Use Psychological “Weapons of Influence” to Negotiate Salary

We all know someone who can talk themselves in and out of any situation. They have charisma, an ability to sell their ideas, and somehow always seem to get what they want.

But what if we don’t naturally have those skills? What if we can’t persuade others to get what we want, and in the context of this post, negotiate a higher salary?

In his book, Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionDr. Robert Cialdini outlines the “weapons of influence” master persuaders use.

Through a lifetime of study, Dr. Cialdini has learned that the greatest influencers use powerful social and cultural forces to their advantage in a form of persuasive jiu jitsu.

Because we live in such a complex world, we use shortcuts to help us make decisions. We have automatic, instinctual reactions to certain triggering events, which salesmen, politicians, and other expert influencers can use against us.

An incredible example of this is the sabre-toothed blenny, which uses other fish’s automatic, instinctual reactions to its advantage. When a larger fish see a bluestreak cleaner wrasse perform a dance, it becomes docile and allows the little cleaner fish to eat the parasites off its flesh in a mutually beneficial relationship.

When the little fish dances (trigger), the big fish holds still (automatic reaction).

The sabre-toothed blenny takes advantage of the larger fish’s automatic reaction by mimicking the dance of the cleaner wrasse. Once the larger fish becomes docile, the blenny moves in and snaps a chunk of flesh for lunch.

Like the yellow-tang fish in the video, our automatic reactions to certain triggers can be taken advantage of. What are our triggers?How are they used against us?

How can we turn the tables and use these principles to negotiate a higher salary?

Dr. Cialdini outlines six triggers that master influencers take advantage of:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment/Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Let’s look at each of these principles and how they can be leveraged to negotiate a higher salary.

1) Reciprocation

Principle: When we are given a gift (trigger), we have a strong desire to reciprocate (automatic reaction). We feel indebted to the other person and are uneasy until we pay them back. The desire to reciprocate is so strong that is doesn’t matter if we like the giver or not. Businesses take advantage of this automatic reaction by offering free samples and gifts in order to trigger our response of reciprocation (and buy their products). Another example of this principle is the girl who keeps going out with the guy she doesn’t really like, because he keeps buying her expensive dinners/presents.

Application: To trigger your employers’ desire to reciprocate, you first need to give them a gift. During labor negotiations, this is often done by giving the “gift” of a concession. Negotiators will overstate their initial demands in order give concessions later, which encourages the other side to follow suit. As Henry Kissinger said, “Effectiveness at the bargaining table depends on your ability to overstate your initial demands.”

Another way to trigger your employer’s desire to reciprocate can be as simple as taking your boss out to lunch or bringing donuts/bagels/treats for the office. Such acts will build social capital and help tip the scales in your favor.

2) Commitment and Consistency

Principle: We all have an instinctual desire to be consistent in our speech, actions, and values. When we are faced with a decision, our default response is to behave consistently with how we have acted in the past. We prefer to behave consistently because (1) it is positively associated with logic, rationality, and strength and (2) it is a decision making shortcut. It’s easier to act the way we always have, rather than take time to analyze the situation and choose the best response.

This powerful desire to be consistent is shown in a study of voters. People were randomly called and asked if they were planning on voting. The vast majority of people said “yes”, because that is the socially acceptable thing to say. When it came time to vote, the people who were called turned out to vote at a much higher rate than normal. Their internal desire to remain consistent with their previous statement drove them to action.

Salesmen take advantage of this principle by getting people to admit to something (they like vacations and traveling) in order to get them to buy something (timeshares).

Application: To apply this principle during salary negotiations, you want to trigger your employer’s desire for consistency by getting them to verbalize that they are (1) an equitable employer who believes in fairly compensating their employees, and (2) why you are the candidate they want.

Ask the hiring mangers which of your attributes and experiences were the most important in their decision to offer you the position. Ask what their compensation philosophy is (they will say something about being equitable, paying the market rates, rewarding top talent, etc.). Then use the exact words from their answers to put them in a corner – they just explained why you are their candidate of choice and that they fairly compensate their employees – so it would be inconsistent of them to pay you less than what you’re worth.

3) Social Proof

Principle: We often use other people’s behavior to guide our own. If we see a crowd gathering at a football stadium or see everyone using an iPhone (triggers), we naturally assume that both products must be worthwhile (automatic reaction). It is easier to rely on the judgment of others that something is worth doing or purchasing – rather than doing the research ourselves.

This herd mentality can be used against us, and is why bartenders will put a few dollars in their jars to show that it is normal to give tips, why businesses feature testimonials in their advertising, and why evangelical preachers will seed the audience with actors to get the crowd rolling. They know most people will follow the crowd’s momentum. It is both socially acceptable and easier than doing your own decision making.

Application: During salary negotiations, you can take advantage of your employer’s natural laziness and herd-mentality tendency by presenting compelling research that their peers are giving big raises or paying market-rate salaries. After all, how many industry leading firms are there anyway? Most just follow what everyone else is doing – especially in compensation. If you can show what other employers in the industry are paying, it will be natural for your employer to follow along and pay you a comparable wage.

To really leverage the principle of social proof, you (or I) could conduct a custom wage survey amongst the employer’s competitors. If you are interviewing for the Director of Marketing with United Airlines, find the contact information for the Director of Marketing at Delta, American Airlines, Southwest, etc. Explain that you are conducting a wage survey and if they are willing to participate you will share the full results with them. Ask them for their salary range and any benefit questions you might have. Being able to show United Airlines what their competitors are paying their employees will be very powerful social proof.

4) Liking

Principle: When someone we like asks us to do something (trigger), we are more likely to comply (automatic reaction).

Application: You can improve your chances of success at salary negotiation by increasing your likability. Some factors that influence likability are:

1) Similarity: we tend to like people who are similar to us. Mirror the body language of the person you are negotiating with. Find things you both like and talk about them.

2) Contact: the more frequent contact we have with someone, the more we like them (unless they are really horrible). Always try to negotiate in person, not via email or the phone. Each in person meeting builds rapport and increases likability.

3) Physical Appearance: people think that good looking people are more kind, honest, intelligent, and persuasive – and therefore are more liked. Present your most physically attractive self during negotiations:  dress well, get a nice haircut, smile, have good posture, and exercise regularly.

4) Compliments: we like people who flatter us, so give honest compliments to your negotiating counterpart.

5) Cooperation: we prefer people who work with us, not against us. Communicate to your employer that you are on the same team and have the same goals: eliminating problems, increasing revenues, and decreasing costs.

5) Authority

Principle: When an authority figure asks us to do something (trigger), we usually comply (automatic response). We tend to obey authority figures because we assume they have superior information and experience. It is a decision making shortcut we use to avoid re-inventing the wheel.

For example, an experiment was conducted in which a man was dressed first normally and then as a security guard. In both instances he asked people to pick up litter around a park. When dressed normally 40% of the people obeyed him, as compared with 90% when he was dressed as a security guard.

Application: In order to trigger your employer’s automatic compliance response to authority, you need to take on the mantle of authority. You can do this by using the symbols of authority: title, appearance, and demeanor. Use the most prestigious title applicable to your situation. Dress like an authority in your industry (three-piece suit?). Mimic the body language of authorities in your field. Even if you don’t consider yourself an authority, taking on its mantle will give you added leverage in negotiations. Keep in mind that 90% of people obeyed they guy who looked like a security guard – but wasn’t.

6) Scarcity

Principle: If an item is scarce (trigger), we assume it is valuable (automatic reaction).

For example, studies have shown that we have a greater desire for censored information than for non-censored (we assume it is more valuable).We also believe censored information is more true.

Businesses routinely manufacture scarcity with “limited time offers” and shortened production runs.

Application: You can trigger your employer’s reaction to scarcity (dramatically increasing their desire for you) by convincing them that you alone are uniquely qualified to solve their problems. Being able to do this hinges on how well you researched their situation: how long they have been trying to fill the position, why they have had trouble filling it, why previous people left, what problems need to be solved, etc.

You can also manufacture scarcity by having competing offers. When you combine competition and scarcity, their desire for you will increase even more.


The greatest influencers in the world use other people’s habitual behavior to their advantage by:

  • Giving gifts
  • Activating consistency
  • Generating social proof
  • Increasing their likability
  • Taking on the mantle of authority
  • Manufacturing scarcity

What do you think? What are other ways you could apply these principles to salary negotiations? Which will you use in your next negotiation?

Leave a comment below and let me know!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.