How to Influence people

6 ways to Influence Anyone

The mind has a few very strong “tendencies” or mechanisms which are predictable in their cause and effect. They are almost mechanical in nature and will have evolved robustly as survival promoting traits.

Being aware of the six rules of influence will help to control behaviour and responses – and it’s worthwhile as these rules underpin the vast majority of influential tactics.

  1. The Rule of Reciprocity
  2. The Rule of Commitment and Consistency
  3. The Rule of Social Proof
  4. The Rule of Liking
  5. The Rule of Authority
  6. The Rule of Scarcity

The Rule of Reciprocity

A individual feels a subconscious desire to pay somebody back for what was given. An evolutionary “quid pro quo” which clearly benefits any developing society and has led to its natural physical manifestation – currency exchange.

The essence of “owing” makes the creation of different forms of ongoing relationships and desires, transactions, and exchanges possible. Research shows that failure to adhere to the law leads to prompt social disapproval.

A tactic for compliance is therefore to give someone something before asking for a favour in return.

The Vulnerability

The opportunity to exploit the mechanism is due to three main characteristics:

1) The rule is extremely powerful, often overwhelming other factors which normally influence compliance with a request.

2) The rule even applies to uninvited first favours, which reduces our ability to decide whom we wish to pay back and puts our choices in the hands of others.

3) The rule can spur unequal exchanges – to be rid of the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness, a person can be influenced to pay back far more than what was originally received.

The rule of reciprocity doesn’t just apply to physical giving, but also disclosure of information (e.g. names or personal details), confessions, concessions, and promises.

The Rule of Commitment and Consistency

The subconscious mind has an instinctive drive to keep you appearing consistent through your words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds. Being forced to behave inconsistently, or suddenly having to change your beliefs based on evidence, leads to a feeling of discomfort – and we already know that the subconscious does what it can to stop you feeling discomfort.

The Vulnerability

1) Good personal consistency is highly valued by society.

2) Consistent conduct and routine provides a simpler approach to daily life.

3) Consistency provides a shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. By being consistent with earlier choices we can reduce the need to process all the relevant information in future similar situations. “That’s how I’ve always done it”.

4) Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, effortful, viewed as internally motivated, and not coerced.


Influencers manipulate people to make a small action, whether an opinion, answer, or agreement in the direction of where they would like to steer the eventual wanted response. In the Korean War, American POWs were persuaded to disagree with tiny elements of American policies – which was then broadcast to other American POWs. Gradually, the tendency for consistency and commitment led to further dissent, until the POWs were no longer patriots.

Manipulators find a trait or existing action/belief of an individual that is consistent with the wanted response, and draw attention to it. A person asking for a donation may ask a person what charities they have donated to in the past. It is then more difficult for the person to seemingly act incongruent by not donating again.

You are less likely to stop a consistent behaviour or decision once it is in flow. Companies take advantage of this by using short term incentives to get new customers – whether cash back, freebies, heavy discounts etc which often make a short term loss for the company. However, they know that the probability is high that the majority of new customers will remain customers, whether or not they later decide the offer is no longer of advantage over alternatives (“I’ve always been with them, why change now”).

The Rule of Social Proof

Also known as conformity – the pressure to act and comply with the masses. People view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see other people performing it. The “average” behaviour/belief forms an expected norm – deviance creates the feeling of subconscious discomfort which we then try to minimise

The Vulnerability

1) Uncertainty increases the likelihood of compliance. When people are unsure and the situation is ambiguous they are more likely to be suggestible and receptive to the behaviour of others. Compliance professionals therefore create a situation of confusion, unsettlement and ambiguity in which to suggest the “normal” behaviour.

2) Similarity – people are more likely to be influenced by the lead of others who are similar. Rapport building is often a first stage to influence.

3) When the norm itself is influenced by a minority – large group situations create a “groupthink” phenomenon whereby everyone’s sense of individual control is diminished – mostly due to the “uncertainty” principle described above. Such groups can then be easily influenced and controlled by a single person, the effect of which then becomes an influence itself on the rest of the group. E.g. stage hypnosis, group seminars, cult seminars, football hooliganism.


“#1 Best Seller”: Advertising makes use of Social Proof as a way of sending the message “everyone else is doing it – if you don’t, then you’ll be worse off”. Amongst the most statistically powerful (i.e. create the best response) advertising headlines is “Who Else Wants…”. The message is simple – lots of other people have bought this, now its your turn.

