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The science of persuasion and getting the business results you want

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Thursday May 23, 2013 at 11:43am

In business, and in our day to day life, we make decisions all the time. So do our customers and potential customers. By understanding some of the science behind how decisions are made you can really increase your chances of getting the results you want. Here’s how.

When making decisions, especially in business, you would expect people to use all available information, right? In fact the opposite turns out to be true. Because we have such busy overloaded lives we take short cuts and apply rules. The research behind these findings goes back 60 years, yet it still rings true today. It appears there are six shortcuts we all take when trying to decide on something. So, by understanding these shortcuts and applying them in an ethical manner you enhance the chances of someone being persuaded to do what you want them to do.

Let’s take a look at these decision making shortcuts.


People are obliged to give back to others what they have in turn been given first. So, if a friend invites you to a party you feel obliged to invite them back. Or if a colleague does you a favour you are likely to return the compliment. Research shows that a restaurant giving a mint at the time they present the bill increases tips by around 3%. Bizarre but true! So, if you are a waiter the best way to increase tips is to leave one mint, walk away and then come back and say for you nice people here is an extra mint and research shows that tips go through the roof. Be the first to give and ensure what you give is personalised and unexpected.


People want more of those things they can have less of. So sales of Concorde flights greatly increased the day after British Airways announced it was cancelling its twice daily flight to New York in 2003. The lesson here is not only telling people about the benefits of your product but also what is unique about it and what they stand to lose if they fail to consider using it.


People follow the lead of credible knowledgeable experts. For example, physiotherapists have more chance of persuading patients to do exercise if they display their qualifications on the wall. It is important to signal to others what makes you a credible, knowledgeable authority before trying to influence them. Someone else telling others about your authority works just as well, even if it comes from within your organisation.


People like to be consistent with things they have previously said or done. A dentist’s surgery reduced missed appointments by 18% simply by asking the patient to write their own appointment card rather than the secretary writing it for them. Ask for voluntary active public commitments in writing when trying to persuade using the consistency rule.


People are more likely to say yes to people they like. Within this there are 3 factors. Firstly we like people who are similar to us. We like people who pay us compliments and also like people who cooperate with us towards mutual goals.


Especially when they are uncertain people will look to the actions of others to determine their own behaviour. Hotels usually ask us to reuse towels to save energy. However, if the hotel put on the same sign the percentage of guest reusing towels, the towel reuse rates increases substantially.

Using the science of persuasion in your business

When thinking about developing your business you might want to think about the psychology implicit in your message and whether you can improve on that message.

As my colleague, Richard White will tell you there is no one simple way to improve your business. It is all about doing lots of things a bit better. If you are interested in improving your business performance give me or Richard a call to discuss how we are helping businesses similar to yours.

Andy Parker
Accountant and Business Advisor

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Parker Chartered Accountants and Financial Advisors is the trading name for PLW Advisors Ltd (Registered No. 10396831), and Parker Financial Planning LLP (Registered No. OC347027). Parker Financial Planning LLP is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. All companies are registered in England and Wales – registered office contact details here