Influencers from Around the World: Are the Six Principles of Persuasion Really Universal?

Did you know there are only two Cialdini Method Certified Trainers (CMCT) in Asia today? That’s right, only two, and my guest blogger this week is one of them! I had the good fortune to meet Hoh Kim in January 2008 when we trained together in Arizona under Dr. Robert Cialdini. Hoh has the distinction of being the first person to present Dr. Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion (POP) workshop in Korea. Hoh is a very bright guy, having written his master thesis on intercultural communication at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, in mid 1990s. You can find Hoh on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter in case you’d like to establish contact with him. His website is The Lab h and he also writes a blog called Cool Communications. As part of my Influencers from Around the World series Hoh graciously offered to share some of his insights on the differences between East Asians and North Americans when it comes to influence and persuasion.Are the Six Principles of Persuasion Really Universal? What about in Asia?The world has become smaller due to the globalization of business and social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. People now have more interaction than ever with people from other parts of the world. Case in point; my relationship with Brian and his other guest bloggers from around the world.As a Korean POP trainer, and a person who is interested in intercultural communication, I’ve been intrigued as I’ve observed how the six principles of influence can differ based on culture, especially between North America and East Asia. Let me share my thoughts on this.First of all, based on my experience and many case discussions with Korean POP workshop participants, I believe the six principles of persuasion really are universal. The only difference would be the “weight” of some principles in different cultures. When I trained under Dr. Cialdini and his Influence at Work (IAW) staff I remember him sharing with us his belief that the principle of social proof (a.k.a. consensus) should have more “weight” in East Asia than North America, while the principle of consistency should have more “weight” in North America than East Asia. I’ve see this to be true with both principles.Social Proof in East AsiaGenerally speaking, Koreans are more sensitive to how others think or act when they decide something than Americans are. One of the old wisdom sayings in East Asia is “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” To East Asians harmony often means being the same with others. Contrast that with North Americans who seem to be more comfortable being different and independent from others.This is related to individual vs. collectivistic cultures, and it’s reflected in many ways. For example: 1) In the US the family name is the last name, but in Korea it’s the first name. So, in Korea, I am called “Kim Hoh” but in the US I am known as “Hoh Kim.” 2) In the US when referring to an address people start from the things nearest to them – building-street-city-state-country. In Korea it is exactly the opposite because we talk about country-state-city-building.
3) When I first came to the US one of my difficulties was ordering sandwiches. In Korea when I order a tuna sandwich that’s it because everyone literally gets the same sandwich. However, in the US, to properly order a tuna sandwich I have to answer several “personalized” questions. What bread, what cheese, what vegetables, what sauce, etc. There are many choices to make a unique sandwich for a unique person.Neither way is better, they’re just different. East Asians feel more comfortable, relatively speaking, being the same as each other than North Americans do. Understanding this you begin to realize the principle of social proof will be more persuasive in East Asia than in North America.Consistency in North AmericaThis month my American thesis advisor, who has studied intercultural communication most of his life, visited Seoul with his wife. When I met with him it was the first time I’d seen him since I left graduate school at Marquette in Milwaukee 13 years ago. We had a dinner together and talked about relationship difference between Americans and Koreans.He told me, “In America, almost all relationships are contractual.” Then, he asked me, “What would be the opposite words ‘contractual relationship’ in Korea? In the US, I think we don’t have one.” I thought about that question and even discussed with my Korean friends. Guess what – to Koreans the opposite the idea of “contractual relationship” would be “humanistic relationship” because a “contractual relationship” is often interpreted “not human” in my culture.Why is that? There’s also historical difference. For example, Americans historically had to move, meet and work with all people they often consider strangers.Korea, however, is different. First, the country is small (Korea is smaller than California) and Koreans didn’t have to move or be “pioneers” like Christopher Columbus was. One fifth of Koreans have their family name as Kim. That doesn’t mean we’re all the same because there are different versions of Kim, such as Kim from the region A, Kim from the region B, etc.A contract is something you need with strangers to clarify things and ensure you’re on the same page. There’s less need for contracts with your friends and family. Historically, Koreans have lived in the same town for a long time (that’s not necessarily the case today) so didn’t need to be contractual. One more difference is that American contracts are normally more comprehensive in length and detail. This difference is actually reflected in communication styles. It is called “high vs. low-context.” North America is a low-context culture while East Asia is high context culture. That means North Americans put more focus on language codes rather than context, whereas East Asians have more emphasis on context than North Americans.Here’s a simple example; when Americans say “yes” that means “yes.” But, East Asians, when they say “yes” often don’t mean “yes” in the literal sense. You have to read East Asian’s facial expressions, gestures, and not just listen to the language. In other words, you have to read the “context” of the overall communication. Here’s another scenario; when an American thinks the room temperature is hot, he or she might ask, “Would you mind if I open the window?” In Korea you would often hear, “Oh, it’s a bit hot,” while in fact the person thinks it’s too hot. If the other person catches the context they will open the window for the other person.
In low-context cultures where most of the meanings are in the language codes, it is often “contractual,” rather than leaving it up to understanding context.

Now, you might see why consistency has more “weight” in North America. Contracts are a standard to set the consistent expectation between parties. People who are more familiar and feel more natural about contracts think consistency is more important than cultures that are not. Of course, this doesn’t mean East Asians simply ignore consistency. However, it is clear to me that Americans put more emphasis on consistency, what they’ve said or done in the past, than Koreans do. In turn, Koreans put more weight on social proof, what everyone else is doing, than Americans. The differences come from cultural differences. Culture is a value system, and values are the things that people believe are important. And different societies put different weight on different things. Because of this the principles of persuasion are influenced based on value systems of different cultures. The conclusion is this – while there could be some different “cultural weights” of some principles, I can tell you as a Korean, six principles of persuasion do work in my part of the world too. HohIf you have comments or questions I’m sure Hoh would be happy to address them for you.


Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


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