Levers of Influence. Why do we comply?

Levers of Influence

Humanity social systems can exist because people can collaborate and align on common goals. Without our abilities to influence each other and comply to each others requests our civilization simply would not survive. It is not very important how exactly our ancestors evolved those abilities, probably, being social and collaborative gave significant advantage in Stone Age times. What is important – is to learn what exactly makes us comply. And why?

For sure, we are influenced by facts and rational explanations, but behavioral economics and great book Thinking Fast and Slow prove that people are irrational. There are other factors or levers that significantly impact our judgment and readiness to agree.

I have finished recently a book “Influence. The Psychology of Persuasion”. This book has detailed analysis of main behavioral models (we can call them biases as well) that force us to comply. These biases trigger embedded mechanisms in our brain – skip critical thinking part and jump directly to conclusions and actions. Click and run. Let’s dive deeper into them.


If somebody gives us something, we feel urge to give something back. Favor, gift or our compliance with the next request. There is a deep psychological connection between reciprocity, gratitude and life satisfaction – we feel better when we are participating in exchange of goods and favors. We use this mechanism to influence others decisions and make others feel “much obliged”.

In Japan, normally people say “arigato gozaimasu,”  meaning “thank you”. However, people also say “sumimasen” when they want to express their appreciation or a feeling of regret, guilt, or another negative emotion. For example, when they receive unexpected gift or favor from others.

Practical implementations of reciprocation lever are everywhere. Free samples of products, small gifts after first purchase or a small concession made by one of the parties in negotiation process.


There is famous quote: “People buy from those who they like”. It is a golden rule for every salesperson – in the situation where competing products price and features are the same, people buy from whom they like more. Even if they know that it is just a compliance strategy.

But liking is a vague term. If we will try to decompose it, then we will see that we like people who:

  • Similar to us
  • Give us compliments
  • Easy to contact and ready to cooperate with us.

That is pretty simple to use in real life. Focus on commonalities rather than differences. Show others that you appreciate them and their actions. Be a “go-to-person” who is ready to work on a shared goal.

Liking is the reason why brands go to influencers for advertisements. Because thousands of people like them and inevitably extend their likeness to a brand too.

Social Proof

When I go to a new restaurant, I often ask for the most famous meal in the menu. Collective experience of other visitors cannot be wrong. The same logic applies to product reviews and ratings. We view an action as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.

Social proof lever is especially efficient in ambiguous situations. The more unknown environment we are at, the more we rely on others behaviour. I think this is the reason why in a new city I trust reviews at Google Maps completely and blindly.

So, if you need help, don’t rely on others reaction unless it is clear for them that there is an emergency. A lot of us witnessed situation when a person lies on the ground and people demonstrate zero actions to help the person. Why? Situation is ambiguous and everybody rely on each other reaction. And nobody takes a first step.

Another tip I learned – if you are delivering a webinar and want audience to ask questions, you have to break the ice yourself first. Come up with a couple of artificial questions, read them loud and give an answer. Social proof will do the rest for you.


Yes, in 2022 a lot of corporations are trying to increase span of control and reduce amount of hierarchical levels in an organization. But still, there is great comfort to comply with a request if it is coming directly from a CEO, isn’t it? Like it or not, we want to know who is in charge and who is a decision maker.

The most astonishing example of compliance to authority is well-known Milgram experiment. Check it out. Terrific and frightening at the same time.

We trust more a person who has authority or even possesses it. The power of uniform, doctor’s coat or business suit is real. I personally think that this lever is less important today as it was 20 years ago. However, symbols of authority and trustworthiness have changed, but not the authority itself.


We value something more if it is less available. This lever exploited all the time – limited collections, “last chance to buy” ads and etc. Booking.com shows you that only 3 rooms are still available due to the same reason – in our mind Less Is Best. This a bit flawed logic applies not only to goods, but for opportunities as well.

The prospect theory demonstrates that people assign more value to potential losses than potential gains. I.e. that in case of two identical proposals we will select the one that creates impression of loss avoidance.

Let’s assume following situation. You have successfully passed an interview process at a large tech company and currently at the stage of the offer negotiations. There is a disagreement around amount of vacation days and in a first case a recruiter tells you:

“If you agree to these terms, you will have the offer”.

In the second case the recruiter tells you:

“You have the offer. The only thing you need to do is to agree to these terms.”

In what case you are most likely to comply? I bet, in the second. Because you already have something and it might go away if you don’t comply.

Commitment and Consistency

Who do you want on your team? A person whose beliefs, words and actions don’t match or who is consistent in their behaviour and deeds? A high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. So, it is natural for us always try to act consistently even if an outcome is clearly not favorable to us.

If you gave any, even slight indication that you are interested in a product or put yourself into waiting list, there is much higher probability that you will purchase it. Because it is a demonstration of consistent behaviour. Vice versa logic works as well. If you invested your resources into something already, you will be most probably see it more positively and try to stick with your decision. Because you gave a commitment.

In fact, commitment works deeper than that. If you start to give rationalization of your choice and explain why you select employer X over employer Y, you will feel more inclined to stay with employer X. Why? Because you made a conscious choice.

It is possible to use these levers for your own good. If you write ideas and beliefs you want to adopt, it will influence your behaviour and ease adoption. It may sound a bit magical, but think about why public statements of goals are so powerful? Because when you announce what you want to do or what kind of person you want to be, you have to stick with it. You gave commitment and have to behave consistently.


It may look like we are constantly being manipulated through levers described above. It is partially true – such mechanisms can be exploited by compliance professionals. But evolution created it for a reason – simplify our day to day life and reduce cognitive load on our consciousness.

In majority of situations, levers of influence help us to make decisions faster, less resources consuming. For the rest, we have to rely on critical thinking and analyze incoming compliance requests.

In the next article I will dive deep into unity and how “we-ness” impacts our decision making.

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