6 Ways People Influence You

People who know how your thinking works can use that knowledge to influence the decisions you make.
(670 words)
IELTS Reading Questions:
Matching Headings and True / False / Not Given

A  We have a lot of choices in life, and our brains often take shortcuts as a way to manage making so many decisions. And people who know about these shortcuts and how our thinking works can use their knowledge to influence the decisions we make.

B  Much of the initial work on understanding influence was done by Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is a professor of marketing and psychology who spent two and a half years researching what he calls the ‘influence professions’ – salespeople, marketers, and politicians, for example – to find out what they were doing to get us to say ‘yes’. He discovered that there were six principles of influence (later seven) that were commonly used: reciprocity, scarcity, commitment and consistency, liking, consensus, and authority.

C  Reciprocity is an instinct we have to reciprocate – to give back to people when they give something to us. For example, when people give you free samples in shops, as well as hoping you will like their product, they’re also hoping that your reciprocity instinct will make you buy something, Cialdini explains. He refers to a study in a candy store in the USA which showed how effective this is: when customers were given a piece of chocolate as they came into the store, they were 42% more likely to buy something.

D  The second principle, scarcity, means that when there is less of something, we tend to want it more or believe that it has more value. Companies use this to get you to say ‘yes’ by saying that there is a limited number of something, or that an offer is time-limited. Marketing executive Samuel Hum lists 19 examples of how this principle is used in marketing, including hotel websites stating ‘only x number of rooms left’, Amazon’s ‘today’s deals’, and Starbucks selling special Christmas drinks.

E  Consistency refers to a desire we have to be consistent – to act in the same way or to be the same as before. Cialdini explains that one way that companies use this is to get you to agree to do something in the future. This works because if you have already said that you will do something, you will be more likely to do it because of your desire to avoid seeming inconsistent.

F  We are also more likely to say ‘yes’ to people that we like, so Cialdini named the fourth principle liking. And one thing that makes us like people more is if they are similar to us, says persuasion trainer Steve Martin. He describes how business students got better deals in negotiations by using this principle: 90% of these students came to satisfying agreements when they chatted a little and found something in common with the other person before starting the negotiations. In contrast, only 55% of students who began negotiations straightaway came to successful agreements.

G  Consensus means we tend to follow what other people do, especially when they are similar to us, and especially in situations in which we feel uncertain. Cialdini explains that if other people are doing something, we tend to think it’s probably a good thing for us to do, too. Putting a Best Seller label on items is one way that shops use this principle, and Cialdini gives an example of how a restaurant in Beijing wrote, ‘this is one of our most popular items’ on the menu, as a way to increase sales.

H  The final principle is authority: we tend to trust and follow people who we think are experts and who have authority. Martin explains that for this principle to have an effect, people need to show their expertise in some way, and gives an example of how physiotherapists are more able to get patients to follow their exercise program if they display their medical diplomas on the wall.

I  Now that you know these principles, you might be able to notice when a salesperson is trying to influence you. And perhaps next time you’re in the supermarket, you can accept that free sample, eat it, and walk away without feeling bad.

IELTS Reading Questions for Influence:
Matching Headings & True / False / Not Given.

Sources and links from 6 Ways People Influence You

YouTube video of Robert Cialdini explaining the six principles of influence.
Article by Samuel Hum about how scarcity is used in marketing.
YouTube video about the science of persuasion by Cialdini and Steve Martin.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


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This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Nimish

    Great! I got all right.

    1. Nick

      Well done.

      1. Chandni

        Hey Nick,
        Can u please explain answer for 11 and 13.

        1. Nick

          Hi Chandi.

          Number 11 is from the last part of paragraph F:
          It says, ‘90% of these students came to satisfying agreements when they chatted a little and found something in common with the other person before starting the negotiations; only 55% of students who began negotiations straightaway came to successful agreements.’
          (‘straightaway’ means immediately, very quickly)
          So, 90% came to satisfying agreements when they chatted first; only 55% came to successful agreements when they started straightaway (didn’t chat first)
          = there were less successful business agreements when people started negotiations quickly = business agreements were worse when they started quickly = False

          Number 13 is a bit more difficult, but the line you are looking for is, ‘… in order to influence others, experts need to show their expertise in some way.’
          The meaning is that if they don’t show their expertise in some way, other people might not know they are experts = people don’t always know = False.
          In T/F/NG questions, be careful of words like ‘always’.

