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Leadership Strategies: 6 Persuasion Principles to Win People Over

Dr. Robert Cialdini’s seminal work, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” first published in 1984, is a must-read for anyone in leadership – including fleet professionals – because your career success hinges on your ability to influence, persuade and win people over to your proposals and point of view.

Here’s an overview of Cialdini’s six persuasion principles and how you might apply them in fleet management situations.

1. Reciprocity

Key Quote: “Most of us find it highly disagreeable to be in a state of obligation. It weighs heavily on us and demands to be removed.”

With reciprocity, you create a sense of obligation in the other person to say yes to your request – to reciprocate the favor – because you first gave something to them.

For example, consider the dynamic with senior management when you talk about your budget needs for your department. After all, the fleet is often seen as a “necessary evil” cost center. And management might look at your department as an opportunity to cut costs – and your budget.

So, how can you improve your odds of not only preserving your budget but perhaps also increasing it?

Tap into what Cialdini calls the “rejection-and-retreat” technique of reciprocity in budget negotiations.

It goes something like this: Make a big (but not wholly unreasonable) request – greater than what you actually want. And when it’s rejected, fall back and make a concession for the amount you’re looking for. Cialdini states this approach works more effectively than simply asking for your target number upfront because it puts reciprocity to work on your behalf.

2. Commitment & Consistency

Key Quote: “Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and internal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”

This persuasion principle aims to get a clear commitment from the other person, where they feel the inner pressure to do what they said they would do.

This is especially important when you assign tasks to employees. The idea is to get them to state their commitment.

One way of doing that is to ask, “Are you able to turn around these PMs by 2 p.m. Wednesday? Is that doable?”

When they agree, they’ve put themselves on record that they’ve made a commitment to that date and time and will work to remain consistent with their word.

And if you can get a commitment in writing, that’s even better. “Yet another reason that written commitments are so effective is that they require more work than verbal ones,” Cialdini said. “And the evidence is clear that the more effort that goes into commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.”

3. Social Proof

Key Quote: “One means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.”

With social proof, you’re showing the other party they’re in good company by agreeing to your request, proposal or idea.

The idea here is to recognize the prevalence of the herd mentality – and tap into it.

“In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct,” Cialdini said.

So, how can you apply social proof in fleet?

Before rolling out a new and potentially controversial initiative (e.g., onboard cameras, telematics or vehicle sharing), collect success stories from other similar fleets. Learn what concerns their stakeholders raised and how they worked through those issues to create a win-win for everyone involved. Then share those stories when you present the case for adopting a similar initiative in your organization.

You can also build social proof by recruiting “employee-ambassadors” who will share their perspectives as champions of the change.

4. Liking

Key Quote: “As a rule, we prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like.”

It pays to have people like and respect you, no matter what business you’re in or what role you have.

They’re more likely to listen to you, do you a favor and have your back when you need their support the most.

So, be intentional about building relationships across the company’s various business units and departments. Those alliances will strengthen your influence to garner support to get big things done.

5. Authority

Key Quote: “Because their ‘authority’ positions speak of superior access to information and power, it makes great sense to comply with the wishes of properly constituted authors – [even] when it makes no sense at all.”

Cialdini’s principle of authority goes beyond your job title and who reports to you. It’s about being perceived as an authority – an expert in your domain – in the eyes of your peers, direct reports and senior management.

This gives your ideas and proposals more weight when you present them, making them more likely to be accepted.

How do you position and promote yourself as a trusted authority in your domain?

One thing you can do is to start sharing ideas, lessons learned and industry news on professional social media platforms like LinkedIn. This will help raise your profile to your network and the leaders in your company.

And your posts might get the attention of editors like me who are looking for interesting fleet managers to interview for articles in UFP.

6. Scarcity

Key Quote: “People seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. For instance, homeowners told how much money they could lose from inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much money they could save.”

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman labels this phenomenon as “losses loom larger than gains.”

In other words, we are more motivated to move away from pain than we are to move toward the possible gain.

So, whenever you’re proposing an idea that will cause a lot of change, your objective is to communicate how the organization has more to lose by sticking with the status quo than trying the new idea.

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Sean M. Lyden

Sean M. Lyden is the editor of Utility Fleet Professional magazine.

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