Why Study Persuasion? A Common Language Leads to Efficiency

Last week I acknowledged that your time is precious. I also built a case for the fact that you use persuasion far more than you may have realized. With upwards of 40% or your workday spent persuading others you can’t afford to not get better at persuasion if you want to enjoy more professional success.

If you want to improve I have good news for you. Help is available. You may not have known this but there’s more than seven decades of research from social psychologists and behavioral economists into the science of persuasion. That means there’s lots of data for you to rely on to become a more effective persuader. If you approach persuasion as a learnable skill then you can get better at it.

Social scientists like Robert Cialdini have uncovered proven rules (i.e. principles) to help you codify and categorize persuasion into an understandable language and framework. This is incredibly important because it simplifies everything.

During a recent two-day workshop I was talking with a participant and the following example came to me as I explained this concept. I said to him, “Imagine we’re playing pick up football and I tell you to run 10 yards, head fake to the left then cut hard to the right towards the sideline. As you cut, angle back slightly so you come about three yards towards the line of scrimmage. And once you make your break back look toward me because the ball will probably already be on the way.”

I went on to tell this young man, “Instead of all those words, what if you and I spoke the same language and all I had to say was, ‘Do a down and out’? If we spoke the same language we could call the plays faster and keep doing so the entire game we’d be a much more efficient offense. That’s what the language of persuasion can do for us. It’s a vocabulary and framework that allows us to be significantly more efficient.”

Once you define terms everything becomes easier. Here are six psychological concepts I share with people when I speak and teach. These are what Robert Cialdini’s calls the principles of persuasion, sometimes known as the principles of influence.

  • Reciprocity – We feel obligated to give back to those who first give to us.
  • Liking – It’s easier for us to say “Yes” to those we know and like.
  • Consensus – We look to others to see how we should behave in certain situations.
  • Authority – We look to those with superior knowledge or wisdom for guidance.
  • Consistency – We feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and do.
  • Scarcity – We value things more when we believe they are rare or diminishing.

There’s a lot to know and understand about each of the principles but it starts with defining the terms. Once you understand the language of influence, if someone says, “Look to engage reciprocity,” you know exactly what they mean and can focus your attention.

In the opening I reiterated your time is precious. Spending a little time learning the language of persuasion will help you save lots of time down the road. In the process you’ll also become more effective in your attempts to change the behavior of others and that’s an effective one-two combination!

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