The Psychology of influence
The ability to engage and influence others is crucial when you want to make a positive change in your professional or personal life. Understanding how experts influence change can increase your understanding of the process involved and provide you with a toolkit to influence others.
In his bestseller, ‘Influence’, psychologist, Robert Cialdini, explains that there are six potent ‘weapons of influence’ that we can all use to influence others. According to Cialdini, the ‘weapons of influence’ are incredibly effective because we are programmed to respond predictably (by complying automatically) when confronted with these triggers. Cialdini is famous for his six principles of influence, they are:
2. Commitment and Consistency
3. Social Proof
The fifth weapon of influence we’ll take a look at in this series of blogs on the psychology of influence is the principle of authority.
The principle of Authority
This principle refers to a person’s tendency to comply with the instructions of authority figures. The principle was chillingly illustrated by the infamous obedience to authority experiments conducted by psychologist, Stanley Milgram. Milgram invited volunteers to take part in an experiment examining learning and punishment but in reality the research was designed to measure the subject’s obedience to authority.
Subjects were instructed to give the ‘learner’ (who was really a researcher playing the role of a learner being asked test questions) an electric shock for each wrongly answered question. As the learner answered more questions incorrectly the strength of the voltage was increased (no real electric shock was administered) until the recipient was screaming and shouting in feigned pain and demanding the experiment be stopped. Despite the person’s protestations at receiving the shocks, the subject did not stop the experiment. Each time they were told to continue by an authority figure in a white lab coat, they did so.
Milgram concluded that obedience to authority, mostly, has genuine practical advantages for us. Milligram suggested that, as children, our parents and teachers are more knowledgable than us and we benefit from this greater wisdom, as well as from any reward and punishment system they may employ. These benefits can also be seen in adulthood with parents and teachers being replaced by people in governments, judges and other leaders. Milgram’s experiment also shows that the automatic behaviour associated with the principle of authority can sometimes lead to negative consequences.
Using the principle of Authority
- Cialdini notes that titles, clothes and trappings can all be used to imply authority. Dressing smartly and using symbols of power can imply authority.
- Establishing yourself as an expert, with specialist knowledge in a specific area, is another way to assert authority.
- Cultivate an authoritative attitude and present a commanding presence. The is a technique that is often used by experts in combination with other influencing techniques. This technique can be effective whether or not an air of authority is accompanied by real power. A recent example is the serial con man pretending to be the Duke of Marlborough and running up luxury hotel bills.