Influence And Persuasion At Workplace (Part 1)

Learn how to influence “basically anyone” from Dr. Robert Cialdini

This article is the first piece in a 2-part series about how to improve Influence and persuade better at the workplace. The second Article helps identify the relevant factors contributing to one’s Influence.


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When we were babies, we persuaded our parents to give us more cookies.

As teenagers, we tried our hands at getting permission to attend parties. In college, it was for vacationing with friends.

Then as work started, it became about convincing people of our ideas.


The need for persuading others to align with our views has been a constant in our lives. The mechanism of persuading others has evolved, hopefully, techniques more refined.


We used to use puppy eyes and promise of being a good kid as babies. As we grow and are convinced of the importance of persuasion, we want to add tools to our repertoire.


 

As a Product Manager, I have felt the need to influence others in my daily life. Tell me if these sound familiar to you.

  1. But I said the same thing…. Your idea/answer presented by someone else had more power over the audience

  2. But it wasn’t in an Email Verbal discussions were misinterpreted and lay in the dust.

  3. Well, the Boss likes it The response seemed warmer when the Boss clapped in the presentation

  4. Just tell us the timelines!! Teams trusting your instincts and are geared up for execution, no questions asked

  5. For the sake of my Roadmap Would you accommodate my request in your Roadmap?

Assuming an equal performance among peers, some people are heard more than others. Some ideas shine brighter than the rest. Only a few products and features see the day of light.

As Sachin Rekhi puts it, Product Management is 60% substance ad 40 Style. Couldn’t agree more.

In fact, I would extrapolate it, take it a step further and say, all jobs as one progresses, are at least 40% style.


 

One possibly learns and gets better as one climbs up the career ladder. Like everything else, learning by oneself is time taking. This is the reason, people do not reinvent the wheel.


Meaning to put a framework to what I had already observed in my day-to-day life, I read the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini. Dr. Cialdini, in his long career in academia, has, through extensive research and experimentation established the answer to the seemingly simple question “How do I influence someone?”


Getting others to align with your point of view is now always simple. A friend might trust your judgment implicitly. A colleague might need the data and rationale. But the executive, with all the data, rationale and judgment, could still not be convinced.


Dr. Cialdini, in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” breaks the problem down into its contained components.


Understanding each of these components will definitely help you uncover more on where you can improve, and get the answers to all those “WTF, what just happened” that keep happening to you.


Though this book covers the breadth of “Influence” across varying areas of life, I intend to focus on the same from my workplace perspective.


 

his article is Part — I of a two-article series on Persuasion. In Part 1, I will talk about the framework Dr. Cialdini laid out. In Part 2, I will leverage these components, supplement them with practical experiences and examples in our day-to-day professional lives, and cover how to weave better communication. The second article will also provide you a practical workbook chalking your plan for improvement. Each of these factors might sound extremely intuitive, but when leveraged in an interwoven fashion can magnify the power of your communications.

Judgmental Heuristics

Our brain, at every moment, is engaged in multiple threads of thinking. We do not want to think deeply about every decision we make.

Making coffee every morning is a subconscious process. Listening to Town Halls sometimes also becomes a non-brain-engaging activity.

A lot of regular mundane human decision-making is automatic.

This process of decision-making, though, also creeps into the process of the important decision-making process.

A lot of everyday decision-making relies on gut-feel (learning from success/failure of previous decisions), or pre-established associations.

Dr. Cialdini calls out a few of these pre-established heuristics like:

  • Expensive = Good

  • Reviews with more words = Reliable reviews

People often gravitate towards taking decisions with minimal thinking

Reciprocity

People are wired to return obligations and remain Debt-free. Doctors often reciprocate to the Medical representatives bearing gifts. Consumers often reciprocate for the free samples by buying the respective Products.

Among the more powerful concepts introduced by Dr. Cialdini is the “Rejection, then Retreat”. The idea talks about leveraging the rejection as a concession by your partner to get your step-back idea considered.

This skill is often unknowingly and innocently used by children by their parents. The child demands ice cream only to be met by a strong NO. After a few puts and the puppy eyes, the child wants to settle for a cookie. The parents view the acceptance of their decision (No ice cream) as compliance and then reciprocate the sentiment with compliance by agreeing for a cookie.

Commitment and Consistency

Everyone wants themselves to be known as honest and consistent. Quoting from Influence:

Once we have made up our minds about an issue, stubborn consistency allows us a very appealing luxury

Employees tend to market their companies (Social network and otherwise) after they have taken the decision to join them. Some of us tend to go to the Gym more because we have a big annual subscription-shaped holes in our pockets.

Your boss would fight for your idea, in front of you and behind your back, if she has committed her time and judgment to your proposed solution.

Again,

People in an attempt to leverage minimal mental resources tend to give weightage to the idea they have already bought into and committed to.

Social Proof

The scene from FRIENDS was even that funny, and yet I found myself laughing. Herd mentality and Canned laughter did the trick.

Straight out of the flight most people do not notice the signboards but tend to follow the line. We are, most of the time, rational people. At least where it matters. But seemingly unimportant decisions are often taken to align oneself to the herd one moves with.

The seemingly unimportant decisions are however very subjective. Your I-really-want-it promotion can be a no consequence deal for your Executive.

Dr. Cialdini, through a variety of practical examples commonly observed in regular lives, illustrated how people are influenced by their peers or group to align themselves with the same decision, especially if it reduces uncertainty.

Liking

People listen to people they like. Why do people like someone?


Physical Attractiveness

This is the most unwanted bias, but the biggest truth. More attractive people tend to command higher salaries and are even more likely to be helped in an emergency. Thankfully enough, beauty is subjective too.

Similarity

Business deals are often made on Golf courses. Compatriots tend to have formed strong bonds in foreign lands. People tend to like people who have overlaps with themselves

Compliments

Simple and yet powerful is the power of compliments. Everyone likes to be complimented, and they are happier when its true and genuine.

Association

You are truly known by the company you keep. A friend of a friend posted a derogatory comment on someone’s Facebook post. The comment was abrasive, insulting, and vulgar. In all probability, I, and you would start pivoting the impression of my friend.

Authority

What makes a child not ignore the firm word of parents?

Well, among many other things, the established authority of the parents. Similarly, the same point put across by people across a workplace could be listened to, agreed upon, and implemented with different contexts, in a different light and leading to varying degrees of successful implementation.

In a workplace setting, multiple factors come in together to give you that aura of Authority that could help you influence. Some of these factors, in Dr. Cialdini’s view, are:

  • Titles/Seniority

  • Clothes

  • Lifestyle choices

Some of the above are things you have absolutely no control over.

But in my view, there are additional factors that add to the aura of authority like being considered a subject matter expert on a subject, past achievements, educational background, etc.

Scarcity

Scarcity makes the heart only grow fonder. Also known as the Romeo-Juliet syndrome! Unique opinions are often considered more valuable. A person of few words is often considered wiser. A review is considered more reliable if it talks about a unique aspect of a product.

A scarce resource is always an asset, be it an opinion, or a unique story, or a process.

Every influential person — be it a motivational speaker, an Instagram Influencer, or a leader builds up her fort on the pillars of the above-mentioned components. Some of them are naturals while others have had to work smart and hard to gain the expertise.

Most people I admire contain a unique amalgamation that becomes their patented brand.

Find your unique brand of influence that works for you.

I cannot say, reading this, or any book or article will automatically make you a better communicator. But awareness of factors helps focus your effort in the right direction. Read the second part of this Article for more practical tips on How to get better at influencing others.

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