The 6 Laws of Influence - Professor Robert Cialdini




The Six Laws of Influence


There are six key psychological traits that affect how we influence or persuade others. They especially affect how people interact when they buy and sell. They are outlined here. If you want detailed explanations and the research behind these ideas then you must read Professor Robert Cialdini’s excellent book ‘Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion'


  • Law of Influence 1 - Reciprocity This is a social convention found in all societies where we feel we must repay in kind what another person has provided us. We feel obligated to the future repayment. It is not dependent upon liking the other person at all. An uninvited first favour creates obligation. For example a direct mailing for charitable donations has twice the return rate if a free pen is included. This also works in situations where a request is refused. When we refuse someone, there is a deep feeling that we should somehow make up for it. In sales situations if you meet with a refusal you can then ask for a referral as a concession. It fulfils a need the client will have to rebalance the social interaction.


  • Law of Influence 2 - Commitment and Consistency Once a choice or stand has been made we are under internal and external (social) pressure to remain consistent with this commitment. In a sales context once a client has declared an interest in a product or said yes to particular benefit they are unlikely to go back on their decision. Once a commitment has been made, other reasons are found to support this commitment. Even if the original incentive is removed the commitment remains. An example is the so called sales ‘Lowball’ where a reduced price is offered that is rescinded later after the client has sold the product more fully to themselves. Don’t use this technique. It is not a way to keep clients long-term.


  • Law of Influence 3 - Social Proof One fundamental way that individuals decide what they should do in a situation is to look at what similar others have done. Hence, the “proof’ of what is correct isn’t grounded in the physical environment but in the social environment: “If a lot of people like me are doing it, it must be the right thing to do.” The principle of social proof states: The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct. This is where testimonials from satisfied clients and referrals are useful. They give credibility that the product and the sales person would not otherwise have.


  • Law of Influence 4 - Liking People want to say yes to people they like. Hence, the success of direct selling to friends and relatives. The so-called ‘Endless Chain’ method uses this principle – if salesman finds someone who likes a product they get referrals to friends they can contact. Those friends are more amenable if a friend has referred the sales person. Physical attractiveness is very important. Physically attractive people are seen as possessing better personality traits. They are seen as less naughty as children and more intelligent. Similarity in dress code and social background is also more influential. The building of rapport with a client or client is important for this very reason.


  • Law of Influence 5 - Authority Status confers greater attributes. People are more easily influenced by those they perceive to be legitimate authorities. This response makes great sense because legitimate authorities have typically attained their positions by virtue of greater knowledge or skill or experience in the matter at hand. Doctors and lawyers are often regarded as more important. The way you act and what you say dictate how people see you. This is where ‘state management’, dealt with in one of the following sections, can help project authority.


  • Law of Influence 6 - Scarcity The more scarce something is the more valuable it is perceived. A number of unethical practices exist that are not recommended if you want a long-term client. They include:
    • Limited Number technique – Where the sales person claims a product is the last one in the shop or the storeroom to close the sale or that there are only a limited number on offer.
    • Deadline tactic – where a product is only available for a limited period. This is a high-pressure sales tactic that suggests the client must buy now or it will soon be more expensive or unavailable

The Contrast Principle In addition to the basic six laws, the contrast principle states that: By comparing or contrasting two things you create an artificial scale of measurement with the two things at the extreme ends of the scale. Comparing an expensive item with a not so expensive item will make the less expensive appear cheap in comparison. Selling an additional jumper or shirt after an expensive suit makes it seem cheap in comparison, or showing bad property before better property to improve the impact of the later one’s by contrast.


If you want to read further on the subject then Rhoads has identified 130+ influence tactics at the Working Psychology website.