The Seven Levers of Influence
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (new and expanded); Harper Business, 2021
Book review by Ross Clennett (August 2021)
Mr. Clennett is an Influential U Esteemed Alumni and serves on our faculty.
A couple of years ago, I acquired a new client based on, what appeared to be, one email exchange. A CEO who makes a substantial commitment to a whole-of-company leadership program without requesting a conversation is a highly unusual occurrence, even more so when I have never spoken to the decision-maker before.
A prompt decision is always welcome because as a self-employed consultant and coach I do not have a great deal of time to invest in a lengthy sales process. Most of my work time is used to prepare and deliver coaching and training programs for my clients – typically owners of small recruitment and staffing agencies in Australia and New Zealand.
When I met my new client for the first time three months later, I asked her the question that had been playing on my mind since our initial exchange: “Why did you make such a quick decision?”
“I have been reading your blogs for a long time and it was clear that you and I have very similar philosophies on recruitment and leadership. After I read a few of your 46 LinkedIn recommendations I was certain you were just the trainer I was looking for,” she said.
That new client has subsequently become my largest client by total sales.
Thank you, Influential U and Dr. Robert Cialdini.
In the first Influential U program, The Fundamentals of Transaction, I was introduced to the Conditions of Life™ and reacquainted with Dr. Cialdini’s famous book, Influence.
A Condition of Life is a circumstance, state, or situation that adults must tend to live a happy life. One of the 15 Conditions of Life is Career; the condition of our identity of value and help in specific ecologies.
Before becoming a student of Influential U programs, I regarded myself as respected and reasonably well known in the local recruitment industry, but the question I now asked myself was:
“I know I am valuable but am I seen as valuable in the market?”
To maximise the likelihood that the answer was “yes,” I applied focus to my market identity by using two of Dr. Cialdini’s principles of persuasion: authority and social proof.
Dr. Cialdini’s book asserts that compliance practitioners use one or more of the seven principles of persuasion (or levers as he labels them) to have us accept their invitations, offers, and requests willingly and quickly.
- Social Proof
- Commitment & Consistency
These levers activate the shortcut mechanism in our brain that allows an individual to decide on a correct course of action without having to analyse carefully and completely each of the other pieces of information available. Dr. Cialdini labels the shortcut mechanism as “click, run.”
The lever of influence authority flows from being viewed as either in authority (which I was not) or an authority (which my new client clearly viewed me as).
As a blogger who posts content weekly, I focused my material on the, according to Dr. Cialdini, two components of an authority: being perceived as both expert (knowledgeable on the relevant topic) and trustworthy (honest in the presentation of one’s knowledge).
The tactics that I used in my blogs were sharing an issue that was prominent in industry circles or sharing a mistake I had made, stating my opinion as to what could or should be done, and drawing on research or other credible sources to support my opinion. It was this approach that had impressed my new client sufficiently that she concluded we shared a common philosophy about success in the recruitment industry.
The principle of social proof states that, especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own when faced with a similar decision.
My new client’s perusal of my 46 Linkedin recommendations provided her with a wide array of other, identifiable and verifiable, recruitment agency owners and leaders who had endorsed me. My expertise and competence as a trainer and coach were both credible and publicly available.
The Influential U curriculum asserts that a respected career identity gives us the ability to transact quickly and at a lower cost. Embodying the practise and habits of preserving and continually seeking to expand our public identity is key to increasing the value of our offers to others and, more importantly, increasing the number of offers others make to transact with us.
My new client’s quick commitment enabled me to transact quickly and at a very low cost, in contrast to many sales processes that involve submitting lengthy and time-consuming proposals and responding to tender requests.
I infrequently submit proposals. When I do they are never more than one page in length. My success rate with proposals in the last five years is 80 percent.
My focused and deliberate use of authority and social proof has been highly effective not just in the delivery of new clients but also in raising my standing in the local recruitment industry.
In 2019 I was approached to be one of eight members appointed to the recruitment industry’s national Professional Practice Council, responsible for, among other things, “…acting in the capacity of a subject matter expert and to review the information and education provided to members with respect to Professional Practice.”
Dr. Cialdini’s levers of influence are the gifts that keep on giving.
The levers of influence are woven throughout Influential U’s curriculum and are included as a specific step (Step 9: Apply Levers of Influence) in the thirteen-step process. (The Thirteen Steps offers a roadmap to thinking accurately about the construction of the simple or complex transactions required to satisfy your aims.)
