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John Shaw, Exec. Recruiter

Why Do People Say "Yes?"
The "6 Weapons of Influence"

By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE and David Palmer, Ph.D, CPA

Why do people say ’yes’? How can we get them to comply with our requests? I asked my friend David Palmer, an expert on organizational development and marketing.

"Fortunately, people often say ’yes’ or agree with requests out of mindless compliance," David told me. "They are frequently willing to say ’yes’ automatically without thinking first. It makes their lives simpler and smoother. But what most of us are trying to overcome is the opposite phenomenon, when they’ve programmed themselves to say ’no’ without thinking about it.

"Here’s where the emotional triggers come in. Researcher Robert Cialdini at Arizona State University describes the ’Six Weapons of Influence,’ as he calls them, in his book, Influence, Science and Practice (Allyn & Cacon, 2000)."

1. RECIPROCATION - "The Old Give and Take--and Take"

All of us are taught we should find some way to repay others for what they do for us. Most people will make an effort to avoid being considered a moocher, ingrate, or welsher.

This is an extremely powerful tactic and can even spur unequal exchanges. In one experiment, for example, half the people attending an art appreciation session were offered a soft drink. Afterwards, all were asked if they would buy 25-cent raffle tickets. Guess what? The people who had been offered the soft drinks purchased twice as many raffle tickets, whether or not they had accepted the drinks!

You probably already use this principle, but it is much stronger than you suspect. You can build a sense of indebtedness in someone by delivering a number of uninvited "first favors" over time. They don’t have to be tangible gifts. In today’s world, useful information is one of the most valuable favors you can deliver.

2. COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY - "Hobgoblins of the Mind"

Once people have made a choice or taken a stand, they are under both internal and external pressure to behave consistently with that commitment. This desire for consistency offers us all a shortcut to action as we recall a previous decision we have already made.

When you can get someone to commit verbally to an action, the chances go up sharply that they’ll actually do it. For example, before starting your next meeting, ask each person to commit to following the posted agenda. Then, if anyone goes off on a tangent, just ask them to explain how it fits the agenda. If they can’t, they’ll quickly fall back in line.

3. SOCIAL PROOF - "Truths Are Us"

We decide what is correct by noticing what other people think is correct. This principle applies especially to the way we determine what constitutes correct behavior. If everyone else is behaving a certain way, most assume that is the right thing to do. For example, one of the important, and largely unconscious, ways we decide what is acceptable behavior on our current job is by watching the people around us, especially the higher-ups or old timers.

This principle of influence kicks in even more strongly when the situation is uncertain or people aren’t sure what to do. When you can show them what others like them believe or are doing, people are more likely to take the same action. (The mass suicides among the Heavens Gate followers in Southern California and the people in Jonestown are horrible examples of the negative power of this principle.)

On the positive side, product endorsements are the most obvious application of the Social Proof. If you want someone to do something for you, be sure to let them see that many other people are already doing it or are willing to do it. Show them that others like them (and the more like them the better) believe in your product or are using it.

4. LIKING: "The Friendly Thief"

People love to say ’yes’ to requests from people they know and like. And people tend to like others who appear to have similar opinions, personality traits, background, or lifestyle. More people will say ’yes’ to you if they like you, and the more similar to them you appear to be, the more likely they are to like you.

Most people are also phenomenal suckers for flattery, even when they know it isn’t true. When we have a good opinion of ourselves, we can accept praise and like those who provide it. (Those with low self-esteem reject even well-earned praise and distrust the source.) All salespeople worth their salt have mastered the flattery tactic. They know it works, but they may not know why.

People also tend to like and trust anything familiar. The best way to build this familiarity is to have frequent, pleasant contacts. For example, if you spend three hours straight with someone you’ve never met before, you would get a sense of who they are. But if you divided the same time into 30-minute segments of pleasant interaction over six consecutive weeks, you would each have a much stronger and positive knowledge about the other. You have established a comfort level, familiarity, and a history with them. Their repeated pleasant contacts with your organization’s services or products helps builds familiarity and liking.

5. AUTHORITY: "Directed Deference"

Most of us are raised with a respect for authority, both real and implied. Sometimes, people confuse the symbols of authority (titles, appearance, possessions) with the true substance.

Some people are more strongly influenced by authority than others, and compliance can vary according to the situation . For example, it’s 11:00 PM, and the doorbell rings. Two men in police uniforms want to come in and ask you some questions. Most people respect such authority enough that they would comply, even though the Constitution says they don’t have to. But if it was 3:00 AM and the men were in street clothes, claiming to be detectives, most of us would hesitate. The men would have to overcome our resistance with more proofs of their authority like badges or a search warrant.

You can put this general principle to use by citing authoritative sources to support your ideas. Look and act like an authority yourself. Be sure others know that your education and experience supports your ideas. Dress like the people who are already in the positions of authority that you seek.

6. SCARCITY: "The Rule of the Few"

Nearly everyone is vulnerable to some form of the principle of scarcity. Opportunities seem more valuable when they are less available. Hard-to-get things are perceived as better than easy-to-get things.

For example, the object you’ve almost decided to buy is out of stock. The salesperson offers to check their other stores. And guess what? A store across town has one left! Do you buy it? Of course!

Whenever appropriate, you can use the Scarcity Principle. Refer to limited resources and time limits to increase the perceived value of the benefits of helping or working with you. The possibility of losing something is a more powerful motivator than of gaining something. Let others (a customer, your boss, a lover) know what they will be losing if they don’t say ’yes’ to your offer.

The Six Weapons of Influence are incredibly powerful and can be combined in many ways. Use them whenever you approach people you want to influence. (And be sure to read Professor Cialdini’s book, Influence, Science, and Practice. you’ll find it most entertaining as well enlightening.)


Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on Change, Customer Service, Promoting Business, and Communication Skills. She is the author of Get What You Want!, Make It So You Don’t Have to Fake It and Past-President of the National Speakers Association.

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