The Science of Influence

Posted by on Feb 11, 2015 in Business Partnering | One Comment

shutterstock_154276715 copyI was recently doing some work with some very senior sales directors and was struck by the level of investment they make to ensure their teams have maximum impact. It got me thinking that if finance directors adopted a similar attitude the perception many people have of finance would be very different.

An area I find particularly interesting is the science of influence. There is a great book by Robert Cialdini in which he consolidates much of the psychological research in the area of influence over the last few decades into a succinct and digestible text. He shows that people who we consider to have impact and influence are not actually born that way but simply adopt techniques that all of us can learn.

I think its potential to change our behavior is so great that I am going to split it over two separate blogs so as to not overload you with information.

The Science of Influence according to Cialdini can essentially be the result of six simple traits, which are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment and consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity


Reciprocity is based on the power of indebtedness and that when we do something nice for someone they feel they owe us one and need to give us something back. Examples include when someone invites us around to their house to dinner or brings our kids home from a sports match – we feel we have to reciprocate.

How then can finance use this to their advantage?

Often finance is perceived in a policeman type role in the organization. In the best-case scenario this leads to other functions being often reluctant to share information with finance, whilst in the worst-case leads to the hiding of information from them. In both cases the organization is weaker as a result.

By reaching out and giving something unexpected, or beyond the call of duty, there will be a reframing of how finance is perceived. This will lead to business functions being more helpful and open towards finance; ensuring finance can create maximum impact in adding value.

Therefore in summary, rather than think who can help me here? We should start to think whom can I help!

Commitment and consistency

This is based on the principle that people who make a commitment to something are much more willing to agree to requests that are in keeping with their prior commitments.

Therefore it is important to try and induce people to agree to a position, which is in line with a behavior, which they will later be requested to agree to.

The phenomenon was best demonstrated by research done by Thomas Moriarty (1975)

In the study a blanket and radio was placed on a beach next to a random sun worshipper. After several minutes of relaxing and listening to the radio the person would stand up and walk off down the beach. Soon after, a researcher pretending to be a thief would take the blanket and radio and try to hurry off with it. As one would expect most people chose not to get involved or say anything to the thief and in the experiment only about 4 people would say anything. However when the procedure was tried again but this time the person, when standing up to go for a walk says, “would you please watch my stuff.” the outcome changed. The beach neighbors now propelled by the rule of consistency challenged the thief in an average of 19 out of 20 occasions even though there was a risk of harm to them.

Therefore if you can get people to commit to something, they’re much more likely to act in accordance with that commitment.

We should understand that being consistent is highly valued in our culture and is therefore a powerful motive.

Hospitals have shown that when they ask patients to personally write down their next appointment time there is a much lower percentage of no shows that when they are simply given a card with an appointment time on it

In the world of finance rather than just explain to your stakeholders the benefits they will get you should ask them whether they would support it and wait for a positive confirmation. Having got a yes then ask them why and what they will get out of it and why. Even better get them to write it down

This is also the reason that finance should always get the main budget stakeholders to sign the budget with them as approved so as to show their commitment to its outcome.

Also be careful how you frame your requests for commitment. For example a restaurant that says please call if you have to cancel will get fewer calls and more no shows than the one that asks the question will you call if you have to cancel and waits for a “Yes” from the customer

I think that is enough for one blog but maybe try some of these techniques yourselves. It’s an area which finance teams I work with find most useful.

Also how is that New Year resolution you agreed to going?

Further reading: Influence Science and Practice Robert B. Cialdini, Neil Goldstein, Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini

1 Comment

  1. WiseUpNow » More science of influence
    April 13, 2015

    […] In the last blog I was talking about how people with influence have traits and skills that can be learned. Therefore everyone has the potential to gain more influence in the workplace. […]


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