The science of persuasion

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The science of persuasion


For those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Sarah Rudder, I run a bespoke learning and development agency called Ginger Dog Developments and I am the resident company coach here at RocketMill. Today I thought we would spend a few minutes looking at the science of persuasion.

The science of persuasion

So you guys are in the business of influencing, essentially and I thought I would share with you the work of Robert Cialdini. Has anybody come across his work before? Few of you, fantastic. So, it’s a little bit of a refresher for you but for the rest of you, it might be something that’s new.

So he has six principles of influence. Six reasons that people say yes to the things that they’re being asked to do and I thought I’d share those with you and invite you to also share some ideas that you might have as we talk about them, as about how you use these. So these are not just things you could use with clients, but also things that you might use with each other and maybe with your friends and family outside of work if you want to be more influential.


The first one is reciprocity and this is where Joe’s going to come into his own. So the study, one of the studies they did was around … you know when you go out for dinner and they bring you the bill and quite often … I’m standing here with some of these, they bring you a mint with your bill. Does that make a difference to how much you tip? Let’s give Joe an After Eight. Would that make a difference to how much I would tip me if I was your waitress?

So studies show that actually, he would now tip me probably 3% more than if I didn’t give him a mint. 3%, okay. What if I give him two mints? It’s going well, right Joe?

If I give him two mints, will my tip double, do you think?

Interestingly, it goes to 14% if I give you two mints. Now, if I give you two mints, and I say, “I’m giving you two mints because you’ve been such a nice customer”. Does the tip go up?

Yeah, absolutely. Now, I’m looking at a 23% increase on my tip. So, what do we know about reciprocity in terms of our lives? What we know is that if we do things for other people. If we give generously with our time and our favours, they are more likely, of course, to do things for us when we ask them. None of this is rocket science, by the way, it’s a bit of neuroscience really.

So if we’re generous with our time and we give people something, chances are, they’re likely to give something back. So reciprocity.

Commitment and consistency

Second one, commitment and consistency. So you’d be more likely to support a colleague’s proposal if you’d previously shown interest in it. We are more likely to commit and to be consistent in our actions if we have publicly said that we will do something. So, anybody that’s ever got involved with a marathon or a diet, you’re more likely to stick with that, and to stick with your training if you have publicly said you’re going to do that.

Doctors appointment study

So, how does this help us? So one study that they looked at was where they got patients in health centres to actually write down, on a card, their own appointments rather than the receptionist writing it down for them. If you get your patient to write down their own appointment, they’re commitment to turning up goes up by 18%. So 18% more people came to to those doctor’s appointments than previously.

So you tell me. How does this impact, or what other examples can you think of where either other companies or you used this piece of science to influence?

It’s coming up here towards Christmas, who will get a packet of Christmas cards sent to you by a charity of some kind along with a request to donate? Chances are, it’s a charity that you have donated to at some point in the past and therefore, they think that they’re likely to get more commitment from you because you’ve already shown commitment in the past.


Okay, let’s have a look at the next one. So, consensus, we’re more likely to do things that other people are doing, particularly if we’re uncertain about what’s the right thing to do. If we’re told that other people are doing it, chances are we’ll do it too.

So, I remember this being a particular tool that I used to use for influencing my parents when I was very small. That whole “everybody else is doing it”. It didn’t work very well, as a kid. My mum just wasn’t influenced by that at all. But as grownups, we are more influenced by that.

Hotels study

One of the studies that Cialdini talks about is with hotels. So if you stay in a hotel for longer than one night, chances are there will be something in your room that suggests that you might like to reuse your towels. Usually, they use the environmental message to encourage us to do that.

That’s reasonably effective in influencing us to do that. They changed that card, and the card said, 75% of people who stay in this room, reuse their towels. Yeah? Towel reuse went up by 33%. So it’s just all of these small things, all of these small things that can make a difference to how we influence people. How do you guys use this? With your clients, I suspect?

