#554  Innovative Leader                 Volume 11, Number 6        June 2002

How to Persuade and Influence People
by Wolf J. Rinke, Ph.D., CSP

Dr. Rinke (www.WolfRinke.com) is a motivational and management keynote speaker, seminar leader, management consultant, executive coach. He sells  the NEW Make It a Winning Life perpetual calendar, available in bookstores or by calling (800) 828-9653. He has  authored 12 books, including Winning Management: 6 Fail-Safe Strategies for Building High-Performance Organizations (Achievement Publishers, Clarksville, MD, 1997).

Getting other people to do what you want them to do is an art and a science that you must master if you want to succeed in this era of rapid change, teaming, decentralized controls and doing more with less. And it does not really matter if you are a manager, sales professional or home executive. Just stop and think for a moment how much of your time is spent attempting to get your children to do what you want them to do. How about your spouse, boss, team member or colleague?

In this article I will provide you with five powerful principles—I call them laws—because according to an article in the October 2001 issue of the Harvard Business Review by Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, they are based on "deeply rooted human drives and needs…" which have been substantiated in over five decades of scientific investigations. And most importantly—based on my own consulting and coaching experiences—they work.

The Law of Liking: People like people who like them.

People who are liked generate affection and good feeling. And people who feel good about themselves are more likely to comply with your wishes. The epitome of the Law of Liking is our 26-year-old daughter Nicole, who has this innate charisma, personal magnetism, or whatever you want to call it, that gets people to like her—even fall in love with her—after just a short time. For example, when we picked Nicole up from the airport the other day, she was saying farewell to another passenger as if it was one of her life-long friends. In fact, Nicole had spent less than two hours sitting next to someone she had never met before. As a result Nicole has the largest most powerful network of any person I have ever met. And that network is always eager to help Nicole in any way they can. You can achieve the same results by mastering two powerful strategies that will cause people to like you.

Strategy #1: Become an active listener so that you can discover what you like about another person. The reality is that all people are a composite of strengths and weaknesses and it really does not take any more energy to find the good in people than the bad. To make this work, use your mental energy to focus on the good stuff in the other person and then let him or her know about it. Maybe she dresses well, is efficient or extremely punctual. It's important to be genuine and sincere. For example telling someone he looks great when he does not, may backfire. Most people have an internal "crap detector," and if they feel that you are not congruent—that is your words do not match your body language—they will discount what you say.

I have verified this Law in some of my seminars. For example, I participate in the ISS University in Denmark several times per year. ISS is a global service company that brings about 30 managers from all over the world to Copenhagen for a 4-day management development program of which I deliver the last day. Several seminars ago, I was told by the program director: "This is the best group we've had to date, they are very positive, inquisitive and really with it." I passed this compliment along to the group throughout the day and noticed that not only did they live up to that expectation, they also seemed to like me much more than any of the other groups. As a result they rated me a perfect 10 on the measure of "faculty effectiveness." Since then I've experimented and have noticed that providing a group with genuine praise results in consistently higher audience satisfaction and higher scores for me.

Strategy #2: Find what you have in common with another person and let him/her know about it. Similarities establish a positive bond with others and create goodwill and trustworthiness. For example, research into the buying behavior of people has repeatedly verified that we are more likely to buy from someone we like and have something in common with. And even though you may not be making your living from sales, you do sell all of the time. You sell your boss on a promotion, your sell your team members on implementing a new system, and you sell your spouse on where to go for dinner. I leverage this Law whenever I make a proposal to a prospective client, by finding out what I have in common with the decision makers, and by finding out what they are proud of. (The Internet is a great source for this kind of information). Early on in our meeting I make it a practice to use this information as a springboard for our discussions. What I have found is that my ability to close the deal is directly and consistently related to my applying the Law of Liking.

The Law of Reciprocity: Whatever you give is what you're going to get.

