Dr. Robert Cialdini's seminal book Influence has been on the bestseller list for the last 25 years and has sold over 3 million copies, though it wasn't always that successful. For the first few years, it did not do so well, and then it became a remarkable hit. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cialdini, and I had the opportunity to talk with him about his books, research, and the power of persuasion.
Executives I work with often ask me for help in accelerating their influence, so I have distilled Cialdini's insights into six powerful lessons:
1. The smartest person in the room will fail
When you are the smartest person in a group, you don't seek out understanding from others or ask for their advice. This is a huge missed opportunity for gaining perspective and learning from others.
2. Even when you know what to do, ask others
Once in the role of a leader, people tend not to seek counsel. (And that's why the smartest person in the room will fail.) But it's worth the time and energy to ask others. This isn't about a vote, it is about seeking input, and most people don't ask for enough of that. Create mechanisms that allow you to get advice, and then decide which strands of wisdom you will use moving forward.
3. Don't ask for feedback, ask for advice
The nuanced difference of asking for advice rather than input will give you far greater persuasion power. People are delighted to offer advice, and you will get a greater degree of commitment from someone once they have given you advice.
4. Chunk and number
Whether talking to your employees, investors, or potential customers, this is a communication tool that works. Create memorable messages that are easy to repeat. Cialdini did that by identifying six principles of influence: social proof, reciprocity, consistency, authority, liking, and scarcity. More than 5 million viewers have watched the video below on YouTube about Cialdini's six principles of influence.
The best executives and entrepreneurs I see know how to create memorable messages by chunking together their ideas. Talk about your three C's for rapid growth, or your five steps before launching a new product.
5. Social proof
Research shows that significantly more of you will have clicked on the video link above because I said 5 million others have viewed it. Had I left that statistic out, fewer people would have viewed it. Once Cialdini's sales of Influence hit 500,000, he persuaded the publisher to reprint the book jacket with the current book sales because people are swayed by social proof that others had already found his work of value.
Cialdini's latest insights are about what happens the very moment before we ask someone for something. He has explored how the state we put someone in right before we make a request determines how successful that request will be. Cialdini calls this pre-suasion and his forthcoming book explores this in detail. Many times, I see leaders frustrated that their efforts to improve their influence have failed because they don't get immediate return on their efforts. If you pay attention to how you prepare someone before you make your request, then you can look for that psychological shift, which is precisely the time to give them an action to solidify their commitment. Next time you feel like your conversation is going well, think about what action would be appropriate to request--whether that's funding your project, asking for a follow-up meeting, or seeking advice about how best to implement your new idea.
Cialdini credits two factors for making his first book a bestseller after it initially sold slowly. First, he had been teaching MBA classes and using his book with his students; three years later, many of those students were vice presidents and divisional leaders of Fortune 500 companies and started bulk buying his book for their employees. Second, chunking and numbering his vast research into six principles of persuasion allowed experts, writers, and followers to easily share his insights and lessons. In time, the virtual sharing world catapulted his book to remarkable success.
How can you improve your powers of persuasion today?