All business communication is persuasive communication. Whether you’re in sales, business development, advertising, PR, or another persuasive profession, or leading a team, creating policies, or recruiting, you’re working on persuading someone else to take action.
Influence is a book about how to be more persuasive, written by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., who admits in the introduction that he wanted to research how and why he became such a patsy. “For as long as I can recall,” he writes, “I’ve been an easy mark for the pitches of peddlers, fundraisers and operators of one sort or another.”
You may feel the same way. After all, for every persuader, there is (at least one) persuaded. Often, many more. Cialdini spends plenty of time explaining how persuasive techniques work and why they’re so effective on all of us (you are not alone.)
I’ll help you understand how easy it can be to be more persuasive – and why such simple techniques work so well, even on smart people like yourself.
Lesson one in being more persuasive: give a reason. It doesn’t have to be a compelling reason, or even a good reason; just adding “because” to your request makes it more likely that someone will actually do what you ask. In a behavioral experiment, researchers asked to cut into a line of people waiting to use the copier in a library. The researcher asked in two different ways: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages; may I jump in to use the copier?” and “Excuse me, I have 5 pages; may I jump in to use the copier? Because I’m in a rush.” The results were remarkable; 94 percent of people let her cut in line when she gave a reason, compared to only 60 percent when she gave none.
If you’re a parent who hates having to give reasons for tasks that should be self-evident, you might want to reconsider (and retire “because I said so” from your lexicon forever.) The researcher found that the quality of the reason really didn’t matter; she got nearly the same rate of compliance when she simply restated her purpose. She tested “Excuse me, I have 5 pages; may I jump in to use the copier because I need to make copies?” and received 93 percent compliance. The most important word in the sentence was “because,” not what followed it.
Cialdini says that we comply with requests automatically based on cues in part because we simply can’t process everything we encounter on a conscious level. The world is simply too complex. We need some cognitive shortcuts to save our brain processing power for more important issues. It’s why we pick the same brand off the shelves at the store time after time, or order the same breakfast at the deli.
One of these cognitive shortcuts, for example is a coupon. We have been conditioned as adult consumers to understand that coupon = better deal. A company Cialdini cites in the book found out how effective coupons can be. A tire company mailed out coupons that, due to a printing error, offered a price no different than the usual price for a service. The coupon produced the same return rate as another batch that correctly offered a significant discount. The coupon itself was the trigger, apparently, not the actual price.
Cialdini says that savvy marketers understand how to use the cognitive shortcuts and triggers to get us to make buying decisions on automatic pilot. More on these techniques in future posts.