Need to Influence? Ask Bob! – Part 2

Bob is Dr. Robert Cialdini.

This is the second in a series of two posts about using Cialdini’s principles of influence.

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.

In the first post, we explored the principles of reciprocity, commitment and consistency, and social proof. In this post we are going to explore the principles of authority, liking and scarcity.



People respect authority. People want to follow the lead of real experts since they tend to feel a sense of obligation towards people in powerful positions of authority.

Impressive titles and clothing, and driving an expensive high-performing car are proven factors in lending credibility to an individual.


The most infamous example of the principle of authority is a study by Stanley Milgram. Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, designed an experiment in response to the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann (July 1961) to determine how far a person would go following orders.

Ordinary people were asked to shock ‘victims’ (learners) when they answered questions incorrectly. They were told that the experiment was a study in memory. Those in charge were dressed in white lab coats to give the appearance of high authority. Participants were told that the shocks they gave increased 15 volts in intensity each time the learner answered incorrectly. In fact, the shocks were completely imaginary. The learners were acting.

As participants continued to shock their victims, the learners (who were strapped to a chair) pretended to be in increasing pain until they let out agonized screams and demanded to be released.

Incredibly, about two-thirds of the participants ignored the cries of pain and continued to follow the instructions of the authority figures. These participants continued until they had administered the experiment’s final massive 450-volt shock!

As Milgram said, ‘The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.’

Application Examples

Given the incredible influence of authority figures, use testimonials from legitimate, recognized and respected authorities within (or external to) the organization to help persuade employees to undertake a particular course of action.

When people need help, they want to talk to someone who is friendly, but more importantly, competent enough to solve their problems. You might not be able to establish the credentials your service desk and support staff possess, but you can give them empowering job titles. Look at the language used on this Apple support site. It uses words such as ‘genius’ and ‘expert’.

If you want to get support for a change or initiative you are proposing, you can also establish your authority by citing recognized experts outside of the organization whose commentary validates that your approach is sound.



People prefer to say ‘yes’ to people they know and like.

Liking depends on three other factors that help people make decisions. We like to do business with people who are similar to us; people who give us lots of compliments; and people who cooperate with us.


In 2005, Randy Garner mailed out surveys to strangers with a request to return them. The request was signed by a person whose name was either similar or dissimilar to the recipient’s. For example, Robert James might receive a survey request from the similarly-named Bob Ames.

He revealed that those who received the survey from someone with a similar-sounding name were nearly twice as likely to fill out and return the survey as those who received the surveys from dissimilar sounding names (56% compared to 30%).”

Joe Girard, the ‘world’s’ best car salesman used the Liking principle. During his fifteen-year selling career, Joe sold 13,001 new cars and trucks, all at retail. This record still has not been broken. His secret weapon was greeting cards.greeting-card

Joe sent out nearly 13,000 greeting cards a month to his customers, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, holidays etc.  Every year he commissioned an artist to draw up 12 cards and then send them out. That’s all he did. He would send out one card every month. Each card had the same message, “I like you.”

So on special events, Joe’s clients received a card. With Joe’s card coming every month, his clients considered him a part of the family. The simple act of sending greeting cards aroused a sense of loyalty in his customers.

Application Examples

Develop listening and communication skills.

Make people feel like you are working together towards a shared goal.

If you want someone to read a report or agree to your recommendations, write it in a friendly conversational style. Eliminate all the bureaucracy and show an interest in the other person’s perspective by answering their questions before they even raise them.

Give compliments we love to receive praises, and tend to like those who give it.

Understand your ‘customer’ i.e. the person you wish to influence. If your customers feel that you can relate to them, and understand the problems they are facing, they can begin to think of you as a friend.

When interacting, keep an eye out for those things you have in common with the person you’re with. Raise those commonalities to the surface and you’ll begin to form a liking connection.



Scarcity relates to supply and demand. If there is less of something, the more valuable it is. The more rare and uncommon something is, the more people will want it.

Scarcity is also referred to as the fear of losing out (FOMO). This is the pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which you are absent. You are missing out!

The principle is that when a product or service is limited in availability (or perceived as being limited), it becomes more attractive.


In 1975, researchers Worchel, Lee and Adewole conducted a simple experiment to demonstrate the scarcity principle.scarcity

They divided people into two groups, giving one group a jar of ten cookies and the other group a jar with only two cookies. When asked to rate the quality of the cookie, the group with the jar containing two cookies rated the cookies higher. The researchers then added a new element.

Groups of study participants were given either jars with two cookies or ten. Then, the people in the group with ten cookies suddenly had eight taken away. Conversely, those with only two cookies had eight new cookies added to their jars.

The researchers showed that consistent with the scarcity principle, the group left with only two cookies, rated them to be more valuable. However, those who got more cookies, experiencing sudden abundance by going from two to ten, actually valued the cookies the least. In fact, they valued the cookies even lower than those people who had started with ten cookies to begin with!

Application Examples

Think about how you can leverage:

Limited numbers – something is in short supply and won’t be available once it runs out

Deadline (limited time) – something is only available during a specified time period

Imagine you are launching an improvement initiative. It could be a change in process or technology.

You are running a webinar or training course to raise awareness and educate in order for your initiative to be a success. You want people to register.hurry-up

You send out an email with a link to the event. When someone clicks on the link to find out more you can launch a pop-up that says ‘Hurry – only a few places left!’

Could you make people see what other people are doing? While someone is considering whether or not to attend a webinar, workshop or book on a training course, they suddenly realize that another person is mulling over the same thing.

Think about when you are looking at a hotel in and it shows you how many other people are also looking at the same property.



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.

Why not borrow from the marketers? As Bob himself says:

There is a group of people who know very well where the weapons of automatics influence lie and employ them regularly and expertly to get what they want. They go from social encounter to social encounter requestng others to comply with their wishes; their frequency of success is dazzling’.

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