Reviews, testimonials. Yeah, people trust you, as an agency, because they see who else you work for. If those people think you’re good, then you must be good. Okay, Trip Advisor’s another one. We book places that other people recommend.


Let’s have a look at the next one. Number four, principle number four, liking. Those of you who were here last month, we talked about unconscious bias, and we talked about the fact that actually, we need to overcome our bias for people who are like us. This is the other side of the coin. This tells us that actually, people are likely to do things for us if they like us, yeah. Again, makes perfect sense, I think. You’d be surprised how small the influence can be, or the things that you can do to influence can be.

Similar name study

So one study, they sent a load of surveys out. And in some of those surveys, they signed the request to fill out the survey with a name that sounded very similar to the name of the person they were sending it to. So if you’re name was Robert Eames, for instance, you might get a survey request from Bob James, yeah?

What that meant, was that they actually had a 50% increase in people returning surveys when they were requested by somebody that had a name that sounded like theirs. Yeah. Good stuff, eh? So what does this mean in terms of work? It means the bigger your network, the greater, the stronger relationships that you have, the more influential you are, essentially. Again, this is not rocket science. We probably already know this, yeah?

In one negotiation study, One group was asked to not mess around and get straight on with business. They were about 50% successful in coming to a conclusion in their business deal. The other group were asked to spend some time getting to know the other parties in the negotiation. They were 90% successful in their negotiation. The contract was worth, in general, 18% more for both parties, than in the other group where they didn’t spend time getting to know each other.


Number five, authority. We do things for people that we believe are credible experts or have a position of authority. Yeah. I’ve never tested this out. But I was once told that if you put a high vis jacket on, you can pretty much walk in anywhere, yeah. Nobody will question you. Has anyone tried that out? No? Nobody’s going to admit to it. Be fun though right? Put a high vis jacket on, carry a clipboard. You can get away with anything. Go in anywhere, yeah.

Estate agents study

So what does this mean? One study showed that estate agents could increase their business by telling customers about their credibility. So when the customer phoned up and asked to speak to somebody in sales, they were told, “Yeah, let me put you through to Adrian. He’s got 15 years experience in this business.” That little bit of extra credibility, from the receptionist, it doesn’t even need to be you that’s telling people who credible you are. Somebody else doing that is probably even more powerful. That small change led to 20% increase in appointments and a 15% increase in contracts that were signed.

Yeah, so again, how do you tell your clients about your credibility? How do you tell your colleagues about your credibility and build your influence within the business?


The last one that we have is scarcity. So, if something is rare and unique, we want it more. If we can’t get it, we want it more. Yeah? Again, Christmas is coming. Right about Christmas time, there’s always a frenzy, isn’t there? For the latest toy that’s sold out weeks ahead of time. Yeah. And people are buying it at vastly increased prices on eBay.

When British Airways announced, in 2003, that it would no longer be flying Concords, sales went through the roof the next day, yeah. When Land Rover decided they were no longer going to be manufacturing Defender, sales went up 20% straightaway, yeah. So if it’s something that we think we’re not going to be able to get hold of, we want it more.

There are lots of organisations using this now. So, for instance. If you’ve ever gone on to look at rooms. Yeah, it tells you how many people are looking and how many rooms are left. And it creates this kind of anxiety about whether you’re going to be able to get it, yeah?

Same with eBay, the time’s ticking down, and it tells you how many other people are watching. Yeah, so how do we create that? This is a rhetorical question. How do we create that excitement and slight anxiety about what we do? Yeah?

How do we create that sense of urgency? How do we make our proposition unique? How do we highlight what could be lost if it’s not considered? So that is it, my friends, in a nutshell. Six principles of persuasion based on Robert Cialdini’s work. You have reciprocity, commitment, consensus, liking, authority, and scarcity. And chances are, you’ll be using some of those already without even labelling them. Yeah, without even noticing them. So I guess my challenge to you is how do you become more conscious about how you’re influencing, and what you’re doing to become more influential in your roles, and with your colleagues here?