The Science of Persuasion: How to Influence Others and Get What You Want

Two business people talking over documents
How come some people always seem to get their way?

You know the ones (you could be one, I guess)—those who have a magical ability to influence others.

With just a few carefully chosen words, these people wizards can sway opinions, motivate action, and get people to do their bidding.

How do they do it? And how can we get better at it ourselves?

While some may have an innate talent, the truth is that persuasion can be systematically studied as a science. There are identifiable techniques and principles that you can learn and apply. Mastering the following information can help you become much more skilled at persuasion, leadership, and getting things done through others.

In this post, I’ll break down the critical components of influence and the core principles of persuasion that psychological research has uncovered. Putting these into practice ethically and effectively becomes a win-win game, producing mutual benefit for you and those around you.

The 4 Pillars of Influence

Firstly, you should understand the four main pillars that support and generate influence over others’ beliefs and behaviours. These are:

  1. Positional Power: Authority, status, and formal decision rights matter. If you don’t have this power, defer to those with higher perceived power—for example, business leaders, academics, scientists and others.
  2. Emotion: Passion sweeps away reason. Improve your Emotional Intelligence so that you can use emotions to motivate and inspire others.
  3. Expertise: Knowledge is power. Establish your own credentials so that you can gain trust and respect.
  4. Nonverbal Signals: Study the subtle cues of body language and become an expert at decoding eye contact, voice, and gestures.

Gaining an edge in even one of these four areas boosts your powers of influence. But ideally, leverage two or more in combination for maximum persuasive punch.

6 Core Principles of Persuasion

Decades of scientific research have uncovered several reliable shortcuts to changing attitudes and actions. Here are six of the most potent principles of persuasion:

  1. Liking: People are more willing to be influenced by those they know and like. Finding common interests and offering genuine praise builds bonds of friendship that can open doors for you.
  2. Reciprocity: People tend to repay favours, gifts, and concessions. Could you give the other person what you want to receive? Mutual back-scratching oils the wheels of the human world.
  3. Social Proof: People look to what others do as cues for the actions they should take. It must be right if you can demonstrate that someone’s peers do it.
  4. Commitment: Active, public pledges shape self-identity and stick. Could you get someone’s promises in writing?
  5. Authority: Defer to experts and leaders. Don’t make the mistake that people will recognise your expertise; establish it up front instead.
  6. Scarcity: Opportunities are more valuable when they are limited. Generate interest in others with (genuine) exclusive or time-sensitive offers.

Again, combinations here pack more wallop.

Persuasion Dynamite: Expertise, Social Proof, Liking

Imagine you’re trying to convince your team to adopt a new tech platform. They are sceptical. For maximal influence, stack several of the above principles:

  1. Establish expertise – explain your background in implementing similar systems.
  2. Social proof – mention how industry leaders and competitors are adopting it.
  3. Liking – explain how you share the team’s values of efficiency and compliment their tech savviness (is that even a word?).

You can turn resistance into enthusiasm by employing this mutually reinforcing blend of persuasion science.

Avoid Manipulation, Foster Cooperation

While hugely influential, persuasion must be applied ethically. Deception and coercion breed distrust and backlash. The aim should be to generate mutual understanding and willing cooperation.

Persuasion is then built on authentic expertise, logic, and shared interests. Look for natural synergies with people. You’ll gain willing allies and not just grudging cooperators when your intentions are good.

Thus, always lead with honesty and integrity. Treat people as ends in themselves, not just means to an end. Making others feel valued, respected and heard is essential for healthy relationships and ongoing influence.

Wield Persuasion Responsibly

With great power comes great responsibility.

Persuasion need not be a dirty word. Despite images of slick salespeople and strongarm tactics, influence is an essential social skill for any leader. But it must be applied ethically.

The principles of reciprocation, consensus, authority, and scarcity form a behavioural roadmap to help guide others willingly toward wise decisions. Master persuasion with integrity, and we all win.

Now, that’s a persuasive argument!

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