          Hope that helps.

      2. chandni

        I am so glad to find this useful site to practice. Thank you so much.

  2. Nirbhay

    Thank you for posting this interesting article. Where I can find more articles?

  3. Jolie

    Hi Nick
    All the marketing stuff is actually psychology, isn’t it?
    I think that is one of the reasons why people nowadays have to give away their some natural kindness for survival.
    Really like your articles which is connecting with our life and the unconscious part of ourselves.
    Thanks, and take care:- )

    1. Nick

      Thanks very much Jolie.
      Yeah, I’m not a fan of marketing, but I thought these ideas were interesting.

      1. Jolie

        Yes, they are.

  4. sweet

    Thank you for your great website, it’s really useful. I have a question; is it possible for you to classify the passages to the degree of hardness?

    1. Nick

      Thanks Sweet. Glad you like it.
      And thanks for your idea; it’s a good one, but I’m not sure how I would do it… I’ll add it to my ‘to do’ list and see if I can think of a way to organise the articles and display that on the site.

    2. Nick

      Hi Sweet.
      I haven’t classified them yet, but I have just added the word count for each article.
      I know length and difficulty don’t match perfectly, but generally shorter articles will be easier.
      Hope that helps.

  5. Alina

    Dear Nick,
    I would like to express my gratitude for your wonderful articles. I strongly believe that English learners will enjoy the enormous benefits of your website.
    I am looking forward to more useful posts.

    1. Nick

      Hi Alina
      Thanks very much for your nice comment.
      Glad you’re enjoying the articles.

  6. Ann

    No wonder why the waiters always introduce the best seller in their menu, however, the taste of food were always just so so~ haha, everything is marketing

    1. Nick

      Yes. When you learn these priniciples, you start to notice them being used.

      1. Ann

        Thanks so much for sharing ^_^

  7. Rick

    Thanks Nick.
    This is a great idea, specially for those (like me) practicing for ielts test.
    I wish you the best.

    1. Nick

      Thanks Rick

  8. Rawia

    Thank you so much Nick.

  9. Brathap Singh

    Now only I learned these principles ….haha ….. great article ….

    1. Nick

      Thanks Brathap.

  10. Suky

    It’s hard to guess which topic you will mention every week~ I like this article~ Because I am the one who was mostly influenced by sales and marketers! I might not fall into a consumption trap again after reading~ People’s phycology is such an interesting thing, ha? Everyone think he is the most smart person, but we are all influenced by others without knowing anything. Sometimes I even think I took advantages of them. What a happy silly girl~ hahahaha

    1. Nick

      Hi Suky
      Thanks for the comment; I enjoy reading your comments each month.
      Glad you liked the article, and yeah, maybe now you will notice when salespeople try to use these techniques.
      Hope everything is going well for you in Australia.

  11. JOY

    Thanks very insightful. Miss just one

    1. Nick

      Thanks Joy.
      Well done.

  12. Beksultan

    Thanks for your website, it is really helpful for IELTS preparation. I would like to know why the last question is False. It says People always know who is an expert. In the passage, it says We tend to trust people who we THINK are experts. Is that the information we should be looking for?

    1. Nick

      Hi Beksultan.
      Thanks for your positive feedback.
      That one is tricky, but the line you are looking for is, ‘… in order to influence others, experts need to show their expertise in some way.’
      The meaning is that if they don’t show their expertise in some way, other people might not know they are experts.
      In T/F/NG questions, be careful of words like ‘always’.

  13. amina

    thanks for this useful article .i find it very challenging anf helpful to preapre my elts exam

    1. Nick

      You’re welcome.
      Glad you found it useful.

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