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How to get what you want - the psychology of persuasion

In this series of blogs exploring the power of storytelling and statistics, we talked last week about what people want. This week, we’ll be exploring the psychology of persuasion, also known as how to get what you want more often.

This is a summary of the research I’ve found regarding what actually persuades people. I’ve made it straightforward and short, but this is complex topic so take this list as a road map rather than a bible. Read on to learn about the psychology of persuasion, the features of persuasion and the six methods of influence.

The Psychology of Persuasion

Persuasion is led first by emotion and then by rationality. We are more likely to be persuaded by that which makes us feel good. We are also more likely to be persuaded when we feel out of balance in our own life. We are not often persuaded for the sake of gaining knowledge, and people often turn to persuasion when there is an uncomfortable ambiguity in their lives.

People tend to be “loss averse” over “reward yielding” which is why there are few things more persuasive than fear, especially fear of exclusion. If you want to motivate people, however, you must add incentives, feedback and rewards, and must make sure that what you are encouraging is as easy and as fun as possible. If you want to discourage, take away incentives and make the task harder to do.

One final point. As I said last week, people love control and will die for their autonomy. However it is you are persuading someone, you need to make sure they feel like it is their choice.

Features of persuasion (content and audience)

Features of the content

  • Subtle messages are more persuasive (messages that are important but not obvious)

  • Presenting another point of view in an argument was found to be more persuasive

  • Timing is important - messages are more influential given back to back, and the last message presented will tend to be more persuasive

Features of the audience

  • Audience members have to be engaged and paying attention to be persuaded

  • People with lower intelligence are more easily persuaded

  • People with moderate self-esteem are more easily persuaded than people with higher or lower self-esteem

  • Young adults 18-25 are more easily persuaded than older adults

Six methods of influence you can try

In his world famous book, Robert Cialdini explains six methods of influence that he found to be effective across industries. Try these methods when approaching people to sell them your ideas.

1. Reciprocity - Have you ever bought a product after getting a free sample?

Give to get. Most people don’t like just taking, and historically human communities were built on reciprocity for survival. Think about it. You notice when people don’t give back and this method invokes many people’s fear of being viewed as a burden on society (negative social incentive).

2. Commitment and Consistency - Have you ever stayed friends with someone just because you’ve been friends for a long time?

You want their beliefs and behaviours to align with your self image because we view consistency as an attractive social trait. We do a lot of things just because they are consistent with our initial action or thought. If you get people to commit to something small, they’re more likely to commit to something larger later.

3. Liking - Have you ever bought something from a friend you didn’t even want?

You are more likely to be persuaded by people you like. You can make yourself more likeable by mirroring body language, making yourself look more attractive or finding something in common with the person you’re talking to.

4. Social Proof - Have you ever justified buying something on Amazon because it had 4.5 stars and a lot of reviews?

We reference the behaviour of others to make decisions. As social creatures we don’t like to be left out. This is why people like going to busy restaurants or waiting in queues. If there’s a demand for something, or people are doing it, our brains think it’s more likely to be safe and it’s more likely to be good.

people waiting in line for a concert

5. Authority - Have you ever been nervous seeing a police officer even doing nothing wrong?

We tend to comply with people in positions of authority, such as government leaders, law-enforcement representatives, doctors, lawyers, professors, and other field experts. This is because we’re biased to believe these people know more than us and are more powerful.

6. Scaricty - Have you ever overbought at a limited time sale?

We are more likely to place high value on things we perceive as being less available. This can be applied to time, money or love. Making things limited in time, information or quantity.


You won’t be able to change everyone’s minds, and you should never force anyone to do something they don’t want to do. Audience matters, and some people are more absolute in their thinking. With these methods, you are more likely to persuade people to try and understand your point of view.

Like what you learned? Then follow me on Linkedin to be notified of my blog posts each week. Next week we'll be exploring: What about storytelling persuades us? - short term vs. long term.


Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 106, No. 4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 1039-1061


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