It is through the influence process that we generate and manage change. Like most things, the process can be handled poorly or well. It can be employed to foster growth and to move people away from negative choices and in more positive directions, thereby creating the conditions for new change opportunities. Or, it can be used clumsily, reducing the chance for genuine movement and, in the worst cases, boomeranging into conflict and resentment.
As such, it is important for those wishing to create and sustain practical change to understand fully the workings of the influence process. Fortunately, a vast body of scientific evidence exists on how, when, and why people say yes to influence attempts. From this formidable body of work, I have extracted six universal principles of influence – those that are so powerful that they generate desirable change in the widest range of circumstances.
The Principles are:
People are more willing to comply with requests (for favours, services, information, concessions, etc.) from those who have provided such things first. For example, according to the American Disabled Veterans organisation, mailing out a simple appeal for donations produces an 18% success rate; but, enclosing a small gift, e.g. personalised address labels, boosts the success rate to 35%.
People are more willing to be moved in a particular direction if they see it as consistent with an existing or recent commitment. Consider how small that commitment can be and still motivate change forcefully: Gorden Sinclair, a Chicago restaurant owner, was beset by the problem of no-shows – people who made reservations but failed to appear and failed to call to cancel. He reduced the problem by first getting a small commitment. He instructed his receptionists to stop saying, “Please call if you change your plans” and to start saying, “Will you call us if you change your plans?” The no-show rate dropped from 30 % to 10% immediately.
People are more willing to follow the directions or recommendations of a communicator to whom they attribute relevant authority or expertise. One study showed that 3 times as many pedestrians were willing to follow a man into traffic against the red light when he was merely dressed as an authority in a business suit and tie.
People are more willing to take a recommended action if they see evidence that many others, especially similar others, are taking it. One researcher went door to door collecting charity and carrying a list of others who had already contributed. The longer the list, the more contributions it produced.
People find objects and opportunities more attractive to the degree that they are scarce, rare, or, dwindling in availability. Even information that is scarce is more effective. A beef importer in the US informed his customers (honestly) that, because of weather conditions in Australia, there was likely to be a shortage of Australian beef. His orders more than doubled. However, when he added (also honestly) that his information came from his company’s exclusive contacts in the Australian National Weather Service, orders increased by 600%!
People prefer to say yes to those they know and like. For example, research done on Tupperware’s Home Demonstration Parties shows that guests are 3 times more likely to purchase products because they like the party’s hostess than because they like the products.
In my presentations, I describe and emphasise the ethical use of these principles. Only through its non-manipulative use can the influence process be simultaneously effective, ethical, and enduring. And only in this fashion can it enhance a lasting sense of partnership between those involved in the exchange.