The five other levers of influence are reciprocation (people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behaviour, gift, or service that they have received first); liking (people prefer to say yes to those that they like); scarcity (people want more of those things they can have less of); commitment & consistency (people like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done); and unity (people are more likely to say yes to someone they consider to be one of them).
As I have continued my study with Influential U I have become thoroughly schooled in ethically applying the levers of influence at the appropriate time in a transaction. Just as importantly, I now recognise when one of these levers is being used to seek compliance from me.
Last week I received correspondence in the mail from an environment group (whose mission I support with a monthly donation) outlining how they were utilising donor funds in the fulfillment of current projects. Enclosed with the correspondence were two blank birthday cards and accompanying envelopes, a To Do List pad, and self-addressed stickers.
I immediately recognised the principle of reciprocation inherent in these small gifts and the potential potency of the specific characteristics of these gifts.
Cialdini asserts that compliance practitioners seeking to leverage the reciprocity rule will frequently give something before asking for a return favour. The exploitability of this tactic is due to three characteristics of the rule. First, the rule becomes particularly potent when the gift, favour or service is personalised or customised to the recipients’ current preferences or needs. Second, the rule applies even to uninvited first favours, thereby reducing our ability to decide whom we wish to owe and putting the choice in the hands of others. Finally, the rule can spur unequal exchanges; to be rid of the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness, an individual often agrees to a request for a substantially larger favour than the one he or she has received.
Clearly this specific application of the reciprocity rule works cost-effectively for charities in generating donations.
How do I know? In the two months prior to receiving these gifts from the environment group, I received almost identical gifts in the mail from a guide dogs charity, a breast cancer charity, and a disadvantaged children’s education charity.
As a person who especially values, and actively cultivates, relationships (as is characteristic of a Performer, one of the four transactional personalities studied across all Influential U programs), I am especially wary of a person attempting to use the lever of liking in their attempt to gain my compliance.
In visiting a home entertainment store recently with the intention of purchasing a sound system, I was immediately cautious when the retail assistant, in response to asking me what type of music I liked, enthusiastically agreed with the three artists whose names I offered up, even though each artist was from a generation somewhat distant from the retail assistant’s.
Praising people and acknowledging their contribution towards the attainment of mutual goals maximises the lever of liking.
I found this specific tactic has been especially helpful in gaining compliance from my 13 year-old son. “Thanks for cleaning your room, James. It makes mum and me very happy that you also take pride in having a home that’s clean and tidy.”
The scarcity principle leverages the human tendency for loss aversion. We are motivated to have something or assign greater value to it if opportunities to acquire it are becoming more limited, or could be lost altogether. The scarcity of something is amplified when access is limited or restricted (especially if it’s newly limited or restricted) and when we compete with others for that resource (real estate auctions are, in adult life, the most common application of this principle). Humans use scarcity as shortcut (click, run) in assessing value.
Prospective clients act with much greater haste in committing to an individual coaching program since I started advising them they will need to wait at least four weeks before I have availability in my schedule to take on a new client. Last month was something of a record when the latest addition to my coaching roster returned his signed contract within 25 minutes and then paid the first invoice 12 minutes after I sent it to him.
Commitment and Consistency
Commitment and consistency work as a lever of influence because most people strive to be consistent with their words, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour. This tendency for consistency is fed from three sources. First good personal consistency is highly valued by society. Second, generally consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to daily life. Third, a consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. By being consistent with earlier decisions one reduces the need to process all the relevant information in future similar situations; instead one merely needs to recall the earlier decision and respond consistently with it.
Many compliance practitioners attempt to induce a person to take an initial position that is consistent with behaviour they will later request from that same person.
I noticed that when I was recently called by one of the wine clubs I subscribe to. The telemarketer referenced a conversation from last year in which, according to the notes in her database, I had stated that “wine maker X’s pinot noir was one of the best I had tasted.” Unsurprisingly that winemaker’s latest release pinot noir just happened to be on special that month, which was the reason offered by the telemarketer for her call.
Of course, I recognised the wine club’s compliance tactics, but I was nearly out of pinot noir…..and…. it was very good…. and…. it was good value. I mean why spend more time seeking out alternatives when it made perfectly good sense to just pull out my credit card and in three days’ time the wine would just arrive on my doorstep (as it did)? Click, run.
The unity principle was included for the first time in the new and expanded May 2021 edition of Influence as the first addition to the levers of influence, since the original six levers (or weapons as they were then called) were outlined in the original edition of Influence.
Automatically and incessantly, everyone divides people into those to whom the pronoun we does and does not apply. The implications for influence are great because, inside our tribes (or in-groups), everything influence-related is easier to achieve. Those within the boundaries of “we” gain more agreement, trust, help, liking, cooperation, emotional support, and forgiveness and are seen judged as being more creative, moral, and humane.
