Need to Influence? Ask Bob! – Part 1.

Bob is Dr. Robert Cialdini.

This is the first of two posts that explore Cialdini’s six principles of influence and how can use them to our benefit.

Cialdini, author of the groundbreaking book, Influence, and president of INFLUENCE AT WORK, is widely regarded as the “Godfather of influence” because of his years of scientific research on the psychology of influence.

Cialdini’s theory of influence is based on six key principles: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, scarcity.

As he points out, influence doesn’t happen by luck – there is a science behind it.

His guidance is generally used by marketers, but as per my recent post, there is no reason we in service management, organizational change management, business relationship management (and any other discipline) can’t borrow from them.

We always need to influence. We may want people to do something differently, use different tools, change behaviors, fulfil a different role etc.

So how can we use Bob’s six principles to achieve the outcomes we desire?



Reciprocity means that we are wired to want to return favours and pay back our debts. Reciprocity says that people by nature feel obliged to return a favour to others if they’ve received favours from those others. Psychology explains this by stressing that we humans simply hate to feel indebted to other people!

The implication in order to obtain a desired outcome is to go first. Give something that has a positive experience and people will want to give you something in return.


A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed the positive effect on tips when waiters gave customers mints and the way in which they did it.

This was measured against a control group that received no mints.

Group 1 – waiters gave mints along with the bill and didn’t mention the mints. Tips increased by 3% as compared to control group.

Group 2 – waiters gave 2 mints by hand and mentioned them to the table ‘Would anyone like a mint before they leave’. Tips increased by 14% as compared with the control group.

Group 3 – waiters gave mints out with the bill and a short time later returned with more mints and informed the customers they had brought more in case they wanted one. Tips increased by 21% as compared with the control group.

Application Examples

Make your ‘customers’ feel special. Take your key stakeholders out to lunch or dinner. Invite them to team drinks and introduce them as ‘important’ people to the team. Add a hand-written note on a Post-It note to a report that you wish the recipient to respond to or a survey that you wish them to undertake. Research shows that the hand written Post-It note can double the response!

Be the first to give. Thank someone for their positive action will encourage them to reciprocate with another good act.

Don’t break the circle. When someone responds in a positive way to an offer you have extended, continue the relationship by extending another positive experience. Then provide options for that person who just accepted your offer, to influence or recommend you to another business person whom you wish to influence.

Commitment and Consistencycommittment


This principle states that we have a deep need to be seen as consistent. Once we have publicly committed to something or someone, then we are so much more likely to go through and deliver on that commitment…hence consistency. We strive to be consistent and future decisions are made to justify earlier ones. Therefore someone is more likely to agree to a large request if they have already agreed to a small one.


In 1987, social scientist, Anthony Greenwald, undertook research regarding commitment and consistency. He approached voters on election-day eve. He asked them if they would vote or not. 100% said they would vote. On election-day, 86.7% of those asked went to the polls compared with 61.5% of those who were not asked. Those who had publically committed to voting on the previous day proved more likely to actually vote.

Application Examples

Start with small actions so people stick with it. Let’s suppose that you want employees to watch a video about the activities taking place within Business Relationship Management to move from a status of order taker to strategic partner.

Generate a pop-up such as the following.


In this pop-up, employees are given a choice – either watch the video, or be silly and ignore it.

The reverse-psychology situation nudges employees who click ‘Yes’ to see themselves as smart people who know what is good for them.

In the future when they receive communication alerts, they are more likely to read them because it is the ‘smart thing to do’.

Ask for public declaration. Ask your team members if they will support your initiative and say why. Getting people to answer ‘yes’ makes them feel more powerfully committed to an action. Before sending a business case or proposal for approval, explain your key points to stakeholders verbally, and try to get them to agree to the business case or proposal in advance. Public commitment is more likely to lead to action.

Affirm the behaviour you want. For example, if you want someone to keep sending you reports on time, write, ‘Thanks for sending the KPI report on time last week. We need more people like you around here! Do you think you could also have the survey results report by COB Friday?’

Social Proofsocial-proof


This principle is about how people reply on the safety of numbers. When people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look to those around them to guide their decisions and action. People also follow a ‘herd mentality’ and do whatever others are doing, especially when uncertain.


In 1968, the social psychologists Stanley Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz decided to cause a little trouble. First they put a single person on a street corner and had him look up at an empty sky for sixty seconds. A tiny fraction of the passing pedestrians stopped to see what the guy was looking at, but most just walked past. Next time around, the psychologists put five skyward-looking men on the corner. This time, four times as many people stopped to gaze at the empty sky. When the psychologists put fifteen men on the corner, 45 percent of all passersby stopped, and increasing the cohort of observers yet again made more than 80 per cent of pedestrians tilt their heads and look up.

This illustrated “social proof”, – the tendency to assume that if lots of people are doing something or believe something, there must be a good reason why.

In 1956 psychologist Solomon Asch created an experiment to show the power of groups to influence behavior. Asch assembled 6 to 8 students, all accomplices except one, the subject of the experiment. The students were shown a line on card 1 and asked to pick the corresponding line on card 2 (as shown below).



It is obvious that the correct answer is A. At first, Asch’s accomplices answered correctly but in further rounds of the experiment they started answering incorrectly. Asch wanted to see what the subject would do: would he provide the correct answer despite the group’s incorrect consensus or would he go along with the group?

One third of the subjects went along and provided the wrong answer and later admitted they knew it but did not want to be singled out. In other words, they were willing to compromise their judgment for the sake of going along with the group’s (wrong) answer.

Application Examples

A source of social proof is the ‘wisdom of crowds’ – approval from large groups of other people.

If you need to get people to use a new tool e.g. the service request catalogue or self-service password reset, create pop-ups or banners etc. that say ‘965 of your colleagues are now using the service request catalogue’ – ‘87% of your peers are resetting their own passwords’. If possible, make this display dynamic and real-time.

The same could apply to a training course you want people to volunteer to attend – ‘265 of your team have now taken this training course’.

‘JOIN OVER 3000 OF YOUR PEERS!’ could be a message used for any action you wish to drive.

In all of the above examples, you could add another source of social proof – testimonials. Put a face to the words. Use photos – people like looking at human faces.

Case studies can be used to provide high authority social proof. Also referred to as long form social proof, case studies leverage the idea that people perceive long, in-depth reviews as being more reputable than brief excerpts.

Have a dedicated case study section on your intranet and highlight the success stories of your employees using the product or service you wish others to use.



Cialdini’s six principles of influence can be used by us all to obtain the outcomes we desire. Using them wisely and carefully can result in increased support for your proposal, initiative or change and also save you a lot of time and effort trying to ‘persuade’ people rather than ‘influence’ them.

In my next post, we will explore the other three of Cialdini’s principles of influence – authority, social proof and scarcity.

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