Robert Cialdini (Photo Credit: Influence at Work)

To Persuade More Effectively, Pre-Suade First

June 05, 2018 - 9:30 am

This original essay by Robert Cialdini coincides with the release of his book, “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade,” now out in paperback from Simon & Schuster.


Researchers like me have long studied how best to persuade. We’ve learned a lot over the years about which elements to build into a message to elevate its success. But, recently, we’ve begun to realize that by focusing so intently on the message, we’ve missed a crucial component of the process. 

Communicators don’t achieve their greatest success by changing a person’s mind with a cleverly crafted appeal but, rather, by changing the person’s state of mind in the moment before the appeal — specifically, so that the recipient becomes more sympathetic to the (cleverly crafted) message. They do so through pre-suasion: the practice of arranging for an audience to favor a message before experiencing it. 

Let’s explore a few ways small businesses could employ pre-suasion to advance their goals. And let’s begin by examining how to obtain a large competitive contract, one that to win often requires you to make a presentation in front of a team of evaluators. 

In such a situation, after first saying that you want to answer all questions about your proposal as fully as possible, say one more thing: “But, before we start, I wonder if you could answer a question for me. I’m curious, what was it about our company that attracted you to us?” As a consequence, your evaluators will hear themselves saying positive things about you and your company’s products, services, reliability, reputation, etc., putting themselves in a state of mind favorable to your candidacy before you make your case for it. I have an acquaintance who swears he has gotten three wins in a row by employing this pre-suasive technique.

Now, suppose that a few months after securing the contract and getting to know your customer’s business, you have an idea for an add-on that, if approved, would benefit both organizations greatly. You realize that to get your idea accepted, you’ll need the buy-in of a strategically placed individual in your customer’s firm, Jim. So you ask for his feedback on the idea. In so doing, before Jim ever sees your plan, it will be crucial to request his advice concerning your idea, not his opinion about it. Individuals asked to provide advice (versus opinion) on a plan are put in a cooperative state of mind, which makes them more likely to want the plan to succeed. There’s an old saying, “When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.” I’d only add — on the basis of scientific evidence — that if we get that advice, we usually get that accomplice.

But, there’s still an additional hurdle to clear: how to get your proposed add-on funded at the budget level necessary for success. Let’s say you’ve done your homework, examining every element from every angle, and you’ve arrived at a $175,071 figure. Like most of us, you’ll typically round it off to $175,000 before submitting the proposal. That’s a mistake. Specific rather than rounded numbers in your proposal are more likely to be accepted, even if they are for somewhat larger amounts, because that specificity makes it clear that they come from your precise thinking rather than some pie-in-the-sky estimate. Not only should you use an exact number as your new proposal’s budget figure, you should put it at the top of the first page of the proposal, which will establish you, pre-suasively, as a hard thinker and an honest communicator about the financial issues involved.


There’s an additional benefit of knowing about pre-suasion: We can use it to influence ourselves in desired ways. Suppose you want to think creatively, perhaps about a problem that has resisted several traditional efforts in your now-funded project. There’s a simple pre-suasive step you can take to increase the chance you’ll find a novel solution: Before you begin, go to a place with high ceilings. Studies show that rooms with high ceilings lend themselves to more creative problem solving. Open, expansive spaces stimulate open, expansive thinking. 

In sum, an unconventional yet potent form of social influence has emerged that even persuasion scientists have only now come to appreciate. It is pre-suasion, and it offers an important lesson to anyone wishing to persuade more effectively. For maximum impact, it’s not only what you do; it’s also what you do just before you do what you do.


Robert Cialdini is recognized worldwide for his inspired field research on the psychology of influence. He is a New York Times bestselling author. His books, including "Influence," have sold more than three million copies in thirty-three languages. Dr. Cialdini is Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and the president and CEO of Influence at Work, an international company that provides keynotes and influence training on how to use the lessons in Dr. Cialdini’s books ethically and effectively.