Authority: Trust Us, We’re Professionals
“Conforming to the dictates of authority figures has always had genuine practical advantages for us.”
Do you want to use the persuasion of authority to your benefit, or would you prefer that others use it against you?
The effects of authority are so important the godfather of persuasion, Robert Cialdini, included it as a fundamental tool in Influence. Whether or not you’re aware of the influence of authority, it affects a lot of your decisions every day.
HOW AUTHORITY WORKS
Authority promotes deference; others will defer to you more if they see you as an authority. They’ll be more likely to comply with any requests, and more likely to believe your statements are true.
If information or a request comes from an authority, homo sapiens’ default is to not think about or question it. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it’s a deep-seated evolutionary trait built on our brain’s laziness:
- Efficiency — Being able to rely on authorities enables us to have hierarchies in organizations that lead to efficient economies.
- Shortcut to Better Decisions — In most instances, relying on authorities is a shortcut to making better decisions since most legitimate authorities usually have better understanding and experience than non-authorities.
Keep in mind that “authority” doesn’t just mean some official certified status. It can also be based on experience (“8+ years in the industry”), knowledge (what’s good on the menu), ratings, comments, industry connections, or anything else that gives you an edge or makes you a valuable source.
WHEN AUTHORITY INFLUENCES BEST
You’re not only influenced by legitimate authorities; you’re also susceptible to persuasion by mere symbols of authority.
Some common symbols of authority are:
- Titles — Using a title will give you automatic deference. Ideally, titles are earned badges of legitimacy (e.g., PhD, MD). But a mere label (e.g., “Chief Strategist”, “Mixologist”) will usually cause others to give you some level of deference.
- Clothing — You will get some deference from others if you’re dressed in a way that makes you look like an authority, expert, or generally competent person (e.g., a well-tailored suit).
- Accessories — Similar to clothing, tasteful accessories like a nice briefcase, stylish watch, or pocket square can give you an appearance of authority.
You should be aware of the effects of impartiality on authority. The more you appear to be an impartial authority, the more others will defer to your authority. To avoid the appearance of bias, you should keep in mind the following:
- Emphasize Fairness — You should make a point to emphasize that you value fairness (of course, you should also actually value fairness, too).
- Mention Accommodations — A good way to display your impartiality is to mention things you’ve given up or compromised on in order to accommodate the other person’s interest.
- Avoid Discussion of Your Financial Gain — Don’t talk about your financial interest in getting a person to act a certain way. It reminds others that you have an incentive that may not align with theirs.
- Mention a Minor Disadvantage — You can start by acknowledging a slight disadvantage, but follow it up with a larger advantage. For example, if you’re selling a product: “our product costs more…but it lasts three times longer.”
HOW YOU WILL LEVERAGE AUTHORITY
As with all levers of persuasion, you should only use authority ethically; it’s in your long-term interest to do so. Some ideas to get you started:
- Publications — Do you have any official publications? Can you put together resources (e.g., PDF guides) or newsletters?
- Cite Established Authorities — Can you cite other established authorities? Your reliance on notable names makes you appear more reliable (see, for example, how this article references, Cialdini, the godfather of influence in the beginning).
- Cite Others that Cite You — Can you visibly show or mention others that have cited or relied on you? This could include references in a publication, testimonials, shout outs on social media.
- Titles— Do you have any titles, certifications, or labels you could use more visibly? Are there any you could obtain? Could you “revamp” yourself or your company to provide employees with more “authoritative” titles?
- Clothing — How can you dress in a way that creates more authority?
- Accessories — What accessories can you use to promote your status as an authority?
- Impartiality — Once you’ve established yourself as an authority, how can you communicate that you’re impartial and fair?
- Accommodations — What have you given up, compromised, or gone out of your way for for others? How can you communicate these?
- Minor Disadvantages — What disadvantages to your product/service/point of view could you mention starting out? What bigger advantage will you immediately follow up with?
- Images — You can establish authority not only via words, but also through images. These images could include you speaking at an event, or you dressed in authoritative clothes (e.g., a suit).
How have you used authority as a lever of persuasion? Where have you seen it used by others? Share your expertise in the comments.
You want to be someone who maximizes your positive impact on the world, right?
Every time you interact with the world, the tools of persuasion are used for or against you. Fortunately for you, they’re easy to learn. Levers of Persuasion is a winning, trusted site for helping you learn and hone these tools.
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