Persuasion: Reciprocity and Liking

“Sell me this pen” says Leonardo DiCaprio’s Belfort in the film The Wolf of Wall Street. This iconic scene in the movie would normally have heralded the need for a glib, smooth-talker to accomplish Belfort’s demand, yet Brad persuades Belfort using an ingenious yet simple principle: scarcity. For those who are interested, this scene can be found at

6 Principles of Persuasion


Scarcity is among the six principles covered previously in our lecture on persuasion. Clearly, persuasion is not only important to salespeople, it is a very crucial aspect for leaders to master should they want to lead their organizations to greater heights. For instance, during crises, leaders and managers often have to persuade their subordinates to keep their spirits up, remain with the organization and perhaps even attempt unconventional methods to ensure the organization’s survival.


Principles of persuasion

Therefore, which are the principles that we can adhere to when persuading others? Dr Robert Cialdini first identified six key principles underlying persuasion in his influential 1984 book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. As highlighted in our lecture, these are: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity. TED, famous for their persuasive presentations, has endorsed a video summary of Cialdini’s principles, and it can be found at


In this blog post, I will focus on a couple of key principles, namely reciprocity and liking, and how they relate to other concepts which we have learnt in this module.


Reciprocity and social exchange theory

When you were to give your time or effort willingly to help out your colleague, he/she would be likely to want to reciprocate and help you out in turn. This forms the basis of the reciprocity principle, which in turn underlies the social exchange theory that we went through in class. By being the first to initiate and give to your colleague, your colleague may in turn feel the need to reciprocate. Clearly, if you needed a favour from them in future, such as in helping you meet a tight deadline, you would be more likely to persuade them to help you out as you lent them a hand first.


Reciprocity in action


Hence, what methods would most improve reciprocity? As pointed out in the TED video, being the first to give and ensuring that what you give is personalised and unexpected would improve the chances of reciprocity. Hence, you could plan ahead for all the deadlines that your department has to reach and be prepared to help whenever someone has trouble meeting their targets.


Liking and impression management theory

Have you ever offered food to a friend? Or have you ever bought anything on a friend’s recommendation? Liking is one of the most basic principles of persuasion, which most of us learnt early on in life. Researchers have gone further, coming up with the term “physical attractiveness stereotype” to describe the tendency to assume that physically attractive people would necessarily possess other socially desirable traits.

Impression Management

In the context of the organization, impression management is often used in order to ensure that your bosses, peers and subordinates continue to like you. A likeable boss often finds it easier to persuade his/her subordinates to complete tasks, particularly those tasks that may be outside the job description of the subordinate. For instance, a well-liked boss may find it easy to call her subordinate, Jane, on a Saturday in order to complete an emergency client request, yet a less popular boss may find it harder to ensure compliance from Jane, who may choose to deflect the request. Similarly, you would want to employ impression management to stay on your bosses’ good side and despite your lack of authority, perhaps even make requests of them that they would willingly carry out because of their liking for you.


How could you ensure that you are a likeable person to one and all? Besides dressing well and improving your physical appearance, you would do well if you were to give genuine compliments to others. By remarking on how well that jacket fits them, you are sure to brighten up their day and push yourself up on their likeability scale. Through using these impression management tips, you would become a more likeable person.



From these principles, a key point to note is that a large number of the recommendations focus on laying the groundwork for future persuasion, as compared to actual methods of persuasion that are more normally used in negotiations. As always, these principles should be employed in an ethical manner that would preferably serve the organization’s interests. Be the first to give selflessly, and remain a likeable person, and you would be enjoying the effects of persuasiveness throughout your life and career. Now sell me this pen.



Dion, K., Berscheid, E., Walster, E. (1972). “What is beautiful is good.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(3), 285-290.

Miller, A. G. 1970. Role of physical attractiveness in impression formation. Psychonomic Science, 19(4).

Ekeh, Peter P.. Social exchange theory: the two traditions. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Surviving Crises: Building a resilient organization

Some people bounce back time and time again from whatever hardships they may face. Others seem to take forever to recover from a single setback. The underlying difference between these two types of people often boils down to their individual resiliency in the face of difficulties. Our latest lesson on learning how to manage change through developing resiliency has been extremely helpful in shedding light on this concept, and I will attempt to delve more into this topic to highlight the importance of this often overlooked trait to organizations.

Factors influencing individual resilience

Resilience in organizations is a crucial part of enabling a firm to handle and adapt to a rapidly changing environment, yet so few employers seem to deem it part of their hiring requirements. More often than not, talent and experience are prized far above the abilities of employees to endure and adapt to change, but firms that are especially prone to rapidly changing circumstances should consider giving some added importance to resilience. After all, even the most talented, experienced professionals would not be of use to a fast-paced company if s/he was not sufficiently resilient, as functions could be swiftly made redundant and new skillsets coming into greater demand within a matter of months. Moreover, resilience is particularly crucial in times of crisis, when the survival of the organization is at stake. This was the situation for many firms during the recent Great Recession, but certain events may target a few specific companies along with their employees.


The recent unfortunate incident of MH370 is a case in point. The abilities of both Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian Government to handle an international crisis of this magnitude have been called into question after the botched handling of the incident, where repeated miscommunications led to precious time and resources being frittered away on fruitless searches. Relatives of passengers on the flight, along with rescuers, have had to remain resilient as they keep up the on-going search for survivors and remains of the plane, even in the face of dwindling hope.

Furthermore, in the long term, it remains to be seen how both the airline and the government will adapt their contingency policies and business continuity plans in order to handle future emergencies. Not only do Malaysian Airline employees have to resist the urge to quit while they bore the brunt of allegations directed at their employer, but they also have to persevere in carrying out routine operations on top of implementing new policy measures to prevent similar incidents in future.


