IPMA International Project Management Association
24 September 2018 / 9:55

How to influence people – the art of persuasion

The American psychologist, Dr. Robert Cialdini (https://www.influenceatwork.com/principles-of-persuasion/) has focused much of his work on the question: how to make people say yes to something? He identified six universal principles that explain how you can persuade someone (let´s say stakeholders with a negative attitude towards your project) to accept your suggestion (and buy in to the project).

Reciprocity – This principle is building on the old biblical principle “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you want to get something, give something. Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others in form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first. In the context of a social obligation people are more likely to say yes to those who they owe.

Scarcity – Typically, we all want things which are rare and we are all afraid to lose what we have. Persuasion means according to Cialdini: people want more of those things they can have less of. In essence, it means that it´s not enough to talk about the benefits of your offer; you also need to point at what people will lose if they fail to act (“opportunity cost”). Especially in a change situation, people are scared of  losing something. Thus, it might help them to move if you tell them what they risk to lose in case they do not move.

Authority – People tend to follow the advice of credible, knowledgeable experts. We have more trust in a doctor or a scientist than in a politician or junior consultant. What science is telling us is that it’s important to signal others what makes you a credible, knowledgeable authority before you make your influence attempt. It sometimes just may be the “white coat” of an expert that makes someone trust, so find out what the “white coat” in your case might be.

Consistency – We follow people who are consistent in their words and behaviors (“walk the talk”). Consistency may be activated by looking for, or asking for, small initial commitments. So when seeking to influence people based on this consistency principle, you might look for voluntary, active, and public commitments and ideally gets those commitments in writing. Your own consistency certainly matters too. Don´t follow all trends, be a good example what concerns consistency.

Consensus –  People tend to follow others. We are kind of herd people. Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own. If you want someone to do something, show others doing it (including yourself). Image you are looking for a restaurant in town, walking down the street, it´s more likely that you enter a restaurant full of people than one where only a few people can be seen.

Liking –  This is another universal principle. People prefer to say yes to people they like. But what causes one person to like another? Science tells us that there are three important factors. According Cialdini these factors are: we like people who are similar to us, we like those who pay us compliments, and we like people who cooperate with us towards mutual goals.


1 Comment

  • Ivano Di Filippo says:

    Thanks for this further article that aims to concretely integrate what is the cognitive aspect that every project manager should have in his baggage of knowledge, skills and abilities.

    I have known Dr. Cialdini’s studies for several years and I am sure that he himself will agree with my vision that the principles he has postulated as a reference for a project manager to induce someone to buy something into something need additional skills and obviously an experience on these practices that goes beyond the simple application of the postulates. If you put a “Y” stick in the hands of any person, it is not said that he automatically becomes a dowser. If it is true that there are people who can perceive the presence of water, this perception must in some way have emerged, become aware and nourished to be refined day by day.

    Knowing how to perceive the emotions of the person with whom contact is established through what is called social intelligence, under the control of the emotional intelligence that obviously operates on a substrate already enhanced through self-awareness by the Mindfulness or Zen or other meditation practice. It is like a sort of radar that we are going to optimize to understand what is to be considered by our interlocutor the principle to which it refers preponderantly. It is also possible to understand whether our interlocutor is trying to use Cialdini’s principles to breach our will by influencing it. I have encountered some cases of this kind that made me smile.

    So the studies of Dr Cialdini are not useful? absolutely the opposite! it is a study of great value, but in my opinion there are other principles besides those mentioned above. And among these, to name just one, I would not exclude Freud’s “pleasure principle” … and so on.
    One of the principles that I would like to underline is not to think that we can apply these principles inappropriately for personal purposes and without respecting the interlocutor person as each of us has an alarm bell that rings at the right time by knowingly or unknowingly knowing that something is not it sounds right.

    If you give your skills to give happiness and well-being it is inevitable that you will have more chances to get the help of the person you are interacting with and not just your dry and pedestrian consensus but a creative and effective buy-in.
    The mind is something wonderful that we just have to know how to activate first in themselves and then in others. With these people you could really create a high-performance team with whom you can embark on an interspaces trip, for a complex project in which the variables can change continuously during its life cycle.

    Thanks Reinhard for your open minded articles that always never cease to amaze me positively.

    A good evening to one and all.


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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.