Persuasion and Influence: A Carlson School Story

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

One of the first things I learned when I began business school was that we used a lot of frameworks. For marketing we had the 5 C’s and the 4 P’s. In strategy there are Porter’s Five Forces and the concept of the value chain. Finance has NPV and Enterprise Value and even Ops has six-sigma and total quality management (If you have no idea what I am talking about right now, fret not, you too shall learn). No matter your field of study, frameworks abound and you grow quite used to thinking about monumental business problems in relatively small, digestible pieces. 

Despite ample experience applying seemingly simple frameworks to any number of challenges, I still must admit I was a little flummoxed when introduced to a new framework this fall. 

I decided to enroll in a marketing class called Persuasion and Influence taught by a Professor named Vladas Griskevicius. As a graduate of a Liberal Arts institution and natural qualitative thinker, I was THRILLED by a class called Persuasion and Influence. I prided myself on my ability to persuade yet I found my skills at charisma and convincing underappreciated in a world filled with accounting, statistics, and supply chain.

So, imagine my surprise on the first day of class, when good ol’ Vlad announced a FRAMEWORK that we would be using to influence and persuade.

Vlad informed us that when trying to influence others, we had essentially six levers upon which to pull: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity.  As class wrapped up this past week, I spent a little bit of time reflecting on these principles and how they apply to my life as a student today.

The first was reciprocity. Reciprocity seemed straightforward enough. Vlad told us that reciprocity had to be unexpected and to truly reap its benefits; you had to make the first move.

During my time at Carlson, I have experienced reciprocity in many ways—and interestingly enough, without the expectation of ever receiving anything in return. On my birthday last year, which always falls on the second week of school, I had SIX different people bring cake and cards. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of them all that well. They wanted to do something kind for me, without any expectation. In that same vein, my Organizational Behavior professor spent several hours helping me with a group project that wasn’t even for his class last spring. Little (or big) acts of giving are commonplace at Carlson and most often without the expectation of any sort of return…and that is something that I believe truly distinguishes Carlson from other business schools. 

Next, I began to ponder through commitment and consistency. The idea of commitment and consistency is pretty simple; it really just means that if you commit to something in a public way, you are far more likely to act consistently with your promise and follow through on commitment. So just for the sake of research, why don’t you find a room filled with people and say out loud: “I will attend Carlson next year.” 

Good. Now that we got that out of the way, there is social proof. The principle of social proof simply means that we are more likely to do something if we see our peers engaging in the same behavior.  Oftentimes, the best way to convey the idea of social proof is through statistics. 

For example, did you know that 96% of Carlson Full-time grads receive offers within 90 days of graduation? Or that 100% of the class of 2016 received full-internship offers? What about the fact that our MBA program alone has over 53,000 alumni in 95 countries? Or how about that over 30% of my class holds club leadership positions? Doesn’t that make you feel like other people really love Carlson? If it doesn’t it should. Before I get too carried away with bragging and ruin my Minnesota Nice, let’s move on. 

The next element of persuasion that we learned about was liking. It’s a simple enough idea. If people like you, they will be more likely to follow your advice or actions.

Now I must be perfectly honest. I have worked on four continents. I have traveled all over the world and met people of all types, profession and backgrounds. And because of that, I can tell you with full confidence that I have never, especially not in business school, met a group of more humble, kind, fun, intelligent individuals than my peers at Carlson. At Carlson you will meet former educators, yoga instructors, investment bankers, marketers and entrepreneurs. No matter what you are looking for in terms of peers or role models, I can promise you we have one. Though it may sound like I am gushing, I can’t speak highly enough about my peers and I think you will really like them too.

The second to last principle of persuasion and influence is authority. Throughout history, we have seen reasonable individuals do extraordinary things simply because someone perceived to be an authority figure told them to. I can tell you that at Carlson, we have real authority figures, not just perceived ones. We have two of the World’s Best Business Professors as ranked by Poets and Quants, both of whom I have had the privilege of taking class with. We have 112 tenure or tenure track professors (and may I remind you only about 105 students) and all of them are considered authorities in their field. I recently quoted a professor in an Instagram post…need I say more?

The last principal we discussed is the idea of scarcity. The fewer of each “thing” there is, the more people want it. Well folks, we are about as scarce as it gets here at Carlson. Our small size means that each individual gets a personalized experience throughout his or her business school education. Our small class sizes also mean that we get to be selective in who we admit and each class is carefully curated to ensure that it is composed of curious, driven, intellectuals. So while there isn’t room for everyone, there is certainly plenty of room for those who want and deserve to be here. 

So that, ladies and gentleman is a brief overview of the tactics used to persuade and influence individuals: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. Yes, it is a framework but hopefully you can use it in the future to wield responsible influence on the people around you…and didn’t I just persuade you to apply to Carlson?