11.1 Principles of Persuasion

Persuasion is an act or process of presenting arguments to move, motivate, or change your audience. Persuasion can be implicit or explicit and can have both positive and negative effects. In this chapter the importance of ethics will continued to be reviewed, especially related to presenting motivational arguments to your audience so that they will consider your points, adopt your view, or change their behaviour.

Motivation is different from persuasion in that it involves the force, stimulus, or influence to bring about change. Persuasion is the process, and motivation is the compelling stimulus that encourages your audience to change their beliefs or behaviour, to adopt your position, or to consider your arguments.

Principles of Persuasion

image of a chalkboard with a hand writing in chalk crossing out the word "can't" and writing the word Can
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What is the best way to succeed in persuading your listeners? There is no one “correct” answer, but many experts have studied persuasion and observed what works and what doesn’t. Social psychologist Robert Cialdini (2006) offers us six principles of persuasion that are powerful and effective:

    1. Reciprocity
    2. Scarcity
    3. Authority
    4. Commitment and consistency
    5. Consensus
    6. Liking


icon of two people with snaked line surround them. There are arrows at both ends of the line indicating a cycle.

Reciprocity is the mutual expectation for exchange of value or service. In many cultures, when one person gives something, the receiver is expected to reciprocate. If you are in customer service and go out of your way to meet the customer’s need, you are appealing to the principle of reciprocity with the knowledge that all humans perceive the need to reciprocate—in this case, by increasing the likelihood of making a purchase from you or your organization because you were especially helpful. Reciprocity builds trust and the relationship develops, reinforcing everything from personal to brand loyalty. By taking the lead and giving, you build in a moment where people may feel compelled by social norms and customs to give back.


icon of a diamond representing scarcity

You want what you can’t have, and it’s universal. People are naturally attracted to the exclusive, the rare, the unusual, and the unique. If they are convinced that they need to act now or it will disappear, they are motivated to action. Scarcity is the perception of inadequate supply or a limited resource. For a sales representative, scarcity may be a key selling point—the particular car, or theatre tickets, or pair of shoes you are considering may be sold to someone else if you delay making a decision. By reminding customers not only of what they stand to gain but also of what they stand to lose, the representative increases the chances that the customer will make the shift from contemplation to action and decide to close the sale.


icon of an award with a star at the centre representing quality

Trust is central to the purchase decision. Whom does a customer turn to? A salesperson may be part of the process, but an endorsement by an authority holds credibility. Knowledge of a product, field, trends in the field, and even research can make a salesperson more effective through the principle of authority. It may seem like extra work to educate your customers, but you need to reveal your expertise to gain credibility. Reading the manual of a product is not sufficient to gain expertise—you have to do extra homework. The principle of authority involves referencing experts and expertise.

Commitment and Consistency

image of a pen and paper with a signature on the page indicated commitment

People like to have consistency in what is said to them and in writing. Therefore, it is important that all commitments made are honoured at all times, and that what is presented by one person is consistent with that spoken or written by another.



icon of two people with a check mark above their heads indicated agreement

Testimonials, or first person reports on experience with a product or service, can be highly persuasive. People often look to each other when making a purchase decision, and the herd mentality is a powerful force across humanity. Leverage testimonials and positive reviews from clients to attract more clients by making them part of your team. The principle of consensus involves the tendency of the individual to follow the lead of the group.


icon of a heart indicated liking

We tend to be attracted to people who communicate to us that they like us, and who make us feel good about ourselves. Given a choice, these are the people with whom we are likely to associate. The principle of liking involves the perception of safety and belonging in communication.

To summarize, a persuasive message can succeed through the principles of reciprocity, scarcity, authority, commitment and consistency, consensus, and liking.

Watch the following 12 minute RSA animated video; The Science of Persuasion

Video: Science of Persuasion by influenceatwork [11:50] Transcript available

52. Principles of Persuasion” from Communication for Business Professionals by eCampusOntario is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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