When you hear the word “persuasion,” what comes to mind? A skilled litigator? A snake oil salesman, or something else? Dr. Robert Cialdini, The Godfather of Influence, New York Times bestselling author, and seminal expert on ethical influence, negotiation, and leadership—declares persuasion a tremendous force for good.
For example, he once worked with young entrepreneurs to send messages persuading people to reduce their energy consumption in the home. The results were astounding.
“There are now 100 utilities around the country that are sending these messages to people, and in the last 10 years we have saved 36 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the environment,” Dr. Cialdini said.
We spoke with Dr. Cialdini prior to his exceptional keynote at the 2022 Clio Cloud Conference about how lawyers can harness the power of persuasion for successful legal arguments, practices, and careers.
The ethics of persuasion for lawyers
First things first: Is using additional factors to persuade ethical?
For Dr. Cialdini, it’s entirely natural to ethically persuade people. The difference lies in how you introduce the principles of persuasion into the situation:
- As a smuggler – disingenuously using the principles.
- As a detective – uncovering what’s naturally there.
“If all you do is uncover it naturally the way a detective would, not only do you become effective, you are entirely ethical in the process because you’re simply informing people,” he explained.
For example, as a lawyer having an initial consultation and aiming to retain a client, it’s entirely above board to share your authority as a lawyer since you are a licensed and trained professional, with some level of experience practicing law. It’s also fair to share positive reviews on your website, showing that others have had positive experiences working with you.
“You’re not tricking them, you’re not coercing them, you’re not pressuring them. You’re pointing to something. You are informing them,” Dr. Cialdini said.
When to use the 7 principles of persuasion
Throughout his many years of research, Dr. Cialdini has uncovered seven principles of persuasion he sees at use in most situations:
- Social proof
- Commitment & Consistency
And then, there are different stages of an interaction at which the different principles tend to be more effective (although this is not a universal rule). Take the process of retaining a client, for example.
First, you want to connect. “The goal is for the person to feel a sense of rapport and connection so they’re comfortable going forward,” Dr. Cialdini said. Here, you’d want to use:
- Reciprocity. People want to give to you if you give to them first. Start off by being generous, by giving information or resources that would be helpful to them.
- Liking. Pointing out similarities and giving genuine compliments helps here.
- Unity. Point to commonalities you share in terms of social identity groups. Maybe you went to the same school, or are fans of the same sports team. “It’s not just, ‘this person is like me.’ You want them to say, ‘this person is one of us.’”
Second, you want to reduce uncertainty as to whether you are the right person to work with, whether your offer is the optimal one for them, and whether this is the time for them to move forward. At this stage, you want to use:
- Authority. “If I’m an authority, you feel comfortable, because that reduces your uncertainty about whether you want to partner with me,” Dr. Cialdini explains.
- Social proof. Your potential client will be looking at the opinions of authority figures and peers. If there are positive reviews, it reduces the uncertainty that working with you will be a good choice.
Finally, you want the person to act—to get off the fence, and decide to work with you. The principles that are helpful here are:
- Scarcity. “People want more of those things they can have less of,” Dr. Cialdini explained. “So if you can show them that you have something that if they don’t move in your direction they’re going to lose, they will get off the fence.”
- Commitment and consistency. Show your potential client what you’re recommending is congruent with what they want to achieve (i.e., to resolve their legal issue), and what their values or goals are.This allows them to take a step in the direction of something they already prioritize.
How to get comfortable persuading
Despite the power of persuasion to do real good, it’s common to feel uncomfortable using the principles. One might even think persuasion is something to be deflected and rejected when it’s employed on us. But Dr. Cialdini believes this isn’t true.
“Persuasion is sometimes exactly what we want from people that know better than we do about the proper step to take, “ he explained.
For example, Dr. Cialdini told a story about a time he was shopping for a new TV. He had the model he wanted picked out, had read reviews, and saw it was on sale. The sales person at the store told him they only had one TV left, and his use of the principle of scarcity worked: Dr. Cialdini bought the TV.
“Now here’s the thing: If he was telling me the truth, I needed that information to make a good choice,” Dr. Cialdini said. “There are many situations in which we want to know the relevant information so we can make a good choice.”
Furthermore, he noted sometimes people are also uncomfortable using the principle of authority. This too, can be a misconception. Yes, people don’t like to be bossed around by authority figures. But that’s not to be confused with people who are in authority. This principle of persuasion refers to being an authority on a subject.
“If you are an authority, then you should feel absolutely fine informing people of your recommended approach, because it’s considered to be an informed recommendation that people will likely profit from by following,” he said.
Final thoughts on persuasion for lawyers
Finally, we asked Dr. Cialdini what the single most important rule of persuasion is. His response? “Don’t have a single favorite influence strategy or approach.”
The same strategy is not going to work in every situation, for every person, or for every approach. The key is to remain observant. See which of the seven principles are showing up in the situation, and surface them. This should help bring others to your side of the fence.
Used correctly, the principles of persuasion can be wielded both to help your clients, and to support the success of your firm.
Can we persuade you to join us? Join us at the next Clio Cloud Conference; the conference legal professionals are calling “a life changer for lawyers.”