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Expert Tips Direct From Our Influence at Work Masterclass

Steve Martin shows how to be influential and persuasive in your work

steve martin blog

We face a sea of information every day. It's time-consuming and exhausting. So, it's no surprise that we humans have learned to take shortcuts.

We buy the phone our friends buy, we choose the café that looks popular, we drive the car that’s consistently reliable. 

Turns out what we are doing here is looking for a cue, a “rule of thumb”, that allows us to shortcut decision-making – saving us time and energy. 

Together, these human behaviours lead us to the 6 principles of influence first exposed 40 years ago by Influence author and researcher Robert Cialdini and shared in our Influence at Work masterclass this week with Steve Martin (See our 2023 line-up of live virtual and in-person events). Here’s a quick summary of the learnings.

6 Principles of Influence

“…..the ever-accelerating pace and informational crush of modern life will make this particular form of unthinking compliance more and more prevalent in the future.” – Robert Cialdini

Steve Martin asks us to think of the 6 Principles of Influence and Persuasion as a decision trigger for “yes.”

When one or another of the principles is present in a request, the tendency to “trigger” agreement increases, he says.

Here are the 6 principles:

·       Reciprocity – You give something, you’re likely to receive something in return.

·       Liking – People do business with people they like. 

·       Authority – If you’re considered an authority, you have more chance of influencing.

·       Social Proof – People tend to follow the herd. 

·       Consistency – We like to act in a way that’s consistent with our values or beliefs.

·       Scarcity – We are attracted to things that are scarce.

Free Download: 10 Leadership Qualities That Will Help Solve Challenges in 2023

3 Buckets to Sort the Principles

Influence challenges can be sorted into 3 buckets:

  • RELATIONSHIP-BASED: For building relationships, connecting with others, gaining access, or repairing a damaged relationship, try the principles of reciprocity and liking.

  • UNCERTAINTY/DECISION-BASED: For reducing uncertainty and anxiety, influencing decision, or getting people “off the fence” try the principles of authority and social proof.

  • MOTIVATING ACTION: To turn intentions into action, motivate people into doing, or for getting stuff done, try applying the principles of consistency and scarcity.


The key to activating the principle of reciprocity is to give something first. McDonald’s restaurants across Latin America saw a 20% increase in parents buying coffees when the restaurants switched from giving a free balloon to children as they left to presenting children with a free balloon when they entered.  

Intangible gifts (as above) can be more powerful than tangible gifts, and more powerful again when they are perceived to be significant, unexpected, and personalised.

Tip: Don’t just email a report. Print it out and send a signed and personalised copy to the client.


Liking is activated by commonalities, compliments, and co-operation.

We like people who are similar to us.

In one study of negotiation outcomes, the percentage of deadlocks fell 24% when parties did some prior sharing of similarities.

Humour works too! An experiment sending emails with or without a cartoon showed a 15.2% increase in business awarded when a cartoon was included.

Tip: The first rule of influence is to like others. So, make sure you point out something you like about the person you’re dealing with. 


Humans look up to those who are an authority in a certain domain. They look for knowledge/expertise and credibility/trustworthiness.

And, what you say to people pales in comparison to what other people say about you.

In an experiment of real estate agents, receptionists were told to change how they answered incoming calls from “Let me put you through to John X, head of sales” to “Let me put you through to head of sales John X, he’s got 20 years’ experience in this specific area, trained in London [etc]…he’s the best person you can speak to.”

There was a 19.6% increase in appointments made, and 15.5% increase in sales made.

Tip: Consider how you are introduced before you present your case. At meetings, instead of going around the table introducing yourselves, have your team leader share each team member’s expertise with the others in the room.

Social Proof

Social proof is activated by signals of:

·       What people see others are doing.

·       What people perceive others to be doing.

·       What people see or perceive to be approved of.

Whenever possible show people how others like them have acted (especially in conditions of uncertainty). Use testimonials from those who most closely resemble your target customer.

Show that your prduct or services are popular, or part of a trend that's on the up.

Experiments show that a shopping channel can increase sales by spruiking “Operators are standing by, call now!” but can significantly improve sales by spruiking “If operators are busy, call again!” (The second version suggests many people are choosing to buy the product).

Similarly, a restaurant can lift sales of desserts by putting “This is our most popular dessert” on one choice. Sales of all desserts on the dessert menu lift by 18% if you highlight one is popular.

Tip: Use social proof in situations where people are uncertain. If you have choices available, never lose an opportunity to say which of the options is popular.


Consistency is activated by undertaking a commitment or stance on an issue, and the reminder of a prior (public) choice or position.

The most effective commitments tend to be voluntary, active and effortful, and public.

Loyalty reward cards can combine reciprocity and consistency. Giving customers a headstart on their reward card (by stamping a couple of squares on the card “to get you started”) has shown to a 34% in customers completing the loyalty reward cards.

In one experiment at a medical centre, patient no-shows were reduced by 18% after patients were directed to fill in the appointment cards themselves (it takes effort, it’s a public commitment, and reminds them of their choice to book).

Tip: Use the “progress endowment” phenomenon (whereby people given a headstart towards a goal exhibit greater persistence trying to reach the goal) by pointing out progress being made to clients and customers.


“The feeling of being in competition for scarce resources has powerful motivating properties.” – Robert Cialdini

Research shows products and opportunities are seen to be more valuable as they become less available. 

Take the “plane ahead of its time”, the now-retired supersonic jet Concorde. When it announced in 2003 it was finishing up (largely due to reduced demand), tickets sold out.

We also all remember Australia’s mad grab for toilet paper during the pandemic when stocks ran low.

Part of the scarcity principle is our innate need to avoid losses. Losses loom twice as large in our psyche compared with gains. When you ask a customer to change to your product, understand they deal with a fear of any losses arising from this change.

Tip: People are likely to take action to avoid losses. Instead of talking about the savings they’ll make with your product or service, talk about the losses they face if they don’t make the switch.  

About Steve Martin:

Steve Martin is the CEO of Influence at Work, and the co-author of Messengers, Who We Listen to, Who we Don’t, and Why, and the Royal Society nominated international bestseller Yes! 60 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion.

He is Faculty Director of Behavioural Science at Columbia Business School (Executive Education), and has guest lectured at Harvard, the London School of Economics, and London Business School.

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