It seems so simple, yet so powerful. If you want more of something—may it be love, money, or trust—you have to give it before you get it. Charities figured this out a long time ago. They found that by including a little gift with their solicitation letter—such as personalized address labels—they could almost double the response rates. What works for charities will also work for you. For example, I have found the way I get more trust, love and joy, is to give it first. The result, I've enjoyed an exceptionally positive marriage to Marcela my Superwoman for over 33 years. It works equally well in your professional life. If you are in sales, and you have a habit of creating incredible levels of value for your customers, you will be making lots of sales, no matter what the state of the economy.

And it is no different in management. If you want your team members to trust, respect, and cooperate with you, model the behavior you want, and you will get more of it. The key is to do it, not just talk about it. You see if you talk a good game, but don't back your words with action, your team members will quickly discount your words, and take their cues from what you do. For example a recent management team I consulted with had very little trust and respect for their boss—lets call him Mike. Upon investigation, I found out that when a senior executive challenged Mike about the lack of results, Mike tended to blame one of his team members or the entire management team. My advice to Mike: "Say something positive about your team members or say nothing at all." All winning managers have figured out the Law of Reciprocity. That's why they make it a habit to give their credit away and assume full responsibility for things that do not work out.

The Law of Commitment: People are more likely to do what they commit to.

Getting people to like you, letting them know what you have in common and modeling the behavior you want are powerful strategies to get people to do what you want them to do. Getting someone to voluntarily commit to a course of action, getting him/her to put that commitment in writing and making it public will dramatically increase your ability to not only persuade someone, but also actually have them follow through. I use the Law of Commitment in my executive coaching sessions. Recently one of my clients was struggling with a highly valued manager—let's call him Jim—who had poor interpersonal skills that interfered with his ability to manage people. I sat down with Jim and his boss, Judy, in a neutral environment and used a powerful technique that enabled both parties to talk frankly about their concerns. During this meeting, Jim voluntarily committed to take specific actions that would address the most critical issues raised by Judy. These commitments were signed by both parties, and led Jim to take actions that began to improve his ability to manage people. Teachers who establish learning contracts with their students, as well as managers and parents who ask for volunteers instead making assignments, all reap the benefit from this Law.

Forcing commitments seldom work. If you want proof positive on a grand scale just look at the failure of communism. On a smaller scale, have you ever gotten stuck behind a slow moving vehicle? What happens when you attempt to "force" the driver to move over by flashing your lights, honking or even tailgating? The answer of course is that most people resist by slowing down even more, or even fight back by putting their brakes on. Often it is far more effective to keep a respectable distance. In other words, paraphrasing Samuel Butler: "People who are convinced against their will, are of the same opinion still."

The second key to making the Law of Commitment work is to get it in writing. Somehow people perceive that which is written down more seriously. This was demonstrated in a study reported in 1996 by Cioffi and Garner in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Students who had volunteered to participate in an AIDS education project and filled out a form to indicate that willingness, were far more likely to actually show up (74%) for the project, than another group of students who also volunteered but did not fill out the form. Only 26% of those students actually showed up.

The third key is to make the commitment public. An extreme example of what happens when people make their commitments public is an exercise I learned from Max Bazerman's book: Judgment in Managerial Decision Making. Bazerman refers to this exercise as the "competitive escalation paradigm" which demonstrates that once people make their commitment public they will tend to escalate their commitment even if it is against their own interest. Here is how the exercise works:

Imagine yourself in a room with about 25 people. I hold up a $20 bill and say: I am going to auction off this $20 bill. Please note that this is a real $20 bill and a real auction. Bids must be made in multiples of $1 until the bidding stops at which point the person with the highest bid must pay me the amount bid to receive the $20 bill. The only two features that distinguish this auction from others are (1) at least two people must bid, and (2) in addition to the highest bidder the second highest bidder must also pay the amount he or she bid. For example, lets say the bidding stops when John bid $8 and Jill bid $7. At that point John pays me $8 and gets the $20 bill (that means John made $12), and Jill pays me $7 and gets nothing (that means Jill lost $7).

