The Idea: “Persuasion is a basic form of social interaction,” says Eric Knowles, psychology professor at the University of Arkansas. Knowles argues this is how we build consensus and common purpose with others. And according to social scientist and influence researcher Robert Cialdini it is more of a science than an art form. We are all vulnerable to it and it can be abused

Robert Cialdini’s classic research shows us how to defend against subconscious influences that affect our decision-making. Like most of us, you’ve potentially been influenced in most interactions. Professional manipulators know this, and use this with frightening results.

We all are suspicious and on guard when others try to persuade us, or mislead us. So what are the unconscious drivers of influence and when are they abusive?

In his classic book Influence Robert Cialdini uncover six unconscious principles of persuasion:

  1. Reciprocity – when you receive something, you automatically feel the need to give something back, especially when it is unexpected and personal.
  2. Scarcity – we all want something more when it is scarce.
  3. Authority – people follow those who are credible, knowledgeable, experts.
  4. Consistency – when we commit to something, we unconsciously have a need to be consistent and follow through on our commitment.
  5. Liking – we say yes to those we like, those who are similar, and those who cooperate with us.
  6. Social proof – people will do things they see others doing, especially people similar to them.

The most persuasive people deploy these six principles and often times stack them. For instance, when someone gives you something (reciprocity), which is rare (scarcity), asks you to take action (consistency), has a friendly personality (liking), is perceived as an industry leader (authority) who others follow (social proof), it’s hard to say “no” to them.

France’s INSEAD business school’s research uncovered that sellers who deployed subtle mirroring techniques, secured the sale four times more often than those who did not use this technique. Mirroring is an unconscious cooperation strategy. We all say “yes” to people who look, act and appear like us. It is an unconscious persuader, and a reflex.

The best way to avoid the allure of a tactic like the ones listed above is to allow room to breath after a discussion with an influencer. Take a moment, and reflect upon the conversation.

Also many of the healthiest leaders do not allow themselves to owe favors to others. Walmart has historically modeled this for the broader sales and marketing industry. It is common knowledge that a Walmart buyer can’t even receive a $.25 cup of coffee from a manufacturer because they value vendor objectivity. They model neutrality.

The best are not indebted to others, yet are practiced at giving to others. Whether intentional or not, they are exhibiting influential characteristics while avoiding partisanship. They do favors and support others while not suffering the weight of owing a debt.

No matter how successful you are, we all fall victim to praise and flattery. How many poor decisions, recruiting failures, or strategic purchases have been influenced by non-rational factors?

Are you aware of your own unconscious decision making reflexes?