The Psychology of Persuasion

Read Time:8 Minute

In the “Read & Grow” series, MMA organised a discussion on Robert B. Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. Mr Sreenivassan Ramaprasad, Director, CADD Centre Training Services, led the conversation with Mr Pravin Shekar, Chairman and CEO, KREA and Mr Kiruba Shankar, CEO, Breathe Digital.

Ramaprasad: I’m a sales enabler and for sales to be successful, influence is one of the most important things that we do. All of us want to influence people around us. We also get influenced and end up buying things which we never wanted. What is that psychology behind our behavior? Robert Cialdini talks about how our brain is wired and how we get influenced easily. He gives an example of mother turkey and how she shares her compassion and cares her chicks, just by hearing their sound. Another example he gives is about our behaviour in a queue. When somebody jumps the queue, normally, we resist that person but the moment the person gives a reason, 95% of the people accept and allow him to jump the queue. He has come out with seven levers of influence and they are:

  • The law of reciprocity: We feel obliged when we are given a favour. When you are given something, you are immediately obliged to give back something.
  • The principle of scarcity: Scarcity creates demand. When you say only two seats are left, the price is going to change.
  • Commitment and consistency:  When people give commitment, they generally like to be consistent with that commitment.
  • Social proof: We all like social proof. Whenever we buy anything in Amazon, we see whether it’s five star rated or how many have liked this product. Whenever there is a conformity or there is support from your neighbours, we also try to align to that. If somebody is hurt on the road and if a passer-by does not care for that person, others also don’t care. So, it’s important for the person who’s got hurt to specifically address somebody, instead of asking for help in general. This is also a concept of social proof. 
  • Likeability: If there is somebody like you, you’re likely to buy from them or get influenced by them. There is a sort of affinity towards each other.
  • Authority: From a position of authority, you’re likely to influence people.
  • Unity: We all tend to belong to the same class. For example, there is unity among people who come from a similar kind of organization.  

Pravin Shekar: My biggest takeaway is likeability. The more we meet, the more we will begin to like each other. If I want to be a good influencer in a particular area, then I need to meet the people in that area quite a few times to get the likability quotient. Second is the need for social proof. I have been invited here because there is some social proof that exists. That would be my second biggest takeaway. And the third, is on negotiation. When somebody asks us for the price, we always say, ‘Why don’t you tell?” Because we are afraid that we will go far beyond the zone to quote something. As a parent, I must know what to expect from my kid or as a business owner, how much I can push and how much I can ask for. There is a difference between saying, “I am in authority,” and “I am an authority.’ When you are in authority, it is the designation that matters but if you are an authority in a particular topic, you can generate better, deeper influence. I would rather be an authority with social proof.  

Kiruba Shankar: About two weeks back, Ramprasad conducted a workshop and I attended that. He is an authority with a huge amount of passion, depth of knowledge and willingness to learn. When a person of authority comes and invites you, there’s an almost an immediate ‘yes,’ out of sheer respect. Pravin Shekar is a generous giver. When others benefit out of his generosity, they want to go back and help back Praveen. That is reciprocity.

Last night, I took a flight from Bangalore to Chennai. At the Bangalore airport, I walked into the men’s restroom. The guy in charge of cleanliness of the place, on seeing me, pointed to a cubicle that was free. He walked, opened the door, went inside, took a roll of toilet paper and cleaned the toilet seat. With his mop, he cleaned the floor and said, “Please use now.” I instantly tipped him. He smartly influenced me by the likeability factor. He’s done me a favor and I can’t just walk away. I need to appreciate the fact that he’s taken that effort. Imagine if he’d done this for about 50 people in a day. So, all the 7 levers can be seen in front of us.  

Ramaprasad: When I park my car in a common area, there will be a security who will take utmost care so that you come out carefully and he directs you. I can’t resist giving him a 10 rupee note. The guard does a genuine service. It’s up to you to give him money or not and he’s not going to sulk if you don’t give. Yet you are compelled to give because of the service he renders. Kiruba, which of these 7 levers do you resonate with? 

Kiruba Shankar: The most I resonate with is social proof. I’ll give you an example. My grandma (my mother’s mom) is 90 years old. She, along with her daughter—that’s my mom, who is 72—have started a farm stay in a small little picture postcard village near Tindivanam. When people come and stay here at the farm house, they always meet grandma and praise her food. My mom and grandma are the ones who cook for the guests. The guests always say it’s been a brilliant experience. Some of them take blessings from grandma when they go out.

Here’s a very interesting observation. Almost not a single person would go and leave a review on Google or TripAdvisor. Because, by nature, we rarely go and acknowledge things online while we are perfectly fine telling it face to face. I’m a digital marketer and run a digital marketing company. So, what I did, I asked my mom and grandma to tell people, when they say positive things about their stay, to leave a review in Google. Just a simple request and it worked. We now have about 1166 reviews as of today and 4.9 out of five rating. That drives more people to come in. That is a classic case of the power of social proof. 

My advice to the college students who will graduate out is to focus on your LinkedIn profile and testimonials. Even for entrepreneurs and professionals, it is important to build a social proof. 

