Influence and persuasion tactics are the closest ethical voodoo we have to a Star Wars Jedi Knight. Remember Obe Won Konbi’s ability to persuade storm troopers to do whatever he asked?
Robert Cialdini has this gift and is the modern Godfather on principles of persuasion.
Even though principles like reciprocity have been studied for hundreds of years, Cialdini was the first to show how well these principles can influence business decisions in the 1984 book, Influence.
Humans have created shortcuts to make decisions quicker. If we were to process and think about every decision we need to make in a day, then we would not get anything finished. As a result, we have created these shortcuts — or cues that our mind identifies as indicators to make a decision.
In some cases, Cialdini is mostly concerned about what you do before you ask for support for your ideas or initiatives. At Clear Points Messaging LLC, we call it a persuasive environment.
Is the environment your audience is in primed to hear your message? Have you done the proper leg work to make sure you are seen as credible, liked and authoritative before you deliver your message?
However, we also believe that if you cannot clearly express your ideas, it doesn’t matter how many persuasive shortcuts you hit. Without a clear message, it’s going to be almost impossible to influence someone to do anything.
Clear messages about your recommendation are the things that seal the deal when using persuasion tactics.
Reciprocity and a Moment of Power
One great example Cialdini uses in his new book Pre-suasion is about a dean of marketing at an ivy league university.
Paraphrasing his story, Cialdini talks about how he was going to start on his new book, several years after his first book became popular. He was going to study at a well know university and write.
Cialdini worried because he needed an executive assistant. He wanted a desk by certain staff. And he needed parking. When he talked to the dean on the phone Cialdini voiced his concerns.
The dean replied, “Robert. Don’t worry. I got everything ready for you. Don’t worry about the parking. It’s taken care of. I got it all straightened out. We got you a really great executive assistant.”
Cialdini said, “What about my office space?”
“We got you right where you want to be. It’s all taken care of the way you want it.”
This was a great relief for Cialdini. “Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how relieved I am and how much that means to me.”
“Well you know Bob I’m happy to do it for you. But there’s something I need you to do for me. I need you to teach a marketing class this semester.”
If he accepted, this would completely changed Cialdini’s plans. It even intimidated him. He never taught a marketing class and he’d need to begin learning and building the class. Even though Cialdini did not want to, he agreed.
Why? The dean had — what Cialdini calls — a moment of power because the dean had done something unexpected and nice for Cialdini.
The trigger that encouraged Cialdini to say yes is called reciprocity. It’s a universal rule in societal behavior. Sociologist Richard Thurnwald said all the way back in 1916 that reciprocity “pervades every relation of primitive life.”
And in the 1960s, Alvin Gouldner said that reciprocity has two main rules: “People should help those who have helped them, and people should not injure those who have helped them.”
We are wired to respond yes in certain situations. It’s based on our societal norms.
But what happens if we use these persuasion cues and don’t have clear communication? What if we are asking someone for something more complicated than teaching a class?
Communicating in Moments of Power
When you express ideas clearly, people are more likely to support it.
Hearing this, it seems like a no brainer. However, seeing how this principle is applied in business sheds light on a large problem.
In business we often go from one project to the next without getting a level of clarity on our objectives, specifically what we want others to do, or how best to explain our findings, opinions or ideas.
The subjects we communicate about in business are much more complicated than asking someone to teach a class.
When we see one of Cialdini’s moments of power, what happens when we don’t clearly express our ideas?
Unclear messages actually cause distrust. It’s called Processing Fluency.
If it takes a lot of work for someone to understand your message, they immediately think it is not based on reason, it’s untrue, unreliable… and even dangerous.
According to social psychologist Roy Baumeister, we as humans “are hardwired to pay urgent attention to possible bad outcomes.”
When you communicate unclearly, your listener will automatically pay more attention to the threat of uncertainty than trying to uncover the true benefit you are offering them.
Being able to communicate in a clear, concise way where everyone can understand is critical, especially if you’re communicating in a moment of power.
Otherwise you have wasted this very unusual and unique opportunity.