the audience will take notice and align much more readily with the views of the expert.

For instance, if you want to demonstrate your knowledge in a particular field, the simple act of placing your (or your organization’s) awards, diplomas and certificates on the wall where visitors can see them, increases the visitors’ respect in one stroke.

In a more subtle way, if you are due to deal with someone to negotiate or participate in an important meeting with them, it is worth getting together with them beforehand to have a meal or a few drinks together. These occasions make discussions easier, especially when each person can share common experiences and grounds for liking the other person. Anecdotes become useful ways of demonstrating that you have solved a problem successfully that is similar to the problem at hand.

Likewise, you can chat casually before a meeting starts, enabling you to establish your expertise as part of a sociable exchange, and positioning yourself subtly as an expert before the business at hand begins.

Third party endorsement

In a similar way, you can enlist third party endorsement. If you have an issue looming, or even a crisis, you can approach an expert such as a university professor or medical researcher to explain the situation and seek their support. If that person is willing, you can nominate them to media and stakeholders (including adversaries) as an independent person who can offer their considered view, which coincides with yours.

You may not even need to ask for their support. You may already know their view in principle or as previously expressed, and therefore you can safely suggest to others that the endorser is worth talking with.

Testimonials

Testimonials are effective as another form of third party support. You can ask a customer or expert for their considered view of your product or service and gain their permission to quote them. However, to be effective, the testimonial should indicate the person’s initial view and the specific benefits gained from using your product or service. Ideally, you would use a photo of them and show their first name and last name and preferably the name of the organization where they work as well as their email address.

(This is one of six principles outlined in Influence: Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini.)

Photo by fran hogan on Unsplash.

About the author and editor Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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