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How To Persuade People: Top Ten Persuasion Psychology Tricks and Techniques You Can Use To Influence Others
How to Influence Others: A Psychological Skill We All Want
Maybe you want to convince your boss to give you a much-needed raise.
Maybe you want to convince your kids to pick up their rooms and give you a much-needed break.
Or maybe you just want to persuade that cute girl from math class to go out with you for a burger and a milkshake.
No matter what you do for a living or how old you are, you're constantly engaged in a societal battle of self interests. Everyone wants to be able to positively influence others, but the ability to influence others is something that often seems out of reach. After all, if people are in it for themselves, persuading them to see things in a different light might at first appear to be a tall order.
Fortunately, there are plenty of subtle psychological cues the human brain is hardwired to pick up on -- subconsciously. So if you know what words to use and how to phrase and present things, you're golden. There are many different aspects of persuasion psychology, such as the contrast principle and fixed action patterns, that I'll cover in this article. So contrary to popular belief, there's really no "art of persuasion" -- influencing others is more of a science, though an inexact one.
Persuasion Psychology Techniques 1, 2, and 3 To Influence Others: Use The Words "Because," "Please," and "Thank You"
Humans are separated from the vast majority of other animals on this planet by one thing: our superior reasoning abilities. We're inherently logical creatures. No, it doesn't always seem that way -- especially when you're driving down the highway or having a political discussion with your neighbor -- but fundamentally, our brains work on a sort of internal logic.
The first psychology concept you need to understand if you want to learn how to influence others is the idea of fixed action patterns. Simply put, people are conditioned -- either genetically or societally -- to respond in certain ways to certain patterns. Anyone above the age of twelve automatically says [or should, anyway] say "thank you" whenever anyone brings them a glass of water or a cup of coffee. We append "please" to all of our requests, and when we don't, we instantly feel guilty about it -- even though it may not inherently make sense to do so. It's just a word. It doesn't actually change anything in the material world. So why does it make such a mental difference?
In much the same way that dogs can be conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, humans have been conditioned by society to respond to words like "please" and "thank you." Quite unsurprisingly, studies have shown that people are far more likely to respond positively to simple/easy to fulfill requests (that is, they have been positively influenced by others) if the request is accompanied by a "please." Similarly, they're more likely to respond well to future requests if the first was accompanied by a "thank you."
As you have probably observed in your life, however, influencing others is never quite that simple. Why? Because I said so. (Okay, just kidding.) Because it turns out that people aren't quite such pushovers that a little "please" will get you everywhere.
However, there are other words that produce similarly powerful psychological effects, like the word "because." In a study conducted by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, over 90% of people allowed others to cut in front of them in a line for a Xerox copy machine, if and only if those people phrased their requests using the word "because." If the word because was not used, only 60% of people let the requester cut in line. It didn't matter to any degree of statistical significance if the words that followed "because" constituted any sort of valid logic, it just mattered that the word because was used. Because was the word that psychologically primed the study participants to be more accepting of the requests -- that is, study participants gained the ability to influence others because they used the word because. Because was the word that persuaded people. (I feel like a broken record, because I'm using the word because a lot.)
So why does the word "because" work? Well, as I established earlier, humans are inherently logical beings. In any Western country, "because" is one of the words most often associated with logic. We like things BECAUSE -- then a reason. We want something BECAUSE -- then a reason. We did something BECAUSE -- then a reason. Even if we made a mistake, if we're able to say we made that mistake BECAUSE of XYZ, people are far more willing (read: others have been influenced) to accept our mistakes. Imagine the following scenarios.
Child: I failed the algebra test.
Child: I don't know.
Child: I failed the algebra test.
Child: Because I was (insert reason here: sick, tired, distracted.)
No matter what the reason, we're more satisfied with scenario 2 because we then have some sort of "reason." If it's a bad one (the child stayed up too late playing video games, COUGH) then we can work to correct it to make sure it doesn't happen again. But the point is, in our culture, we're subconsciously primed to accept the word "because" as an indicator of logic -- so you can better persuade and influence people simply by phrasing things with the word "because" in there somewhere.
BEFORE YOU READ ANY FARTHER, PLEASE ANSWER THIS POLL. IT HAS TO DO WITH THE ABILITY TO INFLUENCE OTHERS. YOU'LL SEE WHY IN A SECOND.
Which would you rather buy?
Persuasion Psychology Techniques 4, 5, and 6 To Influence Others: Apply the Contrast Principle
I consider myself lucky because I'm fairly well off. But I know that things could change at any moment -- I could lose my job, medical expenses could crop up. And of course, in ten years or so, my daughter will be off to college.
So I generally tend to try to be smart with my money. For example, I generally try to get good deals when I shop. As such, I shop for a lot of my casual clothing at Kohl's -- because they have great deals! If you aren't familiar with the Kohl's sales, just check out the ad below.
