How Can We Improve Our Influence?

A Whackadoodle discussion about improving our influence, understanding motivations, and not getting manipulated by unethical others.

We had just finished all her assigned homework, when she looked up at me with one last question before heading home. “So last time,” she began,” we talked about how to change the mind of someone who disagrees with our worldview.”

“We don’t change minds,” I corrected, still in tutoring mode.

“Right, we cannot change minds, we can only seek to expand them,” she mimicked, irritably. “We also don’t interrupt people in the middle of their thoughts.”

“Fair enough,” I smirked. “Complete your thought.”

“Well,” and she had to pause and consider how to continue. “I remember you saying that motivating a mind that already accepts a belief is one process, while expanding a mind to think differently is a whole other process; and that I can’t do both at the same time.”

“Right,” I nodded.

“Well, last time we talked about expanding a mind that thinks differently by getting them outside of the community that keeps reinforcing their mind, by asking questions, making friends, helping to solve problems, and treating them to a new vision of themselves. That kind of thing. But,” she hesitated before adding. “I was wondering about motivating a mind that already accepts a belief. Will we ever cover that?”

“That’s too easy,” I told her. “I’m much more interested in persuading the ones who have not yet made up their minds. They neither agree, nor disagree. They haven’t even formed an opinion.”

“How’s that?”

“Well motivating someone who already agrees with you is pretty easy. Usually the, ‘We both have the same problem. I have a solution. Do you agree with my solution? Let’s go for it!’ scenario will kind of work, so long as you follow up and make sure that they still want to go for it. Of course,” I added after a thought. “There is always the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini and his Seven Principles of Persuasion. I don’t suppose we should ignore them.”

“And they are?” she asked, taking out her notepad.

“Dear lord,” I exclaimed. “I just included a link to his website. He’s got explanations, examples, even a little movie. Do I really need to explain them myself?”

“Yes,” she stared at me. “I am on your website, so I want you to explain them.”

“Jeeze,” I stared back. “Fine, so the Seven Universal Principles of Influence are based on years of social experiments that he and his graduate students conducted to study what makes people more, or less, likely to agree with you. He always starts his lectures by saying that he can tell you how the principles work, but it is up to you to use the knowledge ethically.”

“Sounds ominous,” she muttered. “So what’s the first principle?”

Reciprocity, which basically means that if you do something for someone, they are more likely to do something for you. It also turns out that the more personalized and unexpected your behavior, gift, or service is, the more likely that they will feel favorably towards you and repay you far and above the original social contract.”

“So basically, if I send you a gift, or invite you to a party, you are more likely to return the favor.”

“It’s more than that,” I struggled to explain. “Reciprocity suggests that I will feel an obligation to return any favor.”

“Hum, seems pretty obvious,” she concluded at last.

“Perhaps,” I acknowledged. “But Dr. Cialdini has the studies to prove it. Of course, his work focuses on how these principles can improve marketing strategies. He seldom looks at their flip side.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, reciprocity also suggests that if someone messes with me, I might feel obligated to mess with them.”

“That one also seems obvious,” she informed me bluntly.

“But, he also has this corollary to reciprocity, which is not so obvious. He explains it in one of his scientific papers, he calls it The Reciprocal Concessions Procedures for Inducing Compliance.”

“How’s that?”

“It basically means that if you concede something in a negotiation, the person to whom you are conceding will feel more obligated to conceding something to you as well.” I laughed softly and added, “I have to admit that I have use the principle thousands of time without even knowing that it was a principle.”

“Okay,” she sat up straighter. “For this I need an example.”

“Well,” I thought back. “For several years, I booked shows for a wonderful children’s theater. I would call up schools, churches, and community centers; and I would ask who was in charge of external programs. Once I had the name and number, I would call them up, tell them that our children’s theatre was going to be in the area, and ask if they would like to book a show. Often they would tell me that they would love to, but they’d already spent their annual budget. I’d concede the point immediately, and simply ask, ‘Do you know any other organizations in the area who might be interested in one of our shows.’” I laughed harder, recalling. “I swear, nine out of ten times, I would get a new name and a new contact. I was always able to find someone to book our shows, and I did that by asking the big ask first, then conceding that it was too big an ask, then asking for something smaller.”

“And that’s reciprocal concessions?” she paused to consider. “You ask for something big, and when they say they can’t, you concede and ask for something smaller?”

“In a nutshell, yes,” I agreed. “It doesn’t work every time, but it works a lot of the time, especially if you are already in agreement, and have developed rapport.”

“Agreement and rapport?”

“I am a nice lady on the phone who agrees that kids should have access to Children’s Theatre whenever possible.”

“Right,” she nodded. “So what’s the second Universal Principle?”

“That one is Scarcity,” I told her. “It’s pretty simple to explain. People tend to want things more if they think an item might become scarce.”

“So like when people bought up all the toilet paper and hand sanitizer during the first days of the pandemic?”

“Yep,” I agreed. “And as far as marketing goes, Cialdini’s website says, ‘It’s not enough to simply tell people about the benefits they’ll gain if they choose your products and services. You’ll also need to point out what is unique about your proposition and what they stand to lose if they fail to consider your proposal.’”

“Is there a flip side to this principle as well?” she asked.

“I suppose,” I said after reflecting. “If power, or votes, or money, or abortions, or religious rights and personal choice feel like they’re becoming scares, people will get motivated to take action. Fear of loss is always a powerful motivator.”

“You see,” she threw a fist in the air. “I knew there was a reason that I wanted you to explain them, and not some old website.”

“Whatever,” I grinned.

“So what’s the third Universal Principle?” she asked

“That would be Authority,” I told her. “For whatever reason, people tend to bend their will to an authority. In practical terms, it means that if someone perceives you as an authority, they are much more likely to be influenced by you.”

“So,” she interrupted. “If I want to influence people I have to appear as an authority. I have to have the right titles, certificates, diplomas, friends, style, and business cards, right?”

“Pretty much,” I agreed. “And God help you if you are influenced by the wrong authority.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean when authority, image and propaganda are mistaken for wisdom, competence, and leadership.”

“And I’m guessing that’s the flip side of this principle.”

“Pretty much,” I said again. “I might trust a doctor of psychology to help me fight depression, but I wouldn’t want that doctor to give me brain surgery.”

“In that case, you’d want a neurosurgeon, right?”

“Right,” I smirked before adding, “and I am not sure why people trust politicians to tell them who to vote for, or trust pharmaceutical companies to tell them what meds they need, or trust people who specialize in fake news warning others about fake news, or trust anyone who flashes bright shiny objects claiming an authority they don’t really have.”

“I suppose it’s because people like to trust someone else to do their research for them,” she offered.

“Are you suggesting that people are just lazy?” I teased.

“No,” she shook her head. “It’s more like people have been conditioned to trust in certain authorities, and they find it hard to question their conditioning.”

“Very possible,” I conceded. “People do seem to think that just because someone looks rich, they must know what they are talking about.”

“And just because they have lived in a community for years, they know what is best for that community,” she added thoughtfully.

“What made you say that?” I asked.

“All the political ads running lately,” she sighed. “Okay, what’s the fourth Universal Principle of Influence?”

“That would be Consistency, and it basically states that people like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done. So instead of asking someone to come to your party, you have them say what time they will arrive at your party, and what will they be bringing.”

“That’s weird.”

“But scientifically proven according to Dr. Cialdini’s research.”

“I would have thought consistency would have more to do with keeping your word.”

“Well, I guess consistency is part of why people feel more obligated to keep their word when they have made either a verbal commitment, or a written commitment. People like to appear consistent.”

“But I know a lot of people who make promises one minute and break them the next.”