Seminars – a charismatic, influential speaker will often rally the candidates into synchronised cries – whether shouting “yes!” to answers or even repeating maxims. The group will be involved in answering an individual’s questions or resistances (e.g. “who else agrees? let us see some hands…”). It creates a powerful “norm”. The leader will explain the actions and decisions of the last group (which may or may not be true) which is likely to include something about how the products sold out so quickly they had to order another shipment, or how the next (paid for) seminar sold out so quick that the current group has been given a special incentive to book fast (etc).

Conscious and Subconscious

Social Proof influence has two forms – influence of the conscious mind (the person knows they are doing something against their will, but go along anyway for the sake of ease and simplicity) and the subconscious (the person is genuinely believing of the influence that has been suggested). The latter is obviously the more powerful because the person is less aware of the influence, and will seek to protect their belief through rationalisation (I genuinely like the product) and filtered, irrational thinking (I don’t mind that it doesn’t work).

In the fifties, Solomon Asch created experiments to support the power of conformity. A line was shown – the subject then had to correctly identify which of three other lines matched the original in length. Given a free, uninfluenced choice, only 1 out of 35 subjects got the answer wrong. When other confederates (stooges) were answering alongside the subject, and they all unanimously got the answer wrong, up to 75% of the subjects’ answers would then also be wrong.

If at least just one stooge got the answer right, the subject was then far more likely to resist the influence and answer right as well. Sometimes, the subjects would absolutely believe that the (wrong) answer was correct – despite a control group showing that this answer was rarely believed without the influence.

The Rule of Liking

People are more likely to say “yes” to individuals they know and like.

Influential Factors

Physical Attractiveness

  1. Research shows that physical attractiveness gives a significant advantage in social interaction. The mind has an irrational loophole of association called “the halo effect” whereby unrelated traits such as talent, kindness and intelligence are viewed favourably in light of another strong likeability factor (physical attractiveness, success, popularity). Attractive people are more persuasive both in getting what they request and in influencing other people’s attitudes.


We are more likely to say yes and comply with requests from people who perceive to be like us, without the same critical consideration that we might ordinarily apply to such requests.


Flattery gets you everywhere, according to research which suggests compliments enhance liking and can be easily used for compliance.

Increased Familiarity

Regular contact with a person can increase likeability, even if no actual praise/likeness/attraction is present. This is why relationships based on proximity or regular contact often develop into robust ones. This is why e-newsletters, Twitter and Facebook marketing attempt to create loyalty and liking through repeated exposures.


Again based on the Halo effect, people will often seek to associate products, people, events or actions with other liked or positive associations. Advertising is the obvious example.


Name dropping – when a person semi-consciously seeks to raise their positive associations (and increase liking) by mentioning contacts with celebrities, popular or powerful figures.

Mirroring and Matching – a tool of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). The aim is to loosely imitate the rhythms, tonality, keywords and body language of a person so as to subconsciously influence a state of rapport and likeability (we like those who are like us). At best, the technique can be incredibly influential and powerful. At worst, the opposite effect is achieved, because the NLPer appears overly controlled, incongruent and awkward. Similarly, advertisers have recently started using much more down to earth and colloquial language in their copywriting, trying to appeal to the familiarity factor with target markets.

Common goal – a manipulator may seek to find a shared goal or common ground, with which a few anecdotes or opinionated attitudes are put forward. The person then agrees, becoming entwined in the energy and emotion of the conversation. This achieves two powerful results – rapport and liking, and the beginning of a consistency trajectory (the person is likely to want to remain compliant and in agreement).

The Rule of Authority

The mind has a tendency to respond automatically to authority which has likely developed through instinct (society demands obedience to correct conduct) and conditioning (exposure to authority figures throughout childhood).

The most common automatic reaction is obedience – individuals exhibiting authority usually possess high levels of knowledge, wisdom, power and confidence.

The Vulnerability

1) A person consciously posing as an authority figure has an upper hand when influencing compliance or obedience, and is doing so knowingly. E.g. confidence tricksters, sales people, intimidators.

Beware of a common tactic of such people – to resist the victims conscious mind being drawn to the overt acting of authority – the influencer will often drop in an early negative comment about themselves as a way to “soften” the impact, which then creates more believability and “liking” to further influence the obedience.

2) A person subconsciously displaying authoritative tendencies may be more influential than rational logic would reasonably dictate. E.g. strong parental figures, bosses or self-professed “experts”.