The experience of unity is not about simple similarities (although these can work too, via the liking principle). It’s about identities, shared identities. It’s about tribe-like categories that individuals use to define themselves and their groups such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and family as well as political and religious affiliations.
People are much more likely to say yes to someone they consider one of them.
Although I am an Australian and live in Australia, I have a disproportionate number of New Zealand clients. New Zealand’s population is one fifth the size of Australia’s; yet, New Zealand customers account for nearly 40 percent of my revenue. This is unusual occurrence for an Australian coach or consultant. In my experience, New Zealanders are wary of an Australian who peddles their expertise across the Tasman Sea in a way that suggests New Zealand is akin to a seventh Australian state.
I believe a large part of my success in being given a fair hearing by New Zealand prospects is in my tactic of emphasising my Tasmanian origins when I first meet them.
Tasmania is the smallest Australian state and many Tasmanians have had the experience, similar to New Zealanders, of being ignored or patronised by Australians from other states, especially residents of Sydney and Melbourne.
In expressing my kinship as a fellow resident of non-mainland Australia, I create a sense of “we”-ness that builds quick and strong rapport, regardless of the fact that I have not been a permanent resident of Tasmania since 1988.
For readers familiar with Influence from earlier editions, the lever of unity will, I suspect, be quickly regarded as a valid and useful additional lever of influence.
Weapons Vs. Levers
Another significant change to earlier editions of Influence is the replacement of “weapons” with “levers” to categorise the six (now seven) levers of influence. In the Comment on This Edition of Influence, Cialdini does not offer an explanation as to the motivation underlying this change of categorisation. Aside from the potentially aggressive or masculine tone that the word “weapons” conjures, I suspect that lever is a more accurate word to describe the common functionality of reciprocation, liking, authority, social proof, scarcity, commitment & consistency, and unity in seeking compliance from another.
Examining how compliance practitioners use the internet also appears in Influence for the first time. Accordingly, each chapter includes, in specially created eBoxes, illustrations of how this migration into current technologies has been accomplished.
A third and final component making its first appearance in Influence is the enhanced use of endnotes as the place where readers can find citations for the research described in the text as well as citations and descriptions of related work.
As a person whose self-employment involves a component of sales, I found one of the most helpful elements of Cialdini’s work was one he shared in a live workshop held in Melbourne that I attended in June 2017.
The Core Motives
The Core Motives Model is one in which each lever of influence has a specific place in the compliance-seeking process, as follows:
|Intention||Levers to lead with|
|Commitment & consistency
|Getting decisions made
About Dr. Robert Cialdini
Dr. Robert Cialdini is the Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and was a visiting professor of marketing, business, and psychology at Stanford University, as well as at the University of California at Santa Cruz. His books Fortune Magazine lists Influence in their 75 Smartest Business Books. CEO Read lists Influence in their 100 Best Business Books of All Time.
In acknowledgment of his outstanding research achievements and contributions in behavioral science, Dr. Cialdini was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2018 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2019.
Influence is an astonishing scholarly and literary achievement. Since its original publication in 1984, Influence has sold more than 4 million copies in 41 languages. It’s a rigorous piece of academic scholarship that has found a mass audience because of the core truth of the compliance techniques that readers instantly recognise from their own lives
The ethical application of Cialdini’s seven levers of influence has made an enormous difference in the speed with which I complete many, highly valuable, transactions and I know many other graduates of Influential U’s program feel exactly the same way.
About the reviewer:
Ross Clennett is a high-performance recruitment coach and recruitment industry blogger and commentator.
Ross’s original qualification was gained in economics (B.Ec. 1988). He is a Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP, 2006) and holds Esteemed Alumni status having completed the Influential U curriculum.
As a professional recruiter, between 1989 and 2003, Ross screened over 80,000 resumes, interviewed over 3,000 people and successfully placed over 1,500 people in work. Over this time he worked in London, Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne.
Since 2003 Ross has run his own business, RossClennett.com, providing a range of services to the recruitment industry in Australia and New Zealand, predominantly high performance coaching and online recruitment and leadership programs.
Ross has been professionally recognised by the designation, Fellow (FRCSA) awarded by the Recruitment & Consulting Services Association (Aus & NZ). In 2011 and 2012 Ross was a national finalist in the RCSA’s Outstanding Contribution Award given in recognition of, amongst other criteria, to a person who has raised the professionalism of the industry through their contribution.