Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion Applied to Diversity & Inclusion

I’ve recently read the book Influence: Science and Practice by Robert. B. Cialdini (Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University). In his research, Cialdini attempted to understand how humans make buying decisions. 

The key premise of the book is that in a complex world where people are overloaded with information, people rely on generalizations when it comes to their decision-making approach because they allow people to act correctly with a limited amount of thought and time. People who know how to influence others can exploit this behaviour.  

He came up with six principles that pertain to persuasive behaviour: reciprocity, commitment/consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. Those findings are backed up by numerous empirical studies conducted in psychology, marketing, economics, anthropology and social science. While reading his book I asked myself:

How could diversity and inclusion programs benefit from Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion?


We generally feel obliged to return favours. When you give someone something of value – be it information, advice or a potential solution to a business challenge – you increase the odds that they would give you something in return. Studies have shown that even if the gift is unsolicited, it will influence the recipient to reciprocate.

How can we apply this principle in D&I programs?

1. Share knowledge around relevant D&I topics, like unconscious bias and microaggression, during training sessions. 

2. Show examples of D&I programs that have worked in other businesses during training sessions.

3. Give appealing D&I related gifts to the business’ stakeholders, for example, an inspirational book.


A commitment obligates us to do something. We perceive commitment as an attractive social trait and as indicative of rational, trustworthy and stable people. The desire to be consistent can be exploited by having someone make an initial, often small, commitment (a.k.a. the “foot-in-the-door technique”) followed up with a request in keeping this initial commitment.

How can we apply this principle in D&I programs?

1. Form a mentoring program in which marginalised individuals are empowered by senior managers who feel committed to making those individuals excel.

2. Show microaggressions and uncover inconsistencies between what people try to convey and how their statements are received.

3. Let participants express their new insights and commitments in a group setting after training.

Social Proof

We generally look up to other people similar to ourselves when making decisions, particularly in situations of uncertainty or ambiguity. We tend to determine what is correct by looking at what other people say is correct. This trait has led to fake information on what others are doing in for example advertisements.

How can we apply this principle in D&I programs?

1. Create D&I campaign posters with quotes from the business’ stakeholders and spread them through the office and online media. 

2. Create videos and podcasts in which the business’ stakeholders speak out about D&I and in which the D&I business policy is being shared. 

3. Set up a recurring price for the D&I champion of your business. 


We are more likely to agree to offers from people we like. Factors that can influence us to like someone include physical attractiveness, similarity, compliments and humour. A combination of those factors can magnify the effect. Lack of the above-mentioned factors can actually lead to missed opportunities since unrelatable people can, of course, also teach us something new.

How can we apply this principle in D&I programs?

1. Organize a Challenge Day, an experiential social and emotional learning program that aims to ignite more understanding.

2. Create videos in which stakeholders speak out about stereotypical thinking versus reality in order to make a shift toward more connection.

3. Organize monthly compliments days or ‘lunch dates’