How to Persuade Others

Have you ever had a request from a charity for a donation accompanied by a small gift, like a pen or a address stickers? The answer is probably yes because the idea of reciprocity is a frequently used tool because it works so well. How to persuade people to do things is one of the most studied fields in psychology.

Give to Receive?

The principle of reciprocity is simple; give someone a gift before you attempt to persuade them to do something and they’re much more likely to ‘give’ you something back. Most people have a sense of fair play that makes them feel they should offer you something in return. As you read the request from the charity, holding the pen in your hand, even though you know what they are doing, you feel more compelled to give them something than if the request had arrived simply as a letter.


Written baldly like that it sounds to me decidedly dodgy and manipulative (as it often can when we start analysing how and why we behave the way we do).

But actually, we teach our children to do this from an early age when we encourage them to share their own toys so they can be allowed to play with the toys of their friends.It’s a form of socialising too.

And would it be ethical to continually try and persuade others to do what you want them to without offering anything in return? As I write this I realise (gulp) that in a way it is exactly what I am doing by writing this blog.

I freely share my knowledge and skills here and in the newsletter. In effect I guess it is a gift to you (even if you do put it on a par with that misshapen hand knitted jumper from Auntie Gladys who thinks you still like candy pink and fairies…)


In return, people ReTweet me on Twitter, forward my links to colleagues, recommend me to friends etc, giving me a wider audience and a potential pool of women who may use my services one day or attend one of my courses. (Although to be totally honest I often get carried away by my love of writing and sharing knowledge and forget to put any links in to what I actually do! Fortunately I work with a great marketing expert or I would be permanently eating lentils!)

What do you think? Do you feel manipulated and tricked in some way when a free pen drops through your mailbox? Do you actually notice when this form of persuasion is happening? How do you persuade others- work or home? I would love to hear from you!


Posted on February 22nd, 2010 by

7 Responses to “Persuasion”

  1. Hi Jane,

    I can really identify with this post, really in tune with your thinking here! I love to share and reciprocate too. It’s a great feeling to be able to support and help other people and after all, it costs nothing to share and Retweet! Have a great day!


  2. I have to say that “freebies” that are not wanted do nothing for me. I do not tend to notice them – we once received a free bar of chocolate – no idea who from but we fought over the chocolate in the office!
    Freebies such as advice that come via twitter and LinkedIn are very different – I really do appreciate them as it is something I need and want.
    Andy Heapworth rang me with great advice about my blog and I have been happy to mention this as often as I can. I think it is human nature to want to give but I really enjoy being able to give something back. Hope that makes sense!

  3. For me, the distinction is between feeling obligated to give because someone has given to me and choosing to give regardless of whether or what I have received.

    The first I don’t do. They can send me all of the address labels they want, and I will still choose whether this is a charity in which I want to invest. If I give out of guilt or obligation, I miss out on the good feeling that I like about giving.

    The second is the kind I experience so often in this online community. I feel grateful every day that I have the opportunity to share and receive knowledge.

  4. Ros Baynes says:

    Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: Science & practice is excellent on this topic.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks, Ros. I don’t actually know it, although my book shelves contain many of your excellent publications!

  5. Hi Jane, fascinating topic.

    As explained by Dr Cialdini is his landmark book, ‘reciprocity’, used as a way to build internal pressure in others to return the favour, is a subtle, but high pressure persuasion technique.

    People do it because it works.

    My preference is that people are honest and upfront about the techniques they use, rather than furtively manipulating people.

    Best to you, Robin 🙂

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Robin, furtive manipulation is not my style either! I did my post grad training in the early 80s when manipulation, or win at all costs, often reared its ugly head, causing me to have a few run ins with tutors! When training, running seminars, coaching etc I am always very explicit about what we are doing and why. Thanks for your comment!

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