This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
Some people have the happy knack of persuasion – of getting others to do what they want. They seem to do it instinctively while most of us struggle to sway others to our way of thinking.
But psychological research has shown that persuasion is more than instinct – you can use it in predictable ways by appealing to a limited set of deeply rooted human drives and needs. Persuasion is governed by basic principles that can be taught, learnt and implemented.
Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, wrote a fascinating book describing six fundamental principles of persuasion. As a public relations practitioner, you can learn his secrets of persuasion – so you can apply them yourself, both personally and professionally. You will find yourself wonderfully more effective.
The article is in a series of six that look at Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion.
The application: uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise.
Two things reliably increase liking – similarity and praise.
Similarity literally draws people together. Research in psychology showed that participants stood physically closer to one another after learning that they shared political beliefs and social values. And people are more willing to buy from those who are similar to them in various ways such as age, religion, politics or even cigarette-smoking habits.
Informal conversations during the working day create an ideal opportunity to discover at least one common area of enjoyment with someone you deal with. You can talk about a hobby, sport or television program. The important thing is to create the bond early because it paves the way for goodwill and trust in every later encounter. It’s much easier to gain support for a new project when the people you are trying to persuade, like your boss, a client or the new CEO, are already inclined in your favor.
We mostly prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. One way for people to like us is to give them praise. Praise charms and disarms. Positive remarks about another person’s attitude or performance reliably increase liking in return, as well as willing compliance with your wishes. This works even when flattery is used. Strangers such as sales people get us to comply with their requests as well by applying this rule – they first get us to like them.
Think of a person you can try this on. Look to give the person a compliment at least once a week, and note their response in your diary. Keep up a planned program of such charm and record the results. In most work and personal situations compliments are rare, so you will be pioneering new ground for yourself if you do this systematically.
If you can offer sincere admiration for some aspect of a foe, it is likely that you will be able to repair a creaky relationship with that person. You can admire their concern for their staff, the quality of their work or even their work ethic.
As a PR practitioner, your interpersonal skills are probably good already, but you could consciously apply the principle of liking in your dealings with others in your organization and with external stakeholders. When you know you will be meeting or talking with people who are important to you, make a point of offering a genuine compliment to start the conversation (without it being perceived as a device to curry favor!). Monitor your success with this technique.
(Robert B. Cialdini is author of Influence: Science and Practice. Allyn & Bacon, 2001.)
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