What could Malaysian Airlines, as well as firms caught in the whirlwind of the Great Recession, have done to improve the resiliency of their employees? For a start, encouraging interpersonal support among employees, together with basic training on how to handle stress, would be very helpful. Many of the less resilient employees of Malaysian Airlines would likely be searching for new job opportunities at this point in time. With the immense amount of stress they are facing from the aforementioned factors, the company would do well to provide training and retreats to manage employee stress.

Managing stress


However, many of the measures to boost resiliency are naturally most effective if implemented before a crisis has occurred. Apart from hiring employees who have been identified to be more resilient and self-efficacious, firms should foster an environment where employees believe that they are successful and can succeed with the organization. Evidence shows that by creating this culture of success and by reinforcing people’s self-belief, this in turn creates a self-fulfilling prophecy which drives the actual success of the organization. Top universities and companies operate using this principle. Another method to build up this principle in new hires is to assign them to successful mentors who would willingly guide them onto this path of success.


Promoting employee health

In order to be successful, resilient firms should invest in promoting employee health and wellness. This leads to healthier, happier employees who are more loyal to the firm. Moreover, training their managers and leaders, particularly in methods to deal with contingencies, is another potential method. If Malaysian Airlines and certain branches of the Malaysian Government had invested more in business continuity, it is much less likely that their reputations would have been tarnished and quite possible that lives could have been saved.


Examples of resilient leaders

This post has largely focused on methods that organizations may use to generate resilient employees. However, would it be possible for each person, regardless of his/her upbringing and genes, to learn resilience? Ultimately, resilience may be born and bred into all of us. As the great moral philosopher Sir Bernard Williams once said: “Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.” May you uphold the human spirit in you, stand strong amidst the winds of change and build an enduring, resilient organization that is capable of surviving crises.




Your Culture, Your Brand and You

Culture, that elusive force which both shapes an organization’s people and is in turn shaped by it, has been described as one of the most critical success factors for a company, even to the extent of defining its image. Tony Hsieh, who built up the famously exuberant Zappos culture, puts it elegantly: “Your culture is your brand.”

Exactly how much does culture matter to organizations? Research shows that effective culture can account for 20-30% improvement in corporate performance, which certainly should not be ignored. For the top executives of many companies, the next question in their minds would often be: “What is the best organizational culture for my company?” However, there does not appear to be a ‘perfect’, universal framework that applies to all companies. For instance, the competing values framework provides a guide on which type of culture to adopt, depending on factors such as the flexibility and type of focus of the organization.

Competing Values Framework

Competing Values Framework

Does this mean that there are no principles about organizational culture which is applicable to most organizations? Certainly not, as a few guiding principles have been uncovered, which most companies would be wise to adopt in order to increase productivity and achieve the organization’s goals. For example, the world’s most valuable and most admired company, Apple has been consistently following the principle of having high expectations of its employees, as shown in the following video:

As an Apple employee says in this video when describing Apple’s expectations of workers: “There is no such thing as good enough; it just has to be the best.” Furthermore, many other examples of Apple’s strong organizational culture is demonstrated throughout the video, including cross-collaboration across different departments, the emphasis on attention to detail and hiring people with common values. Building a culture that has come to define the entire company has paid off massively for Apple, contributing to the development of its iconic “I”-products and culminating in its rise to become the most valuable brand and most valuable company by market capitalization in the world.

Calligraphy on an iPhone case

Notably, Apple is inextricably associated with its late founder, Steve Jobs. Jobs has become a hero within the company and is widely revered by many in the company, with his idiosyncrasies coming to shape its culture. For instance, Jobs’ fascination with calligraphy is said to have influenced his, and by extension, Apple’s aesthetically pleasing products. Moreover, many talented Apple employees were initially drawn to the company because of Jobs’ presence. The takeaway is that having a symbolic leader at the helm of a company can spur employees to greater heights, bringing more success for the company.

Making good hiring decisions is not a value only unique to building Apple’s culture, but it is also a key point for another proponent of effective corporate culture, Tony Hsieh, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Zappos. In the following video, Hsieh describes how his acid test of whether a company’s culture fits him or not is whether he would willingly spend time with his colleagues after work:

An effective organizational culture is most easily built through hiring people that share the organization’s core values, as opposed to hiring someone who does not fit and attempting to change his/her ideals later. In addition, it is notable how Hsieh underscores the importance of organizational culture by asserting that it remains the number one priority in his company. Without an effective corporate culture, employees tend to be less motivated and productive at work, and the company’s results will in turn suffer.

Taj Mahal shootings

In relation to our module’s latest case study, the Taj hotel chain also emphasizes hiring people that fit the organizational culture over hiring those from elite business schools and prestigious backgrounds. The effectiveness of its organizational culture was demonstrated when the staff’s heroic actions saved the lives of numerous hotel guests, even at the risk of losing their own lives.

Building an effective organizational culture can indeed create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, by improving employee engagement and the company’s brand. Conversely, a poor corporate culture could hurt the organization’s image and increase the turnover rate. Jobs’ Apple, Hsieh’s Zappos and the Taj hotel chain have shown us the importance of organizational culture to the success of a corporation. If you were to become a CEO, you ought to take their lessons to heart, for not only does your organization’s culture represents its brand, it also represents who you are.




Giggs, B. (2011, August 25). Steve Jobs: From college dropout to tech visionary. Retrieved from CNN:

Hsieh, T. (2009, January 3). Zappos Blogs: CEO and COO Blog. Retrieved from Zappos:

Schweizer, K. (2013, September 30). Apple Overtakes Coca-Cola as World’s Most Valuable Brand. Retrieved from Bloomberg: