I recently tried to get my father to use banking apps instead of physically going to a bank. In my head, this was a no-brainer. Who goes to a bank to update passbooks or transfer money anymore? But my father clearly didn’t agree with this and he was adamant to go.

This made me think! Why is it so difficult to change someone’s mind? Why is it difficult to get people to agree with you? And I realized that’s probably why people are willing to pay big bucks in the business world for the skill to do exactly this—persuasion.

Persuasion is the golden skill to get people to see things your way, buy into your proposals, buy your products and services or even hire you! 

So like a true millennial, I googled how to ‘get’ this skill! A few articles and podcasts later, I knew that my quest should begin with the author of the groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini.

Cialdini says that all the different effective ways to persuade someone can be summed up in six broad principles:

  1. Reciprocity: This means that if you do something nice for me, I would want to reciprocate by doing something nice for you. It’s like ice-cream stores giving a free sample to taste as soon as you enter. Your mind sees this as ‘something nice’ and makes you more likely to buy. 

  2. Scarcity: This means that if something is less available, we will want it more. Ever heard of ‘limited period offer only’? Advertisement techniques like this are targeted to make you want to shop quickly because the offer will not be available in a few days.

  3. Liking: This means that if you like someone, you are more likely to be persuaded by them. This is quite intuitive and can be often seen in the collaborative efforts that people make. Keeping clients happy, being good to your teammates and being helpful are some of the ways we can try to be ‘likable’.  

  4. Authority: This means that we are more likely to do something if a person of authority asks us to. For example, when our boss gives us a task, we do it. But the idea of ‘authority’ is not limited to designation or power. It’s also about expertise and knowledge. We are likely to take a doctor’s advice on diet, a fashion designer’s advice on buying new clothes or a mentor’s advice on career planning due to their expertise and not necessarily their power.

  5. Consistency: This means that if you have already made a public claim to do something, or made a vocal or written promise, then you are more likely to follow through. So if you have openly promised to reduce the use of paper at work, you are  more likely to be careful about wasting paper. This is because you would want to be seen as someone who fulfills their promises.

  6. Social Proof: People are more likely to do something that everyone else is doing–especially if they are uncertain about it. For example, if you see everyone around you wearing a mask during this pandemic, you are more likely to choose to do it as well.

These were some power-packed principles, so I wanted to try these with my father. 

I tried reciprocity—“I made pasta for you, will you try the app?” He liked the gesture but wasn’t convinced. There was nothing ‘scarce’ about technology. If anything, it’s getting more and more pervasive. So that was out too! And while I would like to believe that my father likes me, it was hardly going to be enough to persuade him. I surely know more about technology than my father. But between him and me, the authority still lay more in his favor than mine. He might have been swayed by the principle of consistency had he made any commitments to learning in the first place. 

So I moved to the sixth principle: social proof. I told him, “Everyone is using apps, and no one should travel unnecessarily during COVID. You should get on board too!” This seemed to appeal to him a bit. But he still wasn’t quite ready!

Cialdini’s six principles are great tools to learn and use to persuade people. Authority might work well in one situation and social proof in some other situations. They all make a lot of sense. And I am certainly a long way from mastering any of these. 

Meanwhile, my current problem remained unsolved! My father still wouldn't agree with me. And I was determined to make this happen. So my research continued.

I came across an HBR podcast where Wharton professor and author of the bestselling book, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, Jonah Berger spoke about what makes it so difficult to change someone’s mind, even if what you are suggesting is actually in their own interest or benefits them.

Three key reasons given by him stayed with me:

  1. The resistance to losing autonomy: When we tell someone to change their mind, they might feel like they are losing control or they don’t have a choice.

  2. The switching cost: Moving away from a habit or a familiar setup can be difficult even if it’s good for someone. It might require time and effort, if not money. 

  3. The cost-benefit delay: The cost of making changes is often immediate, while the benefit might come after a while. You put the effort into exercising today and you will see the health benefits after a few months. You enroll in a course today but it might take a year for this to be helpful with a job application.

So, I decided to think about these factors to understand my father’s resistance. I realized that he might be feeling pushed into using new technology. He might be anxious about putting in the effort and moving away from the familiar bank visits he has done for years. But I felt that the benefits of making this switch would be almost immediate. He would be able to save an entire afternoon of bureaucratic paperwork if he just learned to use the app. Not to mention, being able to avoid the risk of using public transportation to commute during a pandemic.

So I tried again and started with acknowledging his resistance and how it might be overwhelming for him to try this. And that seemed to do the trick! He knew the benefits of learning, he was convinced by my persuasive appeals, all he needed was to feel heard and acknowledged.

We agreed to take small steps to use the app and I promised to help him learn how to use it and understand all the features. I must say, it felt a little bit like a victory!

But, more importantly, this has become a starting point for me to explore the skill of persuasion even further. The benefits of being persuasive cannot possibly be overstated. They can help you with leading teams, finding investors, making policy changes or even behavioral changes.

It’s not going to happen in one day, but I am surely on my way! 

Ragini Thakur is a Manager, Curriculum at Harappa Education. She is a postgraduate in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University. She enjoys old Hindi songs, books meant for kids, and all things food.

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