There are two ways to exert influence; through force or persuasion.
Nobody enjoys commands, so even if they comply, the result will be inferior.
Therefore, getting someone to want what you want is not only more preferable, but also pleasant.
Unsurprisingly, the best communicators are often also the most persuasive, able to align someone to their way of thinking and convince them to perform a particular action.
For this reason, it’s a skill worth learning.
While it may seem like a dark art, there are fortunately three persuasion steps we can employ (sourced from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini).
1. Increase our likability
It’s probably obvious that the more likeable you are, the more persuasive you’ll be.
Why do you think we’re more willing to help friends than respond to random requests from strangers?
This is human interaction 101.
I was always fascinated by a physiotherapist I used to work with, who technically wasn’t the best at the job, but nevertheless achieved astounding clinical results.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that he was also incredibly engaging.
Becoming likeable might seem like a completely abstract and unlearnable step in gaining influence, but it’s foundational and actually easy if we employ basic conversation skills.
Simply ask questions, find common ground and pay genuine compliments where they’re deserved.
Be a decent human being and people will want to help you.
2. Utilise the law of reciprocity
At their inception in the late 1960’s, the Hare Krishna organisation faced a problem.
While they were extremely effective at capturing attention through public dancing and chanting, they weren’t able to capitalise on it by collecting donations from wary strangers.
Until they utilised the law of reciprocity, that is.
In his fantastic book, Cialdini says that the group employed a unique solution.
In airports, a common stomping ground, they began handing out flowers to prospects, framing them as free gifts.
It was only after the flower had been accepted that a donation was requested, sending fundraising numbers through the roof.
In the same way that giving someone a birthday gift makes it more likely that they’ll reciprocate, we’re evolutionarily primed to return favours to form cohesive groups.
As a persuasion step, consider what you can do for someone before asking for something in return.
3. Secure a micro-commitment
Research has found that when we make a commitment, we become easier to influence.
This taps into a psychological principle called consistency theory, in which we strive to act in congruence with our previous behaviour.
An interesting study demonstrates this.
Researchers asked a series of homeowners to erect an unsightly ‘drive safely’ billboard on their front lawn.
Unsurprisingly uptake was low.
However, compliance was increased by 450% in a test group which had been given an unobtrusive driver safety sign four weeks earlier.
This provided a smaller but psychologically vital commitment, encouraging these homeowners to maintain their self-image as conscientious local residents.
If you can secure a voluntary pre-commitment, ideally in public or in writing, you’re better placed for a bigger future request.
The art of influence
There’s no denying that these persuasion steps are integral leadership skills.
Many successful people have wielded these principles effectively, encouraging others to do their bidding or champion their cause.
Indeed, the game of influence is everywhere, funded by companies who know the value of tapping into our psychological biases and atavistic instincts.
But it needn’t be a spammy tactic.
If you want to improve your interaction with others, learning how the human mind works is imperative.
As opposed to brute force, utilise this knowledge to improve your relationships, securing voluntary and enthusiastic responses to your requests.