“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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPKm-dIIIkY.
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 http://ed.ted.com/on/GoUwF8Zl#watch.
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.
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.
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.