I still remember my English teacher from the 6th grade. She would start every lesson with an anecdotal experience and end with a thought-provoking question. In every assignment she graded, she would leave a personal note—a line on what she liked and what could be improved upon.

We all know someone who can command attention and respect by touching another’s emotional core. They can guide conversations, deploy their experience, and effectively leverage their skill of nonverbal communication using eye-contact, head tilts, or hand gestures. The person that you just thought of masterfully channels four aspects central to influence: emotion, positional power, expertise, and nonverbal signals. 

Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact, writes that influence is a measure of how much skin the participants have in the game, and most of us are unconscious experts at measuring it. To wield it, you need to have the edge in at least one of its four aspects—and preferably more than one.

Do check out Harappa’s Building Presence course to hear our faculty Saurabh Mittal and Kopal Khanna talk about the importance of nonverbal signals in establishing a strong presence.

Influence is long-term, helps in creating buy-in for a vision, and can help change the way people think about the information presented. However, influence in and by itself doesn’t go a long way in motivating decisions or actions. 

We’ve all met someone who can impress and frustrate us alternately or even simultaneously. We are blown away by their ability to capture an audience, sway the undecided, and convert the opposition. What we typically find frustrating about such individuals is their inability to account for their remarkable skill or pass it on to others. Their way with people is an art, and artists, as a rule, are far better at doing than at explaining.

Their technique is nothing but persuasion, the ability to change behavior in the short term. Research in this field suggests persuasion works by appealing to deeply rooted human drives and needs, and it does so in predictable ways. Robert B. Cialdini, Regents' Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, believes that persuasion is governed by basic principles that can be taught, learned, and applied.

American author Robert McKee has listed the challenges faced by someone who is trying to persuade. One, the audience has its set of authorities, data, and experiences. Two, your audience is arguing with you in their heads even as you’re trying to persuade them.  Three, your audience may not be inspired to act on reason alone. You could have succeeded in persuading them intellectually, but it has been established that so many of our decisions do not have a rational basis.

However, there are communication skills and techniques you can deploy to overcome these challenges. Sign up for Harappa’s Speaking Effectively course to learn about some of these research-based tools and frameworks.

As we navigate work during these trying times, our ability to influence and persuade has been put to test. According to the 55-38-7 rule, 55% of how an audience perceives you is based on your body language. With remote work, there are fewer opportunities to pick up on signals that indicate that the person is ready to hand the conversational baton on to us and vice versa. We are unable to deploy those nonverbal signals that amplify the message we’re trying to get across. 

Let’s see how we can harness the science of persuasion to navigate the new normal of virtual working. 

  1. The principle of liking: People like those who like them

Research has identified several factors that increase “likability”, but two stand out as especially compelling—similarity and praise. Similarity draws people together. Be sure to drop in a word of praise if you liked someone’s work. In these physically distanced times, some appreciation can go a long way in creating a positive work environment. 

Application: Uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise

  1. The principle of reciprocity: People repay in kind

It’s no surprise that studies are suggesting that productivity may have dipped in recent times.  We may notice that we have to be more deliberate and clear in our work-related messaging. Cialdini suggests managers can elicit the desired behavior from coworkers and employees by displaying it first. Whether it’s a sense of trust, a spirit of cooperation, or a pleasant demeanor, leaders should model the behavior they want to see from others.

Application: Give what you want to receive

  1. The principle of social proof: People follow the lead of similar others

Social creatures that we are, we rely heavily on the people around us for cues on how to think, feel, and act, says Cialdini. In our daily meetings at Harappa, my team and I do this thing where we each go over a highlight from the previous workday and also something we’re excited to work on during the day. Apart from understanding our teammates’ work, this daily activity pushes us to leverage “peer power”—we find ourselves accountable to teammates and also allow ourselves to be inspired by the way they are going about their tasks. 

Application: Use peer power whenever it’s available

  1. The principle of consistency: People align with their clear commitments

Liking is a powerful force for sure, but persuasion needs more than simply making people feel warmly toward you or your idea. They need to feel committed to what you want them to do.

Application: Make their commitments active, public, and voluntary

  1. The principle of authority: People defer to experts

We are more likely to listen to someone who has “been there, done that”. If this person talks about their experience before trying to influence behavior, there is more buy-in since credibility has been established. In these confusing times, managers must leverage their expertise to provide employees with clarity—both on the overall mission and specific traits.

Application: Expose your expertise; don’t assume it’s self-evident

  1. The principle of scarcity: People want more of what they can have less of

Research suggests that items and opportunities are seen to be more valuable as they become less available. This is an especially useful insight for managers to use to motivate employees towards a goal. Use first-hand information and frame it not just in terms of what employees stand to gain but also in terms of what they stand to lose if they don’t act on the information. This can mobilize action dramatically. 

Application: Highlight unique benefits and exclusive information

Once you understand the science behind persuasion and influence, it's a matter of deploying them creatively and in a way that works for you and your organization. There’s little that is puzzling or obscure about these six principles of persuasion—they do a solid job of codifying our intuitive understanding of the ways people evaluate information and form decisions.

Influence and persuasion form one of the strongest pillars of Emotional Intelligence or EI—the ability to monitor, label and use emotions to guide behavior. There are several other aspects of EI that you can leverage to enhance the quality of your workplace interactions. Watch out for the next post in our EI series! 


Explore blogs in our Harappa Diaries section to learn about emotional intelligence, examples of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence skills in our Harappa Diaries section and take charge of your growth.


Rachika Komal is an Associate, Behavior Analytics with the Product Team at Harappa Education. She has triple majors in Psychology, Sociology & Economics from Christ University. In her downtime, she can be found hanging out with dogs, catching up on reading, or meditating. 

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