“So do I,” I admitted. “Perhaps some people have gotten comfortable with being consistently inconsistent.”

She groaned at my joke, so I quickly added. “I think you will like the fifth Universal Principle of Influence.”

“I will?” she asked cautiously. “Why is that?”

“Because it is the principle of Liking.” I laughed. “And it claims that you are more influential if people like you, and that people are more likely to like people who are like them.”

“People who like them,” she confirmed, confused.

“No,” I corrected. “People who they perceive to be like them, or who they perceive to be like minded. Basically, we like people who are similar to us. We like people who pay us compliments. We like people who cooperate with us towards mutual goals. The Universal Principle of Liking simply states that we are more influenced by people who demonstrate those qualities.”

“So I suppose that means that if someone doesn’t like me, or perceives me as being too different, I won’t have much luck influencing them.”

“I suppose you might be right,” I agreed. “Or at least persuading them will be a harder hill to climb.”

“So what’s the next one?” she asked, as if anxious to move on.

Social Proof,” I told her. “Which basically says that when people are uncertain, they will often look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own. It’s kind of like, if my trusted neighbor trusts you, I am more likely to trust you. If nine out of ten dentists agree, I am more likely to agree. If you’ve produced the most popular musical in town, I might like your musical too. Get it?”

“Got it.”

“Good,” I couldn’t help but add.

She smiled weakly and asked, “So does this principle have a flip side?”

“You tell me.”

“I suppose it could,” she said after considering. “I mean, if you take your direction from a group of people headed down a rabbit hole, you might find yourself down the same rabbit hole, right?”

“Right,” I smiled approvingly. “And that brings us to the last Universal Principle, Unity, which says when we belong, or feel we belong to a group, we’re more likely to be persuaded by that group.”

“But that’s kind of the same, isn’t it?” she asked. “And it’s kind of like what you said last week. You can’t expand a worldview so long as it keeps being reinforced by the community that supports that worldview.”

“It also means that if you want to persuade people, then you should make them feel a part of your special group.”

“And that’s the flip side,” she concluded with disgust. “And it’s why this doctor guy says that he can teach me the rules, but it’s up to me to use them ethically. Sure makes it easy for him.”

“How do you mean?”

“Because none of these rules are either ethical, or unethical. They all have a fip side. I could use these principles to build myself a group of followers, and then ask them to drink the cool-aid.

“I am so proud that you know that reference,” I interrupted happily.

She scowled at me, “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I know the reference.”

“These days, I can never be too sure,” I shrugged. I could see how disturbed she felt, so I carefully added, “You know there are only two reasons that I let this conversation continue past our scheduled tutoring time. One, to help you understand how these principles can help you influence others ethically. Two, to help you protect yourself from those who might use these principles against you unethically.”

“I suppose knowledge is power,” she conceded.

“And protection,” I reminded.

“Fine,” she said, beginning to reach for her backpack.

I placed my hand on hers to stop her. “I know that you think we are done, but there is one more principle Doctor Cialdini writes about, and it’s a principle that I think you need to understand. He writes about it in one of his later books, one called Pre-suasion.”

“Let me guess,” she mocked. “It’s the stuff that happens before I get persuaded.”

“Exactly,” I nodded. “And we are often unaware of it, so you need to pay attention.”

“Okay,” she said, slipping her hand from beneath mine.

