According to psychologist Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Arizona State University, the key to persuasion is as much about timing as it is about the message itself. He describes this idea as “pre-suasion”, which is also the title of his new book.
The text builds on his pioneering text influence which was released in 1984 and sold 3 million copies across the world. In the book, he laid out the six key principles of influence. The first tenet “reciprocity” is the idea that people return a favor that’s why retailers give out free samples and “commitment and consistency” suggests that we are more likely to follow through with an idea if we agree to it aloud or in writing.
The third tenet is “social proof” which suggests that most of us are likely to repeat the actions of others, followed by “authority: which describes our leaning to obey those higher up the food chain even if what they require we do is objectionable. “Liking” describes how we latch on the same things as our peers, while lastly, “scarcity” – seen often as “limited time” on sales posters- is used to generate demand.
In the book Influence, Robert seeks to identify six universal principles which move people in our direction and he believes that those six motivators of change haven’t changed over the years.
In his new book, he introduces the idea of timing of the principles of influence and relates them to the digital age. With the rise of social media and review websites, the importance of social proof has never been higher.
“Whereas Influence focused on what a communicator can put in a message to move people in his or her direction, Pre-Suasion looks at what a communicator can put in moment before delivering the message, so that the audience becomes more open or receptive to the message they haven’t yet encountered.”
He explains that these theories can be used to tempt shoppers and consumers, and also sell oneself at a job interview.
“What we have been taught to say to the interviewer is ‘thank you for inviting me, I forward to answering all of your questions.’ Here’s what I recommend from a standpoint of persuasive orientation. We should in addition say but ‘before we begin I wonder if you can answer a question why did you invite me? What was it about my candidacy that is attractive to you?’. What you will have done pre-suasively is to focus the evaluator’s on the features of your resume that are most attractive to them.”
He claims an acquaintance has used this technique to secure three jobs as it makes the candidate seem different from others and creates the impression of self-assuredness, and like someone who doesn’t wait to be controlled by the situation but rather participates in the exchange in a way which sells their capabilities.
He also suggests that we can pre-suade ourselves by switching our minds to positive thoughts and recalling moments when we had some form of success. This technique can be used in job interviews as the feeling of memories of success allows us go into interviews more confidently.
Since the release of the book Pre-Suasion in late 2016, the most memorable appreciation letter from a reader came from a father who helped his son raise money for the Boys Scout.
“They were trying to raise money outside a supermarket with a table. As people exited they asked if they would like to buy some popcorn. They were getting miserable results, only 15 per cent of people were willing to do this after all they had just been in a supermarket they had already spent their budget. But then he read Pre-Suasion and remembered that you have to identify your principal goal first and then go to the moment before you make the request and raise the consciousness something associated with that goal. So he changed his approach.
“When people came out from the supermarket he asked them ‘do you support the Boy Scouts?’ Of course people said yes. He then asked ‘would you like to buy some popcorn to support them?’ and they got 85 per cent of people either buying popcorn or saying I don’t want any but here’s a few dollars for the Boy Scouts.”
For those who feel uncomfortable using marketing techniques such as this, they should remember that ethics is key as there will be those who seek to exploit the technique for fraudulent or mischievous purposes.
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