The Power of Influence and Persuasion

Six key weapons of influence


People generally feel obliged to return favors offered to them. This trait is embodied in all human cultures and is one of the human characteristics that allow us to live as a society.

Compliance professionals often play on this trait by offering a small gift to potential customers. Studies have shown that even if the gift is unwanted, it will influence the recipient to reciprocate.

A variation on this theme is to ask for a particularly big favor. When this is turned down, a smaller favor is asked for. This is likely to be successful because a concession on one side (the down-scaling of the favor) will be reciprocated by a concession by the other party (agreement to the smaller favor).

Reciprocation is an application of reciprocity.

Commitment and consistency

People have a general desire to appear consistent in their behavior. People generally also value consistency in others.

Compliance professionals can exploit the desire to be consistent by having someone make an initial, often small, commitment. Requests can then be made that are in keeping with this initial commitment.

People also have a strong desire to stand by commitments made by providing further justification and reasons for supporting them. This pattern of behavior toward or resulting in a negative outcome is called escalation of commitment.

Social proof

People generally look to other people similar to themselves when making decisions. This is particularly noticeable in situations of uncertainty or ambiguity.

This trait has led compliance professionals to provide fake information on what others are doing. Examples of this are staged interviews on television advertisements or “infomercials”.

Also called “Group think”, examples of this are when you see on products like toothpaste “America’s #1 Toothpaste” it will subconsciously influence you to buy.

Politicians use this all the time, just by having people standing behind them gets them more votes from people watching at home.


People are more likely to agree to offers from people whom they like.

There are several factors that can influence people to like some people more than others:

  • Physical attractiveness can give people a “halo” effect whereby others are more likely to trust them and think of them as smarter and more talented.
  • People tend to like people who are most like themselves.
  • People tend to like those who pay them compliments.
  • People who they are forced to cooperate with to achieve a common goal tend to form a trust with those people.
  • People tend to like people that make them laugh. For example, many lectures start with a joke.

Any one of the above methods may not help influence people, but used in combination, their effects can be magnified.


The Milgram experiment ran by Stanley Milgram provided some of the most stunning insights into how influential authority can be over others.

People often act in an automated fashion to commands from authority, even if their instincts suggest the commands should not be followed.


People tend to want things as they become less available. This has led advertisers to promote goods as “limited availability”, or “short time only”.

It has also been shown that when information is restricted (such as through censorship), people want the information more and will hold that information in higher regard.

Items are also given a higher value when they were once in high supply but have now become scarce.