Praveen Shankar: When somebody is in need, you have the possibility to go ahead and help and that person in turn helps somebody else. The positive circle comes back when you are struggling and searching. Somehow, somewhere, a person appears who provides the solution. I’m into marketing. We happily recommend a whole lot of other marketers and people have come and asked us, “Sir, isn’t that competition?” I would say, “No, the cake is really big.” They say a rising tide lifts all the boats.  

Kiruba Shankar: I use the lever of ‘authority’ in running my digital marketing business. When a client is looking for a solution to a problem, that client has multiple options to choose who they want to hire. It is important for us to think, why that client should choose us. To answer that question, you have to put yourself into the client’s seat and ask, ‘What would I do, if I were to choose?’ What would we do if the child is sick? We would go to a pediatrician, rather than a general doctor.

The reason is they’ve really focused hard and deep into their line of work and hence they have better experience and knowledge and are able to serve much better. Should we not be that pediatrician, as an authority in our subject? My favourite line is, ‘Go two centimeters wide and two kilometers deep.’ Pick one area of niche and become the absolute best in that niche, so that people will be willing to pay a premium to hire your services.

Praveen Shankar: All the seven levers are beautifully connected. This is a legend and I am not sure if it is true or wrong. Several decades ago, some of the volunteers of the ADMK party were disgruntled with something that was happening. This reached the ears of the then CM Mr MG Ramachandran, who then organized a feast, invited all the people, heard them and then served them the feast personally, on plantain leaves. After that, the rank and file were so enamoured with their leader that all their problems seemed really small and they let it pass through. Not only was the leader consistent, he quadrupled his likability quotient by that one exercise with his followers. So, whether you are a leader, entrepreneur, or student, see what you can do to improve the likability quotient. 

Ramaprasad: Are these levers of influence still relevant and applicable?

Kiruba Shankar: Absolutely.

Praveen Shankar: They are all the fundamentals. You cannot survive without them. And you cannot fake them. One of the key levers is consistency. I can’t decide to be a nice guy today and an erratic person tomorrow. ‘Commitment with consistency’ is one of the key levers that puts all the levers together.  

The Art of Remaining Calm

Read Time:9 Minute

Swami Bodhananda is a world-renowned management guru. He is an avid reader and is well-versed with the contemporary challenges that the corporate leadership and corporate management face. In this talk, he stresses on watchfulness and how it can impact our mind and its functions.

Remaining calm in a turbulent world is a challenge that we all face. If you interact with the world with a disturbed mind, then the world looks confusing and you become unproductive. You may be efficient but not effective. A person with a disturbed mind is like a bull in a china shop or a misguided missile. It can hit the wrong places. You can be very calm in a cave at Himalayas because there is nobody to disturb you, but it’s very important that we keep our mind calm while we interact with the world. When the mind is calm we can understand the world better and process the sensations better. How do we do that? Is it a science or an art or something else? Or is it both an art and a science? Science is technology, and art is application of the technology. I find that most people have the domain knowledge and skill sets, but they are not able them apply it properly. What they lack is the sub-skill or emotional intelligence or effective people skills. When you are alone, you can achieve nothing but you can achieve a lot when you are in a team. The challenge is, keep yourself calm while you are interacting with your teams.

The Eye of the Storm is Calm

They say the center of the storm is calm. Can you remain calm, quiet and serene in this turbulent world as you interact with others and as you process sensations and respond to them? Our mind is like a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpion and possessed by a ghost. To tame such a mind which is like a wild river, you can dam it and have a beautiful reservoir. You can use that water for generating electricity or for irrigation. 

First of all, you should know if you have a mind. Most people don’t know. They think they have hormones but not a mind. How do you recognize that you have a mind? You must do some reflection. The mind and the self are different. It is the self that owns the mind. Take some time every day of your busy life, sit in a quiet corner and watch yourself. We don’t watch ourselves but watch others and comment upon others. In the process, we forget to watch ourselves. Watchfulness is very important to recognize the place of the mind and its importance in life. 

The 4 Functions of the Mind

The mind takes care of four functions—emotions, thinking, memories and ego. When you don’t look at the mind, it misbehaves. When we mind the children, they behave; when we don’t look at them, they try to misbehave. The self has got two aspects: the witnessing self and the executing  self. Mind has got two parts—the surface mind and the deep mind. Psychologists call the deep mind as the unconscious mind. We don’t know what is going on there. The unconscious part influences our behavior. As far as the world is concerned, there is a sensory world, which is presented to you and a scientific world, of which you don’t know much of what is going on. Thus, an individual is a complex entity. The environment influences you, you influence the environment and the self in turn influences you. All these things put together is the individual sitting there like a question mark not knowing what is going on. 

When the mind is calm, you get access to your spiritual reserves or the spiritual energy. You must believe that you have a spiritual reservoir which has great energy and that belief is very important in managing the mind. If you are part of the mind, then you also become part of the problem. You must understand that you are beyond the mind. Somebody said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand. I can lift the whole world.” The mind is a lever, a tool, but you must have a place to stand to use the mind.  