I took a deep breath, and tried to compose my words. “How can I put this so you will understand?” She waited, while I pulled myself together. “Dr. Cialdini speaks about pre-suasion in marketing terms. Give people the right smells, the right music, the right images, and they will be predisposed to like you, or trust you; and therefore more likely persuaded by you. But,” I took another deep breath, “consider a girl who grows up surrounded by Barbie, fairy tales, romance novels, make-up ads, and Instagram. How might that girl be pre-suaded to view her life, or her self-image?” She said nothing, so I continued. “Or consider all the ads about weight loss, and diets, and vitamin supplements. How might all those ads pre-suaded you to change. Given enough time, and repetition, and authority, people can be conditioned, or pre-suaded, to accept almost anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, consider how Forty-Five pre-suaded his supporters to believe that voter fraud is a problem. I mean he was bringing up voter fraud and stolen elections way back in 2015, before he even won the forty-fifth presidency. It was like he was preconditioning people to believe in it, without providing any evidence mind you, and now a majority of his supporters believe that voter fraud lost him the last election. They were already pre-suaded, so it didn’t take much to push them over the edge.”

“I suppose that happens with violence too, right?” she said quietly. “People can get preconditioned to accept violence as a way of life.”

“Violence, corruption, lying, cheating, you name it,” I agreed. “Humans can be conditioned to accept a lot of things that you and I can barely understand.”

“So what do we do about it?”

“We stay focused on what we can influence. We remember that motivations, and pre-suasion are just one element in the persuasion process. We learn to strategize, and build a community that supports our growth. We place our lives into context.”

“Why do I feel like we have gone back to your rules?” she accused.

“Because we have,” I smiled to myself. “Whenever I am faced with a complex question, I go back to my rules.” I snuck her a sly glance, and added. “I have preconditioned myself to do so, and so far the practice has served me well.”

“It’s starting to serve me pretty well too,” she admitted before shoving a few last things into her backpack and flinging it over her shoulder. “See you next week,” she called back to me as she headed out my front door.


If you you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment below. It helps our algorithm.

It would also be great if you shared this post. It also helps our algorithm.

If you would like to join Lynn’s mailing list, or ask a Dear Navigator question click here

Ask the Navigator

You can reach Lynn Marie Sager at

Or join her mailing list


  • Navigating Life in a Whackadoodle World
  • Finding Sense in a Whackadoodle World
  • Teaching Logic in a Whackadoodle World
  • Navigating Life Through Turbulent Tides
  • A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life

Check out her website at

Visit Lynn’s Amazon Author’s Page to read her books

5 thoughts on “How Can We Improve Our Influence?”

    • Aloha Bill,

      The “Call to Action” is the eighth out of nine steps in the Psychological Steps of Persuasion. I have not written a post on this process yet, because I cover the process extensively in two of my books. It is basically rule thirteen. I will look into posting one soon, but in the meantime.

      The steps are:
      1) Gain a rapport, by showing caring, integrity, and judgement (The principle of Liking is important here)
      2) Choose your battles (Is this person really persuadable, or do you have a better use of your time)
      3) Gain favorable attention (Make sure they are open to listening)
      4) Ask permission (You want to ask questions, and need permission to do so)
      5) Ask questions to determine motivation and need
      6) Agreement of Need
      7) Provide authority
      8) Close, also known as the call to action, or getting a commitment
      9) Follow up

      As far as Forty-Five goes, he’d already completed steps one through seven by the morning of January 6. He had authority. He had permission. He had agreement. The only thing left was his call to action.

      Regarding this article, I intended it to be more about certain quirks we humans have in common. Quirks that help people become more, or less, influential. They should be kept in mind throughout the persuasive process, and are not necessarily relegated to just one of the nine steps.

      Hope this helps,


  1. Thank you for your work. You have made a difference in my life. I have read and re-read your books. But I still forget the details. I try to focus on each chapter for a week. 14 weeks and I start over.
    My copies of your books are filled with underlines, highlights, border notes, and end of chapter notes highlighting in my own words the key points you make in each chapter.

  2. Have you noticed how many people attempt to sell you something without pre-suation? like the guy you talked about who woke you in the middle of the night.

    When I build a website I always start my launch with 20 helpful, informative posts to establish a relationship. That’s pre-sell. People won’t buy from you till they know like and trust you. Don’t send people directly to your sales site. Write a review that links to your sales page. That’s pre-suation.


Leave a Comment