"Persuasion skills," writes Robert B. Cialdini, "exert far greater influence over others' behavior than formal power structures do." In other words, we are more likely to do something we’ve been persuaded to do rather than do something we’ve simply been told to do. Author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and other books, Cialdini draws from the results of studies conducted by behavioral scientists to isolate six principles of persuasion that increase our chances of success when we try to get others to think, believe, or do what we want them to.

He suggests that a person trying to persuade others use these six "weapons of influence" together, for each addresses a different human drive or need that affects the likelihood that listeners or readers will be swayed. Each of the six can build upon the others and increase the strength of a persuasive appeal.

But, just as Spider-Man and Wonder Woman use their powers only for good, so should these powers of persuasion be used ethically—never in a coercive, misleading, or deceptive manner.


People defer to experts. Establish your own expertise, making certain that the people you want to persuade are aware of the experience you possess, of the skill and knowledge you carry. Remain aware of your ethos—your credibility—and take advantage of opportunities to refine it.


People align with their commitments. With this principle, your goal is to get others to feel committed to what you want. Cialdini advocates for commitments that are active (spoken or written), voluntary, and public so that those who make them feel an obligation to keep them.


People like those who like them. And their liking makes them more willing to please. Two ways to increase liking are through noting true similarities and offering sincere praise, Cialdini says. Similarities can be established in almost any area, from supporting the KU Jayhawks to a penchant for woodworking to an interest in biochemistry. And praise? There's something praiseworthy about almost everyone, and it's a good idea to comment on it. Addressing conference attendees, for example, you might congratulate participants for advances in their discipline or praise the desire to learn that has brought them to the gathering.


People repay in kind. Engage in the sort of behavior you want others to show toward you and your projects. Want graciousness and helpfulness? Collaboration and cooperation? Attentive listening? Thoughtful feedback? Display them, both toward individuals and groups.


People want more of what they can have less of. This principle emphasizes the persuasive value of stressing “unique benefits and exclusive information,” but only when each is offered honestly and is true. Thus making information available to a few people before it’s widely accessible may influence them to become early supporters and subsequently help you persuade others.


People follow the lead of similar others. We all exist in circles of similarity—where we were born and grew up, schools attended, departments and divisions and industries, hobbies and interests, age and profession, community and country. Each circle is a circle of influence; we are generally more open to the persuasive appeals of those within our circles than of those outside them. That’s one of the reasons audience analysis plays such an important role in preparing a presentation or document; it helps you locate and define those circles, the common ground both you and your audience inhabit. It simultaneously shows where such ground is scarce, providing an opportunity for you to scrape some together.

Consider these six. They all belong in a well-stocked armentarium. Don’t be caught without them.