The ‘I’ Experience

That place to stand and use the mind is the ‘self’ which is referred to by the experience of ‘I’. We always use the word ‘I’. We say, ‘I got up in the morning, I had a bath, I had my breakfast and so on…’ One thing which doesn’t leave you is the ‘I’ experience. The ‘I’ is your centrality and the rest are all happening around you. Every day, sit in a quiet place to reflect. These days, we simply react without reflecting. That is the greatest tragedy of the modern individual. Through reflection, you can realize that you are beyond the mind and that your mind is just a tool like a car or a computer, which you can use to reach your destination and get knowledge and information. Watchfulness is also called mindfulness and attentiveness.

A leader is one who gives a vision and motivates people to work toward realization of that vision. Being a leader or a manager, you must have some time to sit calmly and reflect. It is not waste of time but a good investment.  Spend some time every day to watch your mind, to experience your mind and to distance yourself from the mind. Then you will get the ability to control the mind. The miracle is that when you watch the mind, it becomes calm. You don’t have to do anything else. If you try to discipline the mind, it rebels against you.

When you sit in a puja room, the mind is calm because nobody is disturbing you but once you are out in the world, the mind becomes agitated, like water into which stones are thrown. Watch the mind without judgment. Most of the time we judge ourselves, ‘I am good; I am bad’ and so on. When others judge you, you internalize their judgment. We look for confirmation from outside and allow our self-image to be determined by others. 

Looking for Clean Water

There’s a very interesting story. When Buddha was preaching about enlightenment or Nirvana, he was giving the message that answers to your questions can be found if you look into yourself. During his wandering, Buddha was feeling thirsty and he asked his companion, Ananda, to fetch him some water from the river. Ananda ran towards the river. When he went there, the water was all muddied because a few bullock carts had crossed over the shallow river and the water had become muddied.

Ananda jumped into the water and tried to clean up the mess. The more he tried to clean up, the more the water became muddier. Finally, out of exasperation, he went to his master and said, “Master, I couldn’t get a clean cup of water.” Buddha asked, “What did you do?” Ananda said that he jumped into the water and tried to clean it up. Buddha told him, “You should have stayed on the bank of the river. The mud will settle down by itself and the clean water will surface. Then you could have fetched the water. Go and just watch.” 

Similarly, when you watch the mind, it becomes clear. Spend 15 minutes every day with the mind, being friendly with it and watching it. There will be distractions when you try to sit quiet. Those distractions may be coming from the depth of the mind, like undigested food. The mind tries to reprocess all your past experiences, because a lot of traumas might have been accumulated by you, as you grew. Don’t worry about it and keep practicing every day. 

Gap between Stimulus and Response

The next task is to maintain that state of mind while you are interacting with the world. It is possible if you practise non-reaction. Create some gap between stimulus and response. Our tendency is to immediately respond to a stimulus, without any gap. Take a breath, say ‘Aum’ and create some gap. Don’t suppress your feelings. Then it may lead to diseases. Don’t express violence, but respond to situations.  

We all search for happiness outside. Our happiness is within. What do you want at the end of the day? Power, money, reputation or fame? Finally, we  end up saying, “I want to be happy. I want to be comfortable.” Our ultimate goal is not wealth, but well-being. A happy individual is creative, while an unhappy individual turns destructive.  

At the peak of their careers, some are so busy that even their children might think that they are strangers in the house, because the children would have rarely seen their father. Later, they regret what they have done. So, happiness is very important. When you are happy, you are nearer to God and when you’re unhappy, you’re far away from God. God is the ultimate value of all good values. God is a smile away, they say, and not a mile away. When you smile, you attract everybody and become a magnetic, charismatic person. When you frown, people move away from you. When you reflect and contemplate, you can realize that happiness is not outside but happiness is your nature. This is the sum and substance of Indian philosophy, culture and tradition.

So, these are the three things that you have to practice:

  • Sit down and watch your mind without judgment.
  • Don’t suppress your emotions but do not impulsively express yourself. Look before you leap. I heard a story that somebody was sitting on the seventh floor of a star hotel, looking through the window. He heard an internal announcement that said, “Mr. Peter. Your wife died of an accident and hearing that your daughter also committed suicide.” Hearing this announcement, the man thought that there was no point in living and jumped out the window. As he was falling through the floors, he realised that his name was not Peter but John. It was too late by then. Therefore, create some space between stimulus and response.
  • Your happiness is not outside. Nobody can make you unhappy, and nobody can make you happy either. You have the agency to be a happy person. Take back the agency which you have lost. Become an agent of your own happiness.

By these methods, one will be able to calm the mind. That’s why I call it, ‘The Art of Calming the Mind’—and not the science and technology of it.  It is very important that you are able to have a handle on your mind so that you can interact with the world better, understand the world the better and understand yourself better. You will become a whole and healthy personality. When you interact with the world, you will become magnetic and charismatic. You can influence people and your own thoughts and you can become the master of your destiny, with a calm and quiet mind.  

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