Why Do People Say “Yes?” The “6 Weapons of Influence”

Why do people say ‘yes’? How can we get them to comply with our requests? I asked my Fripp Associate David Palmer, PhD, MBA, CPA, an expert on negotiations and marketing. David Palmer has read more business books and management books than any other person I have ever met; without hesitation, he always refers to the best book to help anyone in their career is Robert Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice. Enjoy my interview. You next logic step is to buy Dr. Cialdini’s book.

“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”

Patricia Fripp Master Influencer

Patricia Fripp Master Influencer

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 person who does not pay their debts.

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. Afterward, 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 build 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.)

If you need help with your Negotiation Skills you will not go wrong having a conversation with David Palmer. If  you want to improve your executive communication skills check out Patricia Fripp THE Executive Speech Coach.

  1. Alan Hannaford says:

    I am 62 years young. I am an Australian with a wealth of experience in horses and cattle and people. I am an accomplished speaker to most people, but I know I need to know so much more. The six points are great but seem manipulative directed. I guess if you are not the driver you are being driven. Cheers, Alan Hannaford

  2. Hi Patricia and David and thanks for your piece and the interview that so economically helps to explain Dr Robert Cialdini’s Six Weapons of Influence.

    In response to Alan’s comment, I think it is essential to point out that these so called weapons are anything but manipulative, they are designed to bring about positive compliance that is beneficial.

    Perhaps it is the words ‘weapons’ and ‘compliance’ that makes some people feel that we as Alan says are ‘driving’, but that is not negative, manipulative driving, it is positive and in the interests of the person you are helping.

    To use the word ‘driving’,that word too can be thought of as positive. When you are in the car being driven, the driver is in control and you are compliant and reaching your destination.

    In my work Bob Morrell, which is mainly in sales training and speaking I refer my delegates to these 6 weapons so that they gain get positive control with a customer.

    Let me give you an example of some of the weapons being used very simply by a customer service agent providing car insurance.

    How many times do we call a call centre and feel we are in control, and having to ask the questions to find out what is going on?
    We ask lots of questions, about how long things will take, how much the different aspects of the policy cost and we struggle to see the value of what we are being offered or in many cases forced to renew.

    If and when a good salesperson has authority and sets a clear agenda with us, we don’t mind listening as we know they are in control and we are more likely to be compliant. We need to re-insure our car anyway!

    When they help us by offering to email us a clear quote, a guide to insurance and other things before we decide to buy,we want to repay that reciprocity that we haven’t been offered by another customer service agent.

    When the agent is friendly, confident and hears my children in the background and comments on the fact it is nearly bed time and they let me know how impressed they are at my ability to not lose my temper with them,as I try and get them to brush their teeth, and multi task, I am a man in this example and a woman is the agent!;I like the fact she has listened to and commented on background noises and this makes me begin to know, like and trust her.

    The 6 weapons are weapons used not to overpower, not in self defence but are weapons that both parties benefit from in a transaction.

    Most times when they are mis used we spot it easily anyway. In Reality Training’s work with travel agents and media sales people, we get them to stop mis using Scarcity “Its the last room in the hotel,” “That’s the early bird rate and the deadline won’t be extended”, customers rightly don’t believe it!

    How to use scarcity properly – now that’s a blog post I shall write, as I think people struggle with that one. In essence you show that you have monitored and measured demand and know at what point numbers and availability fluctuates, which of course links you back to being an authority, exciting these weapons eh!

  3. Cialdini goes to great lengths to explain that he’s exposing these weapons so that his readers recognize them and can defend against them. He would be that last one to advocate that you use them against others. Most of those using these tenants didn’t need to read Cialdini to know that they worked, he’s just trying to let the rest of us have a chance against the salesmen of the world. Like any good defensive weapon, however, it can always be turned toward ill use.
    The idea of “positive compliance”, btw, is pretty ridiculous. For the guy trying to sell you a car, “positive compliance” is you buying the most expensive car on the lot even if you don’t need it. For you, it’s getting only what you need and not paying for anything you don’t. You’re BSing yourself if you think these aren’t mutually exclusive, win-win can only go so far. Cialdini is just trying to level the playing field between the influence pros and you.

  4. Absolute truths, I have seen it said and know that it is try in my own life. I would go so far to say that it doesn’t matter how much somebody wants something if they don’t like you then they wont buy from you.

  5. Influential people know and practice these principles – whether consciously or unconsciously. For the rest of us, having it spelled out is a huge advantage – I don’t think any of these will be a huge surprise to most people who’ve thought a bit about it. What is surprising is just how well the science backs up these common strategies of influence and persuastion.
    Thanks for the article I really enjoyed it and will definitely buy the book. I’m wondering though, have you read Robert’s other books? I’m interested how they compare and which is most useful to read first.
    I’m guessing “Influence – Science and Practice” will be the best one to read first.

    Thanks again

  6. Hello, i am using mine motivational skills since 12 years. still want to make people yes in every thing i do. i am never doing wrong and never will do. want some more skills.

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  11. The citation in the third paragraph is incorrect. It should be (Allyn & Bacon, 2000) not (Allyn & Cacon, 2000). Just a typing error but since I’ve recently had to cite this book I thought I would point it out.
    Cialdini’s book is great I’m very glad to have it as assigned reading for a school and will keep it long after!

  12. I would like to cite this article for one of my school projects. Is there a date for when this article was posted? Thanks (:

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