Would you make a bid? How high would you bid? I have run this auction in several programs, and find that what happens is always the same. The bidding starts out with several people participating at a very aggressive pace. Once the bidding gets to about $12 to $16 most people drop out except two. And these two get into a furious competition, which incredulously almost always exceeds $20. At that point everyone is very amused except the two people who are bidding. One auction I conducted in a graduate class at the University of Maryland ended when the bid reached $51, at which point the highest bidder suggested to the second highest bidder that they should stop. To facilitate that he was willing to pay half of the loss of the second bidder to get out of the financial quagmire. That meant that bidder #1 lost $56 ($31+25) and bidder #2 lost $25 (half of $50). All that just to get $20! I know it sounds incredulous. But that's what happens once people make a public commitment. (By the way I don't keep the money. Typically I give it away at the end of the program.)

The Law of Expertise. People are more likely to heed the advice of experts.

People who are perceived as experts have a greater ability to persuade others. Robert Cialdini reported in an October 2001 Harvard Business Review article that most hospital stroke patients tended to abandon the exercise routines prescribed by physical therapists. Interviews revealed that patients were familiar with the credentials of their physicians—whose instructions they tended to comply with—but they knew very little about the qualifications of the physical therapists. The remedy: display academic diplomas and certificates of the physical therapists in the exercise room. The result: exercise compliance increased by 34%.

I use this law to my advantage whenever I telephone someone who has a very effective gatekeeper by introducing myself as follows: This is Dr. Rinke, I would like to speak to Ms. Hardto Getto. It works virtually every time. Similarly, when I speak, my introduction highlights my academic credentials and expertise, which gives me a leg-up in being able to persuade the audience to take a specific course of action.

You can take advantage of this law by making your expertise more visible. If you are in sales, prominently display your sales awards where most of your customers can see them, and if you are in management share your prior experience and expertise with your team members and customers. A good way to do this is during social discourse. So make time to meet with your prospective customers and team leaders in social settings, so that you can communicate your expertise and prior experience without boasting or bragging.

The Law of Scarcity. People want more of what they can't have.

Any time you see a "limited time"; "one-of-a kind", "act now" offer, you are face to face with the law of scarcity. Study after study has demonstrated that that which is less available is perceived as more valuable. Do you recall how you felt when you negotiated—let’s say it was to purchase a car—and the sales person invoked the "take-away" gambit by telling you that the quoted price is only available today. All of a sudden the price seemed so much lower than it really was. My Superwoman experienced this law during our courtship when I attempted to get her interested in me. Nothing seemed to work, until I showed up at a dance with another woman. All of a sudden Marcella become very interested in me.

You can take advantage of this Law by highlighting the exclusivity of an offer or opportunity. For example if you are a manager, you can let people know that only five top achievers will be selected to be on a certain team, or that only those who demonstrate a certain level of performance during the next six months will be selected for training. If you are in sales, letting people know that a specific offer is only available to the first 20 people who respond by a certain date will make the offer appear more valuable. Since research shows that potential losses cause people to more likely take action than potential gains, you want to be sure to highlight what people may lose if they fail to take action as opposed to what they may gain. For example, saying not refinancing your home will cause you to lose $200 every month will be more persuasive than saying refinancing will save you $200 a month.

This law can also increase the perceived value of information. Far more people will be interested in what you have to say if your information appears to be exclusive and not readily available. For example if you are a leader and you announce the following: "I have just become aware of new information that will not be made available to anyone else for several days," will cause your team members to be far more receptive than if you say: "I'm sure you have all seen the information about…" 

How to Take it to the Next Level

To compound your ability to persuade and influence people you want to use these five laws in tandem. In other words, if you are sincerely interested in other people you will find out what there is to like about them and what you have in common. That will enable you to pay genuine compliments and point out how much you are alike, which will establish rapport and build the foundation for being able to persuade and influence others. While you are listening actively, go beyond mirroring and model more of whatever it is that you want to get. Express a keen interest in the other person, smile genuinely, trust unconditionally and express more energy and joy and you will be able to harvest the benefits of the Law of Reciprocity, while at the same time obtaining the ammunition needed to exploit the Law of Liking. That will enable you to double your persuasive powers. By letting others know how you have improved the quality of people's personal or professional lives with similar challenges will enable you to leverage the Law of Expertise. Take it one step further and get people to voluntarily make commitments, put those commitments in writing and make them public, and you will have quintupled your ability to persuade and influence people.

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