I once ran a chemical plant for what was then ICI. I was a shift supervisor at Rhodes in Sydney, a zone now redeveloped as a major shopping and residential apartment area. The world changes, and so have I.

When you run a continuous process chemical plant, the money is in keeping it online 24/7 and running as close to maximum production as you can. In those days, when the pressure was on my style was much more ‘push’ than ‘pull’. ‘Move on this quickly, please!’ in a loud voice. Of course, contractors did not always take kindly to such pressure, but I had a level of authority that ensured it worked most of the time. But it did not win me their support at other times of the year or in dealing with problems that were not specifically theirs.

Since those days I have learned that when advising others, pulling is more effective than pushing in the long term. Let me explain by using my version of Cialdini's persuasion principles. I have renamed or put a different spin on some of the principles to demonstrate optimal influencing strategies. More importantly I have listed them in hierarchical order, moving from push strategies to pull strategies.

Push strategies

Push strategies are about imposing your will through direction or instruction. At some level, however subtle, force is involved: 

  • Authority: Having authority is definitely an advantage when seeking to persuade. Some people resent others imposing their authority and while they will usually comply, they may do so with little goodwill.
  • Scarcity: Creating scarcity, for example through limiting your availability, may drive people to seize the chance but you have forced their hand.

  • Credibility: If you have credibility people are more likely to listen to you, but they are not necessarily compelled by what you say.  

Pull strategies 

Pull strategies are about motivating people to listen to you and follow your advice:

  • Reciprocity: Doing something good or nice for someone inspires them to return the favour.
  • Flexibility: Be prepared for compromise and don’t be greedy. If you first gain agreement on something small and easy, you can more easily build towards bigger goals.
  • Desirability: If they like you and the picture you are painting they are very likely to follow your advice.

So start playing a longer-term game and stop pushing and start pulling!

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