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The Elements of Persuasion and Influence: Ways People Convince You to Say "Yes"

Updated on November 10, 2013

Have you ever wondered how a car salesman can so easily convince someone to buy a car that they may not have really wanted? Or perhaps you have wondered what could compel someone of normal character to follow tyrannical leaders such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. These individuals, and others alike, have discovered ways to motivate people into doing things that they would not normally do. Techniques of persuasion aren't always negative though. All of the great leaders of the world have used the elements of persuasion to get extraordinary things done. Advertisers and marketing managers also use the power of persuasion to get you to purchase their products. And through research and experimentation, psychologists have been able to categorize these qualities into six elements: 1) Reciprocation, 2) Consistency, 3) Social Validation, 4) Liking, 5) Authority, and 6) Scarcity.


Reciprocation is a very common method of persuading people to act. This is because it plays upon social norms and ingrained behaviors of human interaction. One of the best examples of reciprocation in modern society is the act of gift giving. When you receive a Christmas gift from someone I am willing to bet that you probably feel obligated to return the favor. The effect is profound and immediate. The simple act of receiving a gift can influence you to return the favor - even if you originally had no intention to purchase a gift for this individual. Many people actually give gifts just so that they will receive something in return.

Another example of reciprocation can be seen in the charity works industry. I am sure many of you have received free address labels or even free calendars in the mail from charities around the country. Again, the idea is get you to reciprocate the behavior and send them a donation. Many people have felt that by receiving a gift of address labels or calendars they became obligated to make a donation to the charity. Some people even admit that not donating to the charity would make them feel guilty.


Advertisers also use reciprocation to increase their customer base. A famous example of this technique was how the once king of dial-up Internet service, AOL, used free software discs to encourage people to sign up for their service. The trick was simple. The company would mail you a free disc (or hand them out at stores) with the expectation that the customer would reciprocate the giving behavior by signing up for their Internet service. The gimmick worked and at one time AOL had over 26 million subscribers! If you still have AOL CD's in your closet, here are 101 uses for these old discs.

Commitment and Consistency

Another little known element of persuasion is commitment and consistency. Consistency is when people follow through with the things that they agree to. If you can get someone to verbally commit to something, then you've got your foot in the door. If you can get someone to write the commitment down, then that's even better. If you can get them to agree to something publicly or in front of friends, then they are even more likely to follow through with it. Why is this? Well, people follow though because they want to be seen as being consistent with their commitments - especially when there are other people involved.

There are many great examples of commitment and consistency in the world today. A good one is that of an Army Recruiter that approaches potential privates at a high school. A recruiter might ask a series of questions of a student (while in front of his friends) in order to get them to make a commitment however an unwilling participant they may be. Such questions could include: 1) How would you like to be a leader? 2) How would you like to be respected? or 3)Don't you want to be a part of something honorable and prestigious? These focused questions will obligate many individuals to say a specific answer. Obviously, this can lead to a commitment because the person wishes to be consistent with what they've told the recruiter.



People are almost always more easily persuaded by authority figures. Doctors, lawyers, police officers, etc are more persuasive because we assume that they know what they are talking about. Authority figures tend to look like they are knowledgeable and tend to be very believable. Advertisers know this and will exploit it every chance they get. They will even create a fake authority figure for you to believe in if they have to. This is also precisely why a salesmen will wear a suit and tie just as an organization's CEO would. Wouldn't you agree that someone in a suit and tie is more believable than someone dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt?

Social Validation

Social validation is probably the most well known tactic of persuasion. Peer pressure is a type of social validation and is frequently the cause of many teenage antics. A door to door salesman might say "I've already sold this [item] to your neighbors and your the last house on my route." How many times have you heard that (or something similar)? A care salesman might say "This car is the most people car among young families such as yourselves!" in order to persuade you to make the deal. Social validation works because people feel a need to conform to others around them. The behavior of a group of people similar to ourselves will often help us to decide what we should do, especially when we are in unfamiliar territory. As social beings, we don't often enjoy the feeling of being the "odd one out."


People are more easily persuaded by other people that they like as opposed to people that they don't like. This is exactly why most salespeople strive to be friendly with you. A good salesman will first establish a good rapport with you before attempting to close the deal. This can be accomplished using a number of techniques, but is most often done by claiming to have something in common with you. Whether it's where your from, what school you went to, or your favorite football team, a salesmen who claims to have something in common with you is simply trying to get to you like them. The element of "liking" is also more than just becoming someone's friend. People that have 'likeable' personalities, who are viewed as being attractive, or who have pleasant voices tend to also be more persuasive. Let's put this another way. If you work in an office, would you rather print and bind 500 reports for a boss that you love or a boss that you hate? That's a no-brainer right! All of us are guilty of do things for others we like.



The use of scarcity is an advertiser's bread and butter. When people believe that something is scarce it generates artificial demand for it. How many times have you seen "limited time offer!" or "while supplies last!" plastered across an advertisement? A lot I'm sure! These phrases, and others like it, are meant to encourage sales by playing on people's fear that they might miss out on something. If there is a chance that we might miss out on something, we tend to want it even more. People also connect scarcity with rarity and desirability. These also tend to go hand in hand with an objects perceived value.

One good example of the scarcity tactic is how the marketing genius's at De Beers, the world's largest diamond supplier, artificially inflated diamond prices. In reality, diamonds are not really that rare. The demand for diamonds is simply a marketing invention created by using a combination of clever slogans and marketing tactics as well as by carefully controlling the amount of gems that enter the market. Even though their idea of rarity was introduced in 1938 we still see the results of their successful marketing campaign today. After all, diamonds are a girl's best friend right?

Another great (and a little bit funny) example of how scarcity can influence people was the gas shortage that hit Savannah, Georgia in 2005. The shortage was actually caused by false claims of an impending gas shortage. This became a self fulfilling prophecy when the rumors quickly spread around the community and caused people to head to the gas stations to fill up their tanks. The perception of scarcity is what drove people to purchase gas, even if they didn't really need it!


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