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Influence and the trainer


Robert Cialdini admits in the introduction to his book, Influence: Science and Practice, "I'm a Patsy", by which he means an easy touch for the passing salesman. Which he says probably accounts for his interest in the study of compliance.

Cialdini is a social psychologist, and has directed his research at Arizona State University towards the study of how people are influenced by one another. Not content with conducting psychological experiments in the lab, Cialdini's research extends away from the laboratory to the real world. He 'went undercover' to work as a salesman, fundraiser and advertiser for three years himself, to witness their strategies at first hand. He's also talked to political lobbyists and religious cult members to establish the ways in which they create influence.

Cialdini's work uncovered six key principles which he states underline all the methods used by people when they seek to influence another. His book - Influence: Science and Practice is in its fourth edition and has sold over a quarter of a million copies, which is testament perhaps to the interest people have in other people. Although Cialdini's subsequent publication was aimed at helping the consumer to recognise and deflect over-zealous sales pitches, it was actually picked up on by those very salespeople, together with managers working in business, to identify better ways of getting their message across. Cialdini's work has however also been seized upon by the psychology-hungry US market, where psychological theories on influencing and changing behaviour packaged for the layperson are keenly received.

At the root of Cialdini's influence work is his theory which defines six universal principles of effective influence. Cialdini suggests that at least one of these six triggers is present whenever a person is trying to influence anothers behaviour. In his book, Cialdini devotes a chapter to each of these six principles:

  • Reciprocation: We feel obliged to repay in kind what another has given us
  • Consistency: Once we make a choice, we will stick with things that support that decision. The more effort that goes into making the initial commitment, the more likely we are to go to great lengths to remain with it
  • Social Proof: If other people think something is right, so will we - we are guided by other people's behaviour
  • Liking: We are more likely to say yes to the requests of people we like, particularly if we know them, see them as physically attractive or similar, or are paid compliments by them
  • Authority: Simply, we are more likely to believe those in authority
  • Scarcity: Lack of availability makes something more valuable.

So what has this to do with the work of the trainer? Steve Martin, Director and Training Consultant with
Sales Interaction
, who use some of Cialdini’s work on influence in their training programmes for salespeople, say that the principle of authority comes into play when a trainer is looking to establish themselves as a 'credible and trustworthy source of information' for a group. He says: "A trainer typically needs to influence without power. One of the best ways to do this is to admit a small weakness about your presentation first. Research shows that by admitting a small weakness the next thing you say is considered to be more honest and credible."

Steve also points to one particular Cialdini principle at work when putting together a proposal for an organisational training programme. He says that trainers should look to identify and understand the core values of the organisation and show how their proposition is in line or consistent with previous declared values. The principle of commitment and consistency also comes into play when trying to gain support throughout an organisation for new training and development initiatives. Steve says: "The principle of commitment and consistency states that people strive to remain committed and consistent with their beliefs, values and what they have previously gone on record as saying is important to them. The same is as true with corporations as it is with individuals. The law of commitment and consistency states that the trainer should seek and present the new training initiative as being "in line" with what the organisation and senior managers have already gone on record as saying is important to them…..the principle also states that if you can get the organisation and the senior managers to voluntarily, publicly and actively state the importance of your programme then the commitment will have a better chance of being longer lasting throughout the organisation. Therefore the trainer should look to get the senior managers to participate actively in the new programme by perhaps attending the training at the same time as everyone else. The trainer might also get the senior managers to "go on record" in supporting the programme."

NLP specialists McKenna Breen are bringing together Robert Cialdini and NLP exponent Michael Breen in the UK for a series of workshops in June and July. For more information, telephone 020 7704 6604 visit More information on Robert Cialdini’s current work can be found on the Influence at Work website.
Michael Breen will also be speaking at the TrainingZONE/Training Solutions H.O.T. conference in June. To find out how you can see and hear him in person, see


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