Top 5 Persuasion Techniques of 2015

The art of persuasion really is an art form. It’s not always easy to get everyone on board and ready to comply – we are stubborn beings us humans. From kids refusing bath-time and shy friends avoiding going out, to simple requests to your other half going in one ear and out the other and bosses not taking the 1000th hint and giving you that much deserved pay rise… come on, persuading even ourselves to do what is best for us isn’t always a walk in the park.

Thankfully, psychology research continues to advance our understanding of how to use persuasion techniques, making getting others to comply without a fuss just that much simpler. Below we have outlined the best persuasion techniques backed by science. We have placed them in order based on calculations involving numerous studies so as to indicate just how effective the techniques really are. However, keep in mind that certain techniques may suit certain situations and people more than others.

 Persuasion Technique #1: Disrupt-Then-Reframe

Slightly sneaky but highly effective and at the root of the disrupt-then-reframe technique, as well as some styles of hypnotic induction, is mild confusion. The key is to disrupt intuitive thinking processes by playing with words a little in your request.

Famous examples include changing “It’s $3 for 8 cards”, which is how we standardly talk about such prices, to “It’s 300 pennies for 8 cards”. Other examples include changing the well-known yummy word “cupcakes” to the nonsensical word “halfcakes” to sell more of the baked goods, as well as flipping words around to get more charity donations by changing “some money” to “money some”.

Wait. Disruption is only half of the story. Next comes reframing. Immediately, while their cognitive faculties are disorientated by the disruption, follow through with a reason to comply with the request. For example ending with “…it’s a bargain!”, “…it’s good for you!” or “…it’s fun!” are great ways to reframe the request and remind them that complying with your suggestion is worth it.

However, don’t dawdle. Reframing works only within the moment of distraction. Placing the disruption first is thought increase susceptibility to the reframing statement and reduce counter arguments and excuses as the listener’s brain may be begging for cognitive closure after the unexpected disruption. Fittingly, research has shown that those that people that are more uncomfortable with uncertainty are more likely to respond to the disrupt-then-reframe technique.

 Persuasion Technique #2: Legitimization of Paltry Favors

This might sound fancy, but it’s not. Legitimization of paltry favors simply means making even the smallest amount of help sound legitimate and useful. Has someone been repeatedly avoiding your requests for their time? Try “Even one second of your time would be fantastic”. Trying to get people to sponsor your charity fun run? Try “Every little penny helps”.

As with the disrupt-then-reframe technique, this technique works well verbally and simply having the legitimization statement printed on a t-shirt has proven to be effective. When trying to encourage more people to donate blood, one study found that having the message, “Even a donation one time in your life will help”, on their t-shirts, resulted in almost twice the number of people following through and giving blood.

Why does this work so well? Psychology research hasn’t provided definitive answers as of yet. It may simply be that compliance is made less avoidable when the minimal amount of help is required as it makes excuses for failing to help become inapplicable. Or it may be that the technique induces guilt or shame and jeopardizes the person’s ‘helpful citizen’ image. On the other hand, it might have nothing to do with the legitimization of paltry favors and may be more about perceiving that the person making the request is so desperate for help that anything is better than nothing.

 Persuasion Technique #3: But You Are Free (BYAF)

But You Are Free (BYAF) is a beauty of a technique that was first developed in freedom loving France in 2000. Now, there is very convincing evidence from a meta-analysis of 42 studies totaling over 22,000 participants that suggests using BYAF can double your chances of someone saying “yes” to you.

You wouldn’t believe how simple it is. First make your request. Then include the convincing punchline “but you are free.” You simply remind them that they have a choice, “I am suggesting X, but you are free to choose”. The most important thing to remember is recognizing the target’s freedom to say “no.”

The exact wording isn’t really important. You can get results using whichever words you prefer, like “but obviously do not feel obliged” or “but you don’t have to”. In fact, a study published this year found that simply wearing a t-shirt that says the word “liberty” while making the request, induced the BYAF persuasion effect without even having to use words! MAGIC!

 Persuasion Technique #4: Foot in the Door

The Foot-in-the-door technique is based on the principle that a person is more likely to comply with a larger demand after saying yes to a smaller one. The key here is having consistency between the two requests; they should be similar in nature.

Asking for help to carry your heavy bags before asking for $1000 is not in the same ballpark and likely won’t help your powers of persuasion much. However, asking for help to carry your bags prior to asking to hitch a ride to and from the furniture shop next week is more of a sure bet.

A great example of a science experiment involving this technique involved trying to get 360 women to go on a date with a young man by him talking to them in the street. He got his foot in the door by either asking for a light for his cigarette or asking for directions. Naturally most people will help. Then he swooped in to seal the deal and asked her out on a date.

While simply asking for the date without putting his foot in the door first resulted in only 3% of women agreeing, a whopping 15% of women said yes to going out with the bold gent when he got his foot in the door first.

Persuasion Technique #5: Door in the Face

The door in the face technique is the opposite of the foot-in-the-door technique, with a recent comparison between the techniques indicating they are similarly effective. It involves making an offer that is likely to be refused, followed by the offer that you really want accepted.

One example in the literature is where a woman in a bar asked people to buy her drink because her boyfriend had left without paying the bill. After the subject refused, the confederate requested only 2 or 3 coins. Low and behold more people gave up some coinage for the poor women if they were first asked to buy her a drink and refused, than if simply asked for the coins in the first place.

Interestingly, one should not delay between making the slightly unrealistic request and the second less demanding request. Moreover, you can team up with a partner in crime as the requests do not need to come from the same person. One person can present the easy to refuse large request, quickly followed by the second person making the more easy request.

A recent study adds more to the story suggesting that the door-in-the-face technique has a significant effect on verbal compliance, yet its effect on behavioral compliance is statistically insignificant. This means that you should be careful where you use this technique. If you get someone to say yes but the request involves something they have to do later and out of your sight then don’t bother!


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Image via Janis Smits / Shutterstock.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Lead Editor and Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor. A scientific consultant, writer, and researcher in a variety of fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology, and biophysical chemistry, you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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