WOW! So Kohl's already has stuff at 60-80% off, and if I go in before Monday I can get stuff at an additional 40% off? I'd better get over there before everything gets sold out!
I mean, seriously, who can resist a deal like that? (Actually, Kohl's does have really good prices. That's why I shop there.)
But you know, in all my years of shopping at Kohl's, there's something I've noticed.
Almost everything is perpetually on sale. Like, a certain brand of jeans supposedly -- key in on that supposedly -- retails for $64.99 at my local store. But most of the time, you can get the jeans on a supersale for $29.99. Sometimes they even drop to $24.99. Once, I think I saw them at $34.99. And yet, I've never actually seen them selling at full price.
Now, I'm not saying anything against Kohl's here. I'm happy with all of my purchases from them. The jeans last a long time, and the shirts fit well, and everything's reasonably priced. But for someone who hasn't shopped there before, the prices can be deceptive. They look at the $64.99 retail tag, then at the huge percentage off sales tag, and say, "Wow! 60/70/80% off! I can't pass up a deal like that!" So they get a snazzy pair of cool, hip jeans for $29.99, or $24.99, or whatever, and they're all happy because they think they just scored the deal of the decade and got away with bloody murder because the jeans are really worth $64.99.
(Now you get the point of that poll up there, right?)
So while I still personally believe the $24.99 jeans at Kohl's are a little better than those at Walmart, they're not $40 better. No way.
This long winded diversion brings up the important psychology concept I want to get at here: the contrast principle. Human perception is not absolute. Take height, for example. A man who is 6'1" is generally regarded as tall. However, next to Kobe Bryant, he's short. An eight year old child is generally regarded as small, but if you put them in a picture with a newborn, suddenly the eight year old looks like a giant.
Since we're psychologically primed to view things in the perspective of contrast, utilizing the contrast principle is a great technique for influencing others. Kohl's, for example, influences people while they're shopping by tempting them with the idea of "great deals." It's much easier to persuade shoppers to buy jeans for $24.99 if they think the jeans are worth $64.99. Kohl's, it seems, is a master at the art of influencing others.
So how can you use the contrast principle to influence others at work, in a business context, or in your own life? Well, there are three ways to do it.
- Influence others by convincing them you/what you're selling is "a better deal than the others" (this is what Kohl's does)
- Influence others by convincing them that you/what you're selling is "better than the others" (similar, but not the same -- think about manufacturers using words like "all natural" and "whole" and selling those products at higher price points)
- Influence others by being unreasonable, then slowly working towards something reasonable (again, similar but different from the first)
That last one is my favorite. (If you ask your boss for a 30% raise before asking for a 5% raise, that 5% raise seems so much more palatable. Again: this is how to influence others.)
Story to illustrate the power of context on influencing people to view things a certain way. A few years ago, I received one of those chain emails. I generally delete them, but this one was pretty funny -- and I think you'll agree. I can't remember it exactly, but it went something like this. (It was a letter from a college-aged girl to her parents. Real or fake, I don't know, but funny either way.)
Dear Mom and Dad,
Sorry I haven't written you in a while. Things have been crazy. I dropped out of school a while ago because there was this party, back at the beginning of the fall semester, and my ex-boyfriend and I got really drunk, and I got pregnant. The morning sickness was really interfering with my ability to study, so I decided it was best if I quit school and took up work as an assistant at a tattoo shop. As a benefit, I get free tattoos -- I have seventeen so far!
Of course, the hours are pretty demanding, but I know that you'll be thrilled to have the chance to look after the sweet little bundle of joy that I'll be dropping off next Tuesday.
Now that I have your attention, I'm not actually pregnant and I'm not working in a tattoo shop. But I did get a D in Geology.
That daughter may have a D in Geology, but in my book, she gets an A+ psychology credit for the "how to exert influence on others" class.
The idealist in all of us wants to live in a world where "what's on the inside" is what counts. Appearances count for nothing, and we don't judge people based on their looks.
While that goal is noble, it's not being accomplished anytime soon. It's been proven over and over again that appearances do matter, and there's a psychological reason for that -- the concept of authority. Scientific studies have demonstrated, for example, that wearing glasses makes you seem more intelligent and may help you get a job, and that wearing a doctor's white lab coat might actually make you smarter. You can hand wave these studies away if you like, but there are plenty more documenting the overall phenomenon: we do pick up on subtle as well as not so subtle cues, and these cues can mean the difference between the ability to influence others and the ability to utterly fail at persuading people that the sky is blue.
So am I suggesting you wear a lab coat and glasses all the time? Of course not, that would be silly. What I am suggesting is that if you want to be able to influence people positively and persuade others in your favor, you need to look and act the part of an authority. Again, scenario time. Knowing nothing else, which of the people below would you consult for legal advice?
- A man with torn pants and a stained shirt.
