Susan K Perry Ph.D.

Creating in Flow

6 Ways to Convince People to Do What You Want

Lessons from the art of "pre-suasion."

Posted Nov 01, 2016

luca amedei/Shutterstock
Source: luca amedei/Shutterstock

Your message is important to you, and to get others to believe in it, you can shape it in many ways.

But don't forget that what you say first—your "pre-suasive" tactics—strongly influences what you say next, and what your audience retains. Advertisers and marketers ignore this at their peril, but the rest of us—on both ends of the persuasion exchange—can benefit, too.

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence, is a substantial addition to the field of social psychology. The academically inclined may wish to read the extensive references and endnotes, which constitute nearly half the book. But more casual readers will still learn a great deal about influence and persuasion by reading his main text.

Here's the gist of the method espoused by Cialdini: It's not your message, but the skill you put into crafting it, that matters. People can be made receptive to your message before they hear it. And persuading—and pre-suading, as he calls it—are learnable abilities.

Consider these six strategies to become more influential—or to protect yourself from being influenced against your better judgment:

1. "What we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next," Cialdini writes, citing multiple real-world examples and studies. Such pre-suasion alters listeners' associations with what comes next. By appearing trustworthy, you're already pre-suading your audience to trust what you say next.

2. Whatever our attention is focused on, that thing appears more important to us. A skilled presenter can channel an audience's attention into what they want listeners to consider most important.

3. When the physical and psychological environment features cues relevant to certain goals, you (or whomever you intend to influence) will be led in the direction of those goals. This can mean anything from images of female scientists in a science class, to posting your own goals (preferably lots of little steps to cross off) on the wall to remind yourself of where you're headed.

4. When you pre-suade someone with the suggestion that they are helpful, for example, they are much more likely to actually be helpful later on when you ask them for assistance.

5. Use "lack of closure" to channel attention in yourself and others. When you don't know the answer, that mystery gets extra attention in your mind. Some writers, for example, make use of this by stopping their day's work when they know precisely what comes next. That makes it easy to get back to work in the next writing session. In that case, it's not the mystery per se, but the lack of closure that propels you back to the task.

6. Even toddlers have been shown to grasp "the rule of reciprocation": When seeking cooperation from people, such as when asking them to fill out a survey, it often pays to give them a small gift first. That works much better than promising them a gift after they do what you ask.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel