3 Universal Goals to Influence People

3 Universal Goals to Influence People

Jan 18
3 Universal Goals to Influence People

The art and science of persuasion is often discussed as though changing people’s minds is about using the right arguments, the right tone of voice or the right negotiation tactic. But effective influence and persuasion is also about understanding people’s motivations.


It is easy to forget that there are universal goals which we are barely aware of.

Techniques of persuasion

So let’s have a look at six common techniques of influence that you’ll have come across.

1. Liking: It’s much easier to convince someone if the person likes you, try to flatter in order to build attraction.
2. Social proof. People like to follow one another, so they will show you which way the world is heading.
3. Scarcity. Even when companies have warehouses full of a product, they still advertise using time-limited offers that emphasize scarcity.
4. Authority. People are strongly influenced by experts. Successful influencers flaunt their knowledge.
5. Reciprocity. Give something to get something. When people feel they owe you they are more likely to agree to your wants. This feeling could arise from something as simple as a compliment.
6. Consistency. Most people want to keep their word. If someone makes a commitment, particularly if it’s out loud or in writing, they are much more likely to keep it.
There are a lot more, but these are most often quoted in business circles. The reason this works is that they tap into three basic human goals, and these goals are the key to understanding.

1. Goal of affiliation

In the most part people are social beings that want to be liked. Rejection is not on the plate and we’ll do whatever possible to avoid that.

We reciprocate because it sends a message about our sociability. We try to elicit liking from others by behaving in a way we feel will be attractive, like agreeing or complimenting them.

Not only do we want approval from specific people, we also want it from society at large. We want to think and believe to be broadly in line with what others do. It’s not impossible to be different, but it is difficult.

The techniques of liking and reciprocity mentioned above clearly play on our desire for affiliation, as do many other techniques of persuasion and influence. Most people are followers, so influencers like to give us something or someone to follow.

2. Goal of accuracy

To achieve our goals in what is a complicated world, we have to work out the best course of action to take to achieve that goal.

It could be accuracy in social situations, such as how to deal with the boss or how to make friends, or it could be accuracy in financial matters like how to get a good deal, or it could be accuracy in existential matters. Whatever the arena, people are always striving for the ‘right’ answer.

Influencers understand our need to be correct and so they will try to offer things that appeal to our need for correctness. Experts or authority figures influence people heavily because they offer us a ‘correct’ view or way of doing things.

The techniques of social proof and scarcity both nag at our desire to be accurate because we assume other people are likely to be right and we don’t want to lose out on a limited sweet deal.

3. Goal of maintaining positive self-concept

People want to protect their view of themselves because it takes a long time to build up a comprehensible view of oneself in the world.

Persuaders will invoke our sense of self-consistency. A seemingly trivial but very instructive example is the foot-in-the-door technique. This is where an influencer asks you to agree to a relatively minor request before asking for a bigger one. Because people feel somehow that it would be inconsistent to agree to one request and then refuse the next one, they will likely say yes again.

People will go to quite some extremes to keep their positive view of them self.

Unconscious motivators

Everybody wants to be accurate, to be affiliated with other mainstreams to maintain their own concept. Effective persuasion and influence attempts can target one or even several of these goals.

With these goals in mind it is possible to tailor persuasion attempts to particular characteristics, rather than relying on transparency techniques. Whether it’s at work, dealing with your boss, or at home negotiating with a neighbor, we can all benefit from thinking about other people’s unconscious motivations. Then we can work out a plan how to align our message with their goals to achieve our success in the long run.

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