Quite often in your working life (and sometimes your non-working life), your goal is to get another person to say yes. This is most evident if you work in sales or marketing, run your own business, or even need to sell an idea to your manager before you go ahead with it. If any of this sounds familiar, try these persuasion techniques based on academic research.

Endowed progress

Next time you get one of those loyalty stamp cards in a coffee shop, have a close look at it. You may find that your first stamp was free and that the one the barista put on counts as your second. This is the endowed progress effect in action. If you make a degree of progress towards a goal, the brain doesn’t want to stop because that will mean all that initial effort went to waste. Think about how you can apply this in your own situation. For example, if you sell an online course, you could give the first lesson for free.

The power of because

Psychologists have found that people are more like to accept a request if you give a reason for doing so, even if that reason is not particularly relevant. In one study, subjects tried to skip the queue at the photocopier. If they just said “May I go in front,” the request was denied significantly more often than if they said “May I go in front, because I need to make copies.” Apparently, the latter conveys no more information that the first, yet it was accepted more often! Make sure you give your persuadee a reason to comply with your request, at the time you make it.

Use Post-Its

In a series of studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research, psychologist Randy Garner found that snail mail surveys were more likely to be completed if they had a Post-It with a hand-written request to complete and return the survey on them. It’s the personal touch that matters here — the Post-It turns the letter from a faceless automation from a computer program into a direct request from another human. If you need people to complete paper forms, now you know what to do — but keep the general principle in mind too. How else can you add a personal touch to your communications?


“Priming” refers to the phenomenon where your future thoughts or actions are influenced by a stimulus presented to you right now. Derren Brown is famous for claiming he can steer people to acts like armed robbery simply by presenting them with primes. You shouldn’t set your sights that high, but small changes are possible. For example, studies have shown that:
• People who read words relating to aging walked more slowly when leaving the experiment room.
• People who saw words relating to rudeness were more likely to interrupt a staged conversation
• People primed with words related to college professors did better on a general knowledge test than those primed with words related to hooligans

The effects are not huge, but they are measurable. How are your content, pitches, and marketing priming your potential customers? How is your work environment priming you?

With great power…

Now that you know four powerful persuasion techniques that researchers tested in experimental settings, you can use them to improve your products and pitches. But remember Uncle Ben’s advice in Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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