- A man wearing a suit and tie.
Poll: Which Man Would You Go To For Legal Advice?
Knowing nothing else, which man would you go to for legal advice?
Now what if I told you Man 2 was a construction worker with absolutely no knowledge of law, and Man 1 had a JD as well as a PhD in political science?
Would that change your opinion?
Would you have guessed that from appearances?
The point of this whole exercise: appearances matter, whether we like that fact or not. So here are some appearance tips for influencing others:
- LOOK LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING. Don't overdress obnoxiously, but a general rule of thumb is you can never go wrong being a half step more formal than required for the situation.
- SOUND LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING. If you don't know something, be truthful, but don't sound like you're about to break doing crying. Confidently say, "I don't know, but I'll find out." Always speak with confidence and vigor.
- ACT LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING. This article will get really long if I go into too much detail, but a firm handshake and good posture will go a long way to influence people.
Here's something virtually everyone has seen: free samples at grocery stores and other businesses. You walk into the grocery store, and you're greeted by a cube of cheese and maybe half a cookie. It makes you smile -- we like tasty food!
Sadly, the cookie and cube of cheese aren't really free. (Ever heard of the acronym TANSTAFL? It's quite popular where I grew up. Stands for There Ain't No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.) It turns out that free samples in grocery stores are their way of exerting influence on customers. Grocery stores obviously want to persuade people to buy more groceries, right?
Well, there are a bunch of reasons behind the free cheese, one of which is that eating a little can stimulate appetite, and people buy more food when they're hungrier. But there's another reason, too, which relies on one more psychology trick.
Humans are hardwired to reciprocate to favors. If someone does us a favor, especially an unsolicited favor, we feel indebted to pay that favor back. Geneticists would ascribe this to millennia of evolution in a world where cooperation was even more vital than it is now, and discuss the role of oxytocin in bonding and empathy and so on and so forth. Others might say that humans are just inherently good beings, and we want to do the best by others that we can. No matter which side of that debate (and boy, is that a debate) you come down on, I think we can all agree that most humans do have a natural instinct to repay favors or "pay it forward."
So if you can do a favor for someone -- and it doesn't have to be complicated, it can be as simple as picking up a pen or holding a door open for them -- you automatically put them in a mood to be more accepting to your requests. So you've directly exerted your influence on others, and hopefully persuaded them to grant your request.
Here are a couple cool ways to do this:
- Butter people up with food before you ask them for a favor. This works especially well with children -- and men. (Trust me, my wife does this all the time. Feeds me a muffin, then it's honey-do time.)
- Be genuine. People can see through fake favors. If you're going to ask how someone's doing, do it with actual interest -- and you'll be surprised what a good mood you can get them in.
- If you're running a business, give away free candy -- or even better, a free product sample or free trial of your services.
This reciprocity instinct is one of the most powerful ways to positively influence others. And I'm going to do an experiment on that principle, right here, right now. It's pretty simple.
Psychology of Persuasion Experiment: Can I Influence Others To Share This Article?
Would you please share this article?
You might be asking yourself why you'd want to help me by sharing this article. Well, you should share this article because I've spent several hours doing research for it and typing it up, and I did it for free as a favor for you and everyone else reading. Nobody paid me. (I may make a few cents on it from the advertisements, but that too is dependent on your readership -- which I greatly appreciate! And if I wanted money, I'd write a lot of spammy "SECRETS TO YOUTH ACAI BERRY!!11!! NO WRINKLES EVER" articles. But I'm not in it for the money, I'm in it because I'm interested in helping people. And because I want to help people, I want to reach people -- and I need your help, because you can help me reach all your friends.)
So please. Share this -- on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, HubPages, Digg, Pinterest, Delicious, wherever -- because I'll be eternally grateful. It'll just take you ten seconds, and you'll have paid me back for all the hours I spent making this advice article on how to positively influence others.
Poll: I shared this article...
Where did you share this article?
There's no "magic bullet" for persuading people to do everything your way, but hopefully, after reading this article, you have a better idea of how to positively influence others.
To sum it all up, here are all the persuasion psychology techniques in a numbered list.
- Say "because"
- Say "please"
- Say "thank you"
- Put your requests in a "good" context -- you're getting a great deal!
- Put your requests in a different "good" context -- hamburgers are healthy compared to ice cream!
- Couch your requests in a "bad" context -- you may have failed history, but at least you're not dropping out of college!
- Look like you know what you're talking about. Dress for the occasion, and a little more.
- Sound like you know what you're talking about. Practice developing a confident speaking tone.
- Act like you know what you're talking about. Give firm handshakes, and develop good posture.
- "Be nice" -- do favors for people, and they'll reciprocate!
So there you go. Proven psychological techniques you can use to persuade others. Hopefully you now know how to influence people.
If you want to know more, I've listed some great books below. You should buy them because they've historically been popular with readers.
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