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Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion

Gaining an advantage in negotiations can be as simple as being liked or becoming identified as an authority.

By University Alliance
Influence the Psychology of Persuasion

Negotiations are essential in nearly every aspect of business success, and successful negotiation depends on the ability to influence others. While it is not always easy to get others to say “yes,” the art and skill of becoming an influential negotiator can be summarized into a form of psychology -- specifically, the psychology of persuasion that has proven valuable for negotiations and for managers for years. 

The following are considered the six main principles of persuasion and influence first outlined by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., in his book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion." 

1. Liking: The concept behind this principle is very basic. Individuals respond more favorably to people they like and who like them. To successfully use this, you must discover real and mutual similarities with others, such as life experiences, interests, personality traits or opinions, and offer authentic complements and praise. This cannot be faked. When people feel liked and appreciated, they are more inclined to say yes and develop a level of trust. Organizations often use this tactic by creating a level of comfort and history with their consumers to directly influence the likability of their products and services. 

Dr. Gaylen Paulson, a program faculty member at the University of Notre Dame’s Stayer Center for Executive Education, teaches negotiation techniques and strategies in the 100% online Executive Certificate in Negotiation. Paulson said people who have a similar background can create trust. In Paulson’s examination of the tenets of influence, he noted that even physical attractiveness contributes to likability. People who develop likability find others are more attentive to their needs, and requests are more likely to be granted. 

2. Reciprocation: When you reciprocate, you are repaying others for a kindness, favor or offering they have given you. This can be a very powerful principle as most people make a significant effort to ensure they can make the repayment. The person who makes a concession in a negotiation expects some concession in return. 

To be an influential and persuasive leader, managers often utilize this tactic by being the first to offer the initial exchange. By modeling the actions and behaviors they seek, managers can initiate and directly influence the relationships and environments they envision. In addition, companies often use this concept by making simple offers that can inspire people to reciprocate by becoming customers. 

Reciprocity may not be explicitly stated during negotiation but people expect some form when a concession is made. Negotiators who make a major request followed by a smaller request may find the second request is more readily accepted. This is sometimes called the “Door in the Face Strategy.” 

An example of the subtle power of reciprocation can be found when car dealerships hand out small gifts that create a feeling of obligation before opening a sales pitch, even though the gifts may be trinkets or simple refreshments. 

Reciprocation, however, doesn’t occur just with concessions. Tactics and strategies also are reciprocated. Seasoned negotiators adapt the tactic they want in return, such as an aggressive tactic that will be met in kind. 

3. Authority: People look to experts for advice and important information. This can be an extremely strong form of influence and persuasion due to the overall response to an expert’s authority. To develop and earn this sense of authority and loyalty among employees and peers, leaders and managers often try to ensure they look and act the part, and make certain they are able to back up their actions and requests with clear sources of support. By citing respected sources and generating awareness of their education, experience and expertise, individuals and organizations can gradually become powerful and influential representations of authority. 

Sometimes authority can be established in conversations early in negotiations by weaving experience and background into a casual exchange. The credentials and expertise can carry over once negotiations begin. 

Paulson said respect for authority is established early in life and agreeing to requests from those in authority is part of that learning process. Trappings of authority communicate expertise such as diplomas, titles and even clothing. 

4. Social Proof: Social influence is a very powerful use of persuasion. The overall influence of peers can directly affect the actions and beliefs of an individual. In a business environment, the most significant influence on an individual’s behavior often comes directly from the observation of peers and co-workers rather than those who are in a higher position. When peers act and behave in a certain manner, it is often subconsciously believed that this behavior not only is correct, but acceptable. Organizations often use this tactic with consumers by demonstrating the popularity of their products and services. When presented with the facts that their peers are using or showing interest in something, others are much more inclined to give it a try. 

Providing people with examples of others who followed a similar behavior can be persuasive. Donations for walkathons increase as more people realize others have agreed to donate. Social proof or examples work well if a person is unsure how to respond but can be shown how others responded and that it was the proper decision. 

5. Consistency: Once people demonstrate and vocalize a preference or opinion, odds increase exponentially they will stick with that choice. The concept of offering a clear and voluntary commitment has a strong influence on individuals and often ensures they will remain consistent with those commitments. The added benefit to this persuasion tactic is that it influences future actions and makes decisions easier because they were made before and people can be reluctant to change. Leaders can invoke this form of consistency by requiring employees to commit verbally or in writing to tasks and responsibilities. 

Sales people take advantage of this tendency by getting customers to commit to making a small purchase, then relying on the need for consistency to ensure a larger purchase later. In negotiations making a small request followed by a larger one is often called the “Foot in the Door Strategy.” 

6. Scarcity: People will always want more of what they can’t have. This tactic is extremely useful in influencing and persuading employees and consumers. The concept of scarcity demonstrates that products and services can seem more valuable when they are of limited availability. The chance of losing something can be a very persuasive factor in an individual’s decision process and overall loyalty. The concept of scarcity also can apply to exclusive information. The fact that only a few people know something increases its apparent value. 

The appearance of scarcity enhances the competitive nature of people, Paulson said, and drives them to view something in limited supply as more valuable. It is why retailers trumpet a “limited time offer” in sales pitches. Negotiators can promote deadlines or diminishing supplies in the future to make their offering more valuable. 

These six persuasion principles may work separately, but also can be applied in combinations. Knowing these principles also lets you recognize them when someone else uses the techniques in negotiations. 

Negotiations are stitched into every aspect of business from simple sales to supply chain contracts. No matter whether you negotiate complex deals or negotiate internally with upper management, being a skilled negotiator will help you to achieve the outcome you want at any bargaining table. 

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