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THE IDEA IN BRIEF Harnessing the Science of Persuasion
Do you have it—that magical power to through others—despair of ever mastering
capture your audience, sway undecideds, con- this art?
vert opponents? In an era of cross-functional
teams and intercompany partnerships, masters
Good news—from behavioral science:
of persuasion exert far greater influence than
Persuasion works by appealing predictably
formal power structures.
to deeply rooted human needs. The rest of
us can learn to secure consensus, cut deals,
But is persuasion really magic? Must we win concessions—by artfully applying six
ordinary types struggling with leadership’s scientific principles of winning friends and
greatest challenge—getting things done influencing people.
PrincipleExample Business Application
LIKING: At Tupperware parties, To influence people, win friends, through:
People like those guests’ fondness for their Similarity:Create early bonds with new peers, bosses,
like them, who like host influences purchase and direct reports by informally discovering common
them. decisions twice as much as interests—you’ll establish goodwill and trustworthiness.
regard for the products. Praise:Charm and disarm. Make positive remarks about
others—you’ll generate more willing compliance.
RECIPROCITY: When the Disabled American Give what you want to receive. Lend a staff
People repay Veterans enclosed free per- member to a colleague who needs help; you’ll
in kind. sonalized address labels in get his help later.
donation-request envelopes,
response rate doubled.
SOCIAL PROOF: More New York City residents Use peer power to influence horizontally, not verti-
People follow tried returning a lost wallet cally; e.g., ask an esteemed “old timer” to support your
the lead of after learning that other New new initiative if other veterans resist.
similar others. Yorkers had tried.
CONSISTENCY: 92% of residents of an Make others’ commitments active, public, and
People fulfill apartment complex who voluntary. If you supervise an employee who should
written, public, signed a petition support- submit reports on time, get that understanding in
and voluntary ing a new recreation center writing (a memo); make the commitment public
commitments. later donated money to (note colleagues’ agreement with the memo); and
the cause. link the commitment to the employee’s values (the
impact of timely reports on team spirit).
AUTHORITY: A single New York Times Don’t assume your expertise is self-evident.
People defer to expert-opinion news story Instead, establish your expertise before doing busi-
experts who pro- aired on TV generates a 4% ness with new colleagues or partners; e.g., in conver-
vide shortcuts to shift in U.S. public opinion. sations before an important meeting, describe how
decisions requiring you solved a problem similar to the one on the
specialized infor- agenda.
SCARCITY: Wholesale beef buyers’ Use exclusive information to persuade.
People value orders jumped 600% when Influence and rivet key players’ attention by saying,
what’s scarce. they alone received infor- for example:“…Just got this information today. It
mation on a possible beef won’t be distributed until next week.”
HBR OnPoint © 2001 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
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