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How to Be Persuasive & Why It’s Important: Reciprocation

We all possess knowledge that others need. Or put another way, no single person possesses all the knowledge they need to make decisions in our modern, market economy. This basic insight called “the knowledge problem,” helped win F.A. Hayek a Nobel Prize.

Maybe the knowledge you possess was learned while researching your senior thesis. Maybe it came from an opportunity like Values & Capitalism’s Summer Honors Program. Whatever the knowledge, if you have ever tried to share what you know, or to convince someone of a new theory, you might have realized something important: Arguments rarely win arguments.

It doesn’t matter how important the information is if it isn’t presented in a way that persuades others. Whether you are trying to explain the ideas of free enterprise, share the Gospel, or help others find their vocation, we all need to know a thing or two about how to be persuasive.

cialdiniPsychologist Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: Science and Practice,” is my first recommendation for those who want to learn how to be persuasive. In this modern classic, Cialdini lays out six principles for being persuasive. They include Reciprocation, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

In this short series, I will look at each of these six principles, share a few examples about how they are used, and—most importantly—provide tips on how you can apply these principles to become more persuasive.

The first principle, called Reciprocation (also known as reciprocity), is the idea that people tend to return favors, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us. Think: the Golden Rule.

Recently I stayed at a hotel while on a business trip to Philadelphia. There was a door hanger waiting in my room explaining that if I hung it on my door before I went to bed, the cleaning crew would not change my sheets the next day. In return, the hotel would give me a $5 coupon to use at the hotel restaurant—since not washing the sheets everyday saves the hotel money. After little thought, I happily put out the door hanger.

This is a great example of reciprocation because the offer of $5 persuaded me to do something I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own, and yet both I and the hotel were better off.

“Arguments rarely win arguments.”

Another example that I recently experienced was at my local grocery store. A sales representative was giving away samples of a product that happened to be on my grocery list. I stopped, chatted with the woman, tried the product, and liked it very much. The product was on my grocery list, and within my budget, but I never would have picked out that brand if I hadn’t met the sales representative. Her kindness and the small gift of the free sample, made me feel better about picking her product. It was another win-win situation.

This brings to light a special aspect of the reciprocation principle—it creates an encounter. In both the hotel and the grocery store, the opportunity to reciprocate was brought to my attention. I wouldn’t have thought of taking those actions on my own.

Keep this in mind when you are interacting with others. If you want to be persuasive, think of ways that you can create an encounter, that gives others the chance to reciprocate, and results in a win-win situation.

Have you experienced or used this principle? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below. The next principle we’re going to look at is Commitment and Consistency.

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