How to Influence People in your Organization

by | Jul 21, 2023 | Blog, Influencing, Leadership, Technical Leaders

No matter where you are in the organization, it is important to be able to influence people. Take for example, David, a team leader in a technology company who was tasked with leading a cross-functional team to develop a new software product. David didn’t have direct authority over all the team members because they came from different departments, including design, programming, and marketing. David’s ability to influence was critical to fostering collaboration and driving collective success. To gain buy-in from all team members, he offered assistance and resources to each department involved. For example, he allocated additional programmers to help the design team with a complex technical challenge. This act of goodwill prompted the design team to reciprocate when the programming team needed design insights later in the project.

David hadn’t read about influencing techniques. He knew from experience that reciprocity is an effective tool to encourage collaboration. He hadn’t really thought of it as an influencing tool. But when he went back to school to get his MBA, he came across Robert Cialdini’s work on the art of persuasion and has been using Cialdini’s influencing techniques as a technical leader ever since.

Influencing tools are often used in sales and marketing contexts, but they can be applied to any circumstance, from influencing friends and family to influencing bosses and teams. Cialdini’s six key principles of influence are reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking, and social proof.1 Here is a brief description of each principle followed by an illustrative example and a leadership tip that you can use as directly in your organization.

1. Reciprocity

The principle of reciprocity is grounded in the notion that people feel obligated to return a favor when something is given to them. This sense of obligation can be a powerful tool in persuasion.

The principle of reciprocity hinges on the belief that people are inherently inclined to give back when they receive something. This compulsion to repay can be a strong instrument of persuasion.

For example, think about the practice in many professional settings where a company sends a prospective client a thoughtful gift or offers a free trial of their service. Studies indicate that these gestures can significantly boost the conversion rates of potential clients into actual ones. The free trial or gift serves as a form of favor that stimulates the prospective client’s inherent impulse to give back, which often manifests as signing up for the service or buying the product.

Leadership Tip: You can use the principle of reciprocity to gain influence with anyone in your organization. For example, you could offer assistance or valuable insights to a higher-level leader on a matter that falls within your area of expertise. This act of helpfulness creates a sense of obligation, making the higher-level leader more likely to support or assist you in the future. For instance, you could provide a detailed analysis of a complex technology issue that helps senior management make a critical decision.

2. Scarcity

Scarcity refers to the psychological bias where people place a higher value on items that are scarce or limited in availability. Marketers frequently utilize this principle by creating a sense of urgency around a product or service.

A classic example of scarcity in action is the phrase “limited-time offer.” When shopping online, you may encounter statements like “Only 3 items left in stock” or “Offer ends in 2 hours.” These tactics urge consumers to act quickly, for fear that they will miss out on the opportunity.

Leadership Tip: When proposing a new project or initiative, you can apply the scarcity principle by emphasizing the unique value it brings or the limited window of opportunity. For example, you might say, “Implementing this new system architecture is a rare opportunity to greatly enhance our processing capabilities. But we need to act quickly to make the most of our current resources and market position.”

3. Authority

The principle of authority indicates that we tend to obey authoritative figures and are more likely to be influenced by their suggestions or instructions. This can be attributed to our conditioning to accept and respect authority from an early age.

For example, toothpaste companies often use endorsements from dental professionals to market their products. By doing so, they leverage the authority of these professionals, making consumers more likely to trust and buy their product.

Leadership Tip: As a leader in a specific field, your expertise and knowledge serve as your authority. Regularly sharing insights, giving thoughtful suggestions, and offering solutions to complex problems will help others see you as a figure of authority. For instance, you might conduct a series of technical workshops or share regular updates about advancements in your field, thereby solidifying your status as a knowledgeable leader.

4. Consistency (or Commitment)

People like to be consistent in their actions, thoughts, and values. Once a commitment is made, individuals are more likely to act in ways that align with that commitment.

A common example of this principle can be found in public pledges or declarations. Fitness challenges like “30 days of yoga” encourage participants to publicly commit to a month-long practice, making them more likely to follow through due to their desire to stay consistent with their commitment.

Leadership Tip: The consistency principle can be used to encourage team commitment. Let’s say your team is embarking on a long-term project. You could initiate a kickoff meeting in which everyone involved publicly commits to their roles and responsibilities. This public declaration makes them more likely to follow through consistently.

5. Liking

People are more likely to be persuaded by people they like. This principle is based on the idea that if someone likes you, they’ll want to say yes to you.

Consider the role of influencers on social media platforms. Brands often collaborate with popular influencers who have built a connection with their followers. When these influencers endorse a product or service, their followers — who already “like” them — are more likely to be influenced by their recommendation.

Leadership Tip: Using the principle of liking to influence up involves developing a positive rapport with bosses and senior leaders. This could be achieved by finding common professional interests, displaying a positive attitude, and actively listening when interacting with them. Building a genuine relationship based on mutual respect and understanding can make these leaders more receptive to your ideas and viewpoints. Similarly, building a positive rapport with your team members will make them more likely to accept your guidance.

6. Social Proof

The principle of social proof suggests that people are more likely to do something if they see others doing it. It’s why reviews, testimonials, and popularity are potent tools of persuasion.

An example of social proof in action is the way online shopping platforms display reviews and ratings. Seeing that many others have bought and liked a product influences potential buyers to feel more comfortable making the same decision.

Leadership Tip: You can use the principle of social proof by showcasing the successes of your team and individual members to encourage others to buy in to an idea. For example, if you’re trying to encourage your team to adopt a new software tool, share case studies of other successful teams or employees (within or outside your company) that have benefitted from using the tool. This ‘social proof’ can motivate your team to get on board. You can use this same strategy to encourage superiors to support your proposals.

In sum, understanding and applying Cialdini’s six principles of influence can significantly enhance your persuasive abilities. Whether in leading a team, negotiating the price of a house, or in managing personal relationships, these principles play a crucial role in shaping human behavior. However, it is essential to use these tools responsibly and ethically, ensuring you do not manipulate others unduly.

1Cialdini, R. B. (2021). Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion. Harper Business.