What are the factors that cause one person to say yes to another person? Why is it that a request stated in a certain way will be rejected, but a request that asks for the same favor in a slightly different fashion will be successful?

Robert Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State University, is an experimental social psychologist who researched the psychology of compliance. (Throughout the book, Cialdini uses the terms “compliance” to describe the act of getting a yes answer and “compliance professionals” to describe the individuals who are requesting a yes answer from someone whether it is in sales, donations, votes or assent. This ironic word choice provides unintended humor throughout the book.)

Cialdini identifies 6 basic categories of influence that are each governed by a fundamental psychological principle that directs human behavior and in so doing, gives each category of influence its power. The principles- reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity are each discussed in terms of their function in society.

The tendency to react on the basis of a thorough analysis of all of the information is referred to as controlled responding. Automatic responding is the tendency to respond mechanically to one piece of information in a situation.  The evidence suggests that the ever-accelerating pace and informational crush of modern life will make this particular form of responding more and more prevalent in the future. The advantage of such shortcut responding lies in its efficiency and economy; by reacting automatically to a usually informative trigger feature, an individual preserves crucial time, energy and mental capacity. The disadvantage of such responding lies in its vulnerability to costly mistakes. By reacting to only a piece of the available information (even a normally predictive piece), an individual increases the chances of error. Much of the compliance process can be understood in terms of a human tendency for automatic, shortcut responding. Most individuals in our culture have developed a set of trigger features for compliance.

The six categories of influence:

Reciprocation – By obligating the recipient of an act to repayment in the future, the rule for reciprocation allows one individual to give something to another with confidence that it is not being lost. This sense of future obligation within the rule makes possible the development of various kinds of continuing relationships, transactions, and exchanges that are beneficial to society. Because the rule has been taught in most cultures from childhood, it is very powerful, even to uninvited first favors.

Commitment and Consistency – Psychologists have long recognized a desire in most people to be and look consistent within their words, beliefs, attitudes, and deeds. This tendency is valued by society, provides efficiency in daily life and affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, effortful, and viewed as internally motivated. Commitment decisions, even erroneous ones, have a tendency to be self-perpetuating because people often add new reasons and justifications to support the wisdom of commitments they have already made. As a consequence, some commitments remain in effect long after the conditions that spurred them have changed.

Social Proof – The principle of social proof states that one important means that people use to decide what to believe or how to act in a situation is to look at what other people are believing or doing there.  Social proof is most influential under two conditions. The first is in uncertainty i.e. does the lunchtime crowd walking by the homeless man respond to his call for help? The second condition is similarity: People are more inclined to follow the lead of similar others. i.e. This book has on the cover a bullet point: over a quarter of a million copies sold!  If 250,000 others have read this book, it must be helpful.

Liking – People prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. Long recognized as influential, physical attractiveness seems to engender a halo effect that extends to favorable impressions of other traits such as talent, kindness, and intelligence. As a result, attractive people are more persuasive both in terms of getting what they request and in changing others’ attitudes. A second factor that influences liking is similarity. We like people who are like us.  Other factors affecting liking are genuine praise, repeat contact and association.

Authority – There is a strong pressure in our society for compliance with the requests of an authority because such individuals usually possess high levels of knowledge, wisdom and power. Symbols of authority, titles, clothing and cars are also effective influencers.

Scarcity – According to the scarcity principle, people assign more value to opportunities when they are less available. The availability of an item or experience can serve as a shortcut cue to its quality. Scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly scarce and when we compete with others for them.

A fictitious example for fun:  An advisor plans a client appreciation dinner with a guest speaker.  The event is completely pre-approved by the compliance department. 

Scarcity – The advisor sends out hand addressed engraved invitations on heavy weighted Crane stationary requesting the clients to RSVP. The clients recognize that this hand addressed opportunity is only available to a select group.

Liking – Their well groomed, well mannered physically fit advisor graciously thanks his Brooks Brothers clad clients for attending. His success is obvious as he is surrounded by his affluent clients.

Reciprocity – The client’s are treated to a lovely dinner and a nice pen from the sponsor. Consequently, they give their attention to the presentation after dinner.  

Authority – The advisor, who is president of his own company and has 15 years of industry experience, introduces the sponsor who shares with the group impressive statistics on the demographic trends of the aging baby boomers.

Social Proof and Scarcity– During the question and answer period, a number of very intelligent questions are answered in depth about the program that will be available for the next three months. The clients talk among themselves. 

Commitment and Consistency – On the way out of the dinner, a number of the clients give an indication of interest in the program to their advisor.

Disclaimer: Prior to the dinner, the advisor determined that the guest list included only clients whose risk tolerance and investment objectives fit the program being offered. Upon returning home, each client reads the prospectus cover to cover and checks with his accountant and attorney prior to conferring with his advisor for his final decision to invest.