The symbols of authority which are shown to have the most influence are:

1) Titles

2) Clothing

3) Vehicles

Research has shown that people respond significantly more obediently to individuals who display just one of these symbols to evoke authority. The important finding however is that the subjects didn’t consciously realise they were being influenced by the symbols.

Stanley Milgram

In the 1960s, a psychologist called Stanley Milgram shocked the world with his findings. Ordinary people were recruited through an ad, to take part in a study of learning. They were to ‘teach’ other subjects (actually stooges) by administering electric shocks if they were to answer a question incorrectly. They were to increase the shocks on a panel, until the end, when the guage surpassed 450 volts to simply show XXX. After a certain voltage, the stooge remained quiet (he had already screamed, shouted, and asked the experiment to stop).

Out of forty subjects, a whopping twenty-six went all the way to 450 volts (which would have killed the other subject, had they not been a stooge acting). What made them so obedient? The simple presence of the experimenter, dressed in a white coat, asking them to continue with the experiment.

The study has been often replicated, with incredibly reliable results. When subjects were asked why they didn’t stop, the normal reply was “because I was asked to continue”.

Examples of The Authority Influence

I was once visited by two salesmen at the door, asking me to donate to a charity. I will never know whether the request was legitimate fundraising, or a device for confidence tricksters to profit from the mis-directed generosity of others. The tactics were far too calculated for me to respond in the way they clearly wanted me to.

They were dressed in black suits with black ties, immediately evoking a sense of authority to put the resident into a sense of intimidation, fear, uncertainty (thus rendering them more suggestible to compliance and obedience). A few rapport building compliments were then given regarding the garden (clearly forced and calculated – using the rule of liking). A clipboard was given with the logos of some common charities on it – and I was asked to point to charities that I would donate to if I was to choose (using the rule of commitment and consistency). At this point I was too overwhelmed with the forcefulness of the manipulation to continue, and asked them to leave.

Another time, I was eating lunch in a restaurant in London’s Chinatown district. A suited man came in, and asked a waitress if he could speak to the manager. The waitress told the man that the manager was busy in another meeting (this was true, I could see a discussion taking place in a backroom). The well dressed man then said “Its a courtesy call from the police, I really would like to speak to the manager”. The waitress was immediately nervous, and went off to find the manager. I curiously watched as the manager was brought to the man, who I now suspected was a deceitful salesman.

The man now said “its nothing to worry about, its just a courtesy call from the Police. We’re printing a series of maps for tourists in the area, for when Police are asked for directions – which will save them valuable time as I’m sure you would agree (compliance, gaining consistency). We’re asking respected (rule of liking) businesses in the area if they would like to advertise on the maps for a special discounted rate (rule of scarcity)…” and so on. Fortunately, the manager didn’t agree to it, as the maps most definitely didn’t exist. The man then continued to the next establishment to pretend to be the police again.

The Rule of Scarcity

Opportunities seem more valuable when they are less readily available.

The Rationale

1) Things that are difficult to attain, or rare, are typically more valuable (or seen to be more valuable).

2) When something becomes less available, the freedom to have it in the future may be lost.

Added Influence

1) Scarce items are deemed more valuable if they are newly scarce.

2) People are more influenced and attracted to scarce items if they know they are competing with others for them.

3) Scarce items can be perceived to enhance uniqueness, and so appeal to the ego drive.

Psychological reactance theory teaches that people react to the loss of freedom by wanting to have it more.


Advertising – limited editions, limited supply, deadlines for subscriptions or signups. “Offer Today Only”. “Everything Must Go”. Deadlines not only add to scarcity but also create a pressure to make a person confused/uncertain, whereby emotional drives will have more responsiveness.

A confidence trickster may make an opportunity more difficult for a person to take – by appearing busy, trying to talk them out of it, or making the window of opportunity incredibly unlikely/narrow. The victims emotional drive will then fuel the enthusiasm for the opportunity (the fear of missing out, losing the freedom to take advantage) which is likely to distract from the actual dynamics of the opportunity. When finally having the opportunity to take part, the pleasure and satisfaction will increase the liking of the con-man, and further distract from any awareness of the risk or deception.

Gesture of good will – a salesman may make a small gesture of scarcity, the emotional association with which (satisfaction) the person will then associate to the (often more expensive) product (Halo Effect). E.g. offering a “one off” freebie or discount with a car, “this time only, don’t tell my manager” etc etc.

Secrets Worth Knowing
Our Mind & Universe
Invalid email address

Leave a Reply