2011 SIOP Conference Keynoter Dr. Robert Cialdini Discusses How to Ethically Use the Science of Influence
By Stephany Schings Below, Communications Manager
Organizations and individuals in the workplace spend a great deal of time and energy trying to influence clients, customers, colleagues, board members, and everyone in between. Whether an organization would like its employees to work harder or an employee would like colleagues to share information more easily, everyone has something they want.
According to the closing keynote speaker for the 2011 SIOP annual conference, Dr. Robert Cialdini, getting what you want can be as simple as giving first.
Cialdini has spent his entire career researching the science of influence, earning him an international reputation as an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation. His books, including Influence: Science & Practice, are the results of years of study into the reasons why people comply with requests in business settings. Worldwide, Influence has sold more than 2 million copies and has been published in 26 languages. His most recent coauthored book, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive has been on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal best seller lists.
Cialdini is president of Influence at Work, an international training, speaking, and consulting organization based on the “Six Principles of Influence.” His clients include such organizations as Google, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Kodak, Merrill Lynch, Nationwide Insurance, Pfizer, AAA, IBM, The Mayo Clinic, Harvard University-Kennedy School, The Weather Channel, the United States Department of Justice, and NATO.
During his keynote address at SIOP, Cialdini will give a brief overview of the Six Principles of Influence, approaches he considers to be the universally effective principles of persuasion, focusing his talk on one principle he said is underused frequently in many workplace settings: the principle of reciprocation. Using the concept of giving first, he explains, organizations and individuals can get what they want with oftentimes very minimal effort and resources.
The Six Principles of Influence
1. Reciprocation-You should give back what you have received from others
2. Scarcity-People want more of those things they can have less of
3. Authority-Being an authority or an expert on something
4. Consistency-The desire to be consistent with what one has already said or done
5. Liking-People prefer to say “yes” to those they know and like
6. Consensus- People will want to perform behaviors or take actions to the extent that they see multiple comparable others performing those actions
“Reciprocation is the rule that exists in all human cultures and is trained into all human societies to give back to others what they have received first from those others,” Cialdini explained. “What’s nice about that rule is how cross culturally embedded it is. This rule will apply to anybody in any culture because every human society trains its members from childhood in this rule.”
Although he said it is a universal concept, Cialdini noted that many organizations and individuals fail to use reciprocation to their advantage.
“I would say the principle of reciprocation is suboptimized,” he explained. “Very frequently people don’t employ the power of that rule to move others, including those inside of their organizational envelope—friends, colleagues, coworkers, and so on—and those outside the organization, such as customers and prospects. They don’t fully utilize the power of these human tendencies.”
However, when used properly, reciprocation can be a very powerful strategy, he added.
“What that does is put a lot of control in the hands of the person who acts first,” he said. “Whatever a person wants in the workplace, a more positive attitude for example, if you provide first, it flows back to you.”
For example, Cialdini explained, if you want more rapid information from the people around you, give them more rapid information to allow them to do their jobs better, and they will give it to you.
“This rule is a great boon to those who recognize how it works and know how to use it ethically by giving benefits first,” he added. “And then the individuals who receive those benefits will stand ready and eager to give benefits back.”
Some individuals and organizations use a different reward orientation that gives people a reward after they do what you want, Cialdini explained. However, he noted that research he will present during his keynote address shows that giving the reward after someone does what you want them to do actually produces less compliance than giving to the person first.
“For example, there is some interesting research from survey researchers who find that if you send people a long survey to complete, you get a certain level of compliance,” Cialdini explained. “If you offer them money when they complete the survey and send it back, let’s say $15, you get less compliance than if you put $5 in the envelope and give them that amount before they complete the survey. Even though they received less than they would have received after the fact, you get significantly more people filling out the questionnaire when the money is given to them first.”
One of the reasons for this, Cialdini explained, is cultural.
“Because once people receive, they feel obligated to give back,” he said. “You want to be part of a profitable exchange with people who benefit you at the outset. So if you benefit them in return, then you’ve got a mutual partner now who you can continue to interact with in profitable ways.”
If giving less before someone complies with your request is more effective than giving more after they have complied, why doesn’t everyone do it?
“It’s easier to just set a reward—to just set an incentive,” Cialdini explained. “And that’s not to say incentives don’t work; of course they do, but there are other approaches that work as well too, so we shouldn’t just rely on rewards.”
During his keynote presentation Cialdini will present evidence and some of his own research that shows how one might use this rule for reciprocation to produce greater positive outcomes.
“It doesn’t have to be an individual you do something for,” Cialdini explained. “We show using this approach of giving first that a company that uses cause-related marketing can also reap benefits of reciprocation. For a company that says to its customers, “If you buy our products or use our services, we will give a percentage of the profit to a good cause,” such as the Olympics, versus a company that says “We’ve already made a contribution in the name of our customers to the Olympics,” the marketing showing how they already gave something will produces more compliance with their requests. As a customer, you’ve been gifted to them, and there is an obligation to pay them pack. We like people who have given to us spontaneously. You go first, you give, and then when the person says “Thank you,” you say, “Of course, this is what we do for one another.’”
Giving doesn’t have to be strictly monetary, either, Cialdini added.
“Giving can include information sharing, a positive attitude in the workplace, smiling,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to cost anything. The general rule is that the more specific the connection is, people feel obligated to give you back the form of action you give to them. But if you’ve done them a favor, let’s say give them some staff that they need to complete a project and then you ask them later on to turn around a report more quickly, you are going to be more inclined to do that.”
Cialdini said reciprocation is just a part of the larger picture in the workplace.
“The larger theme that I am going to be talking about is the underutilization of these principles that don’t require any deceptions, don’t require any coercion, and don’t require any expense,” he said. “The takeaway for attendees is to do some things differently as a result of the material that they hear about. These are things that will require very little effort on their part but will make a big difference in their persuasiveness and their ability to influence those around them at work.”
Dr. Robert Cialdini received his PhD from the University of North Carolina and post-doctoral training from Columbia University. He has held visiting scholar appointments at Ohio State University, the University of California, the Annenberg School of Communications, and the Graduate School of Business of Stanford University. Currently, he is Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.