Influencing Skills for Professionals – The Six Principles

influencingWe all need to get better at influencing others: clients, colleagues, friends etc. Here is a summary of  the best-selling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I’ve adapted the themes and applied them to the world of professionals such as lawyers and accountants.

The author, Robert Cialdini, is a Professor at Arizona State University. He proposes that there are six principles underpinning the skills of persuasion:

  1. Reciprocity – we tend to return a favour
  2. Commitment & Consistency – if we commit to an idea or goal, orally or in writing, we are more likely to achieve it
  3. Social Proof – we will do things that they see other people are doing
  4. Authority – we tend to obey authority figures, even if we are asked to perform objectionable acts
  5. Liking – we are more easily persuaded by other people that we like
  6. Scarcity – perceived scarcity will generate demand

I’m going to explain each of these in turn and provide tips for how professionals such as lawyers and accountants can use them.

  1. Reciprocity

Cialdini says: “The implication is you have to go first. Give something: give information… to people and they will want to give you something in return.”

Professionals – you have lots of things you can give: your time and attention, really listening and acknowledging clients’ opinions, free advice, a free audit of commercial or legal risks, online resources, training, introductions to others in your network etc. Could you be offering more?

2. Commitment & Consistency

Cialdini says: “People strive for consistency in their commitments. They also prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions.” Getting clients to publicly commit to something makes them more likely to follow through with an action.

The older we get, the more we value consistency. And that makes it harder for older people to make a change.

Professionals – instead of saying “Please call if you have to cancel”, ask instead “Will you please call if you have to cancel?”. A subtle but important difference. This gets clients to say yes, and measurably increases their response rates.  Also a way to help older clients make a change is to praise them for making good past decisions, based on the information they had at the time. Then find ways to stress the consistent values connecting old decisions with values underlying any new actions (such as using your services).

3. Social Proof

When people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look to those around them to guide their decisions and actions. They especially want to know what everyone else is doing – especially their peers. “Laugh tracks on comedy shows exist for this very reason,” Cialdini says.

Professionals – testimonials from satisfied clients show your target audience that people who are like them have enjoyed your service. They’ll be more likely to become clients themselves. Written comments can be reassuring, but video recordings work better.

4. Authority

People respect authority. They want to follow the lead of real experts. Business titles, impressive clothing, and even driving an expensive, high-performing automobile are proven factors in lending credibility to any individual. Just wearing a white lab coat gave the technicians in the famous Milgram experiments a surprising amount of authority.

Professionals should look for authority figures, such as government officials, regulators, highly regarded, blue-chip clients to be amongst their client lists. This will help encourage other clients to choose you.

5. Liking

“People prefer to say ‘yes’ to those they know and like,” Cialdini says. People are also more likely to favour those who are physically attractive, similar to themselves, or who give them compliments. Even something as ‘random’ as having the same name as your prospects can increase your chances of making a sale.

Professionals can put more effort into building rapport with their clients. Let those aspects of your nature that are similar to the client shine through. But don’t fake this. It has to be authentic to work. Spend more time finding out what they like and don’t like about the service they receive from other professional advisers.

6. Scarcity

The less there is of something, the more valuable it is. The more rare and uncommon a thing, the more people want it.

Professionals should consider developing more unique products or services and not just offering ‘me-too’ ones. This might simply be a different way of taking instructions or providing updates using an extranet or different approaches to matter management. If other firms don’t do it like you do it, you have a scarcer product which clients might be more attracted to.

Most of us think it’s hard to understand why we decide what we do. Cialdini thinks that influencing others isn’t luck or magic – it’s science.

For a short TED Talk presentation on Cialdini’s principles of influencing, with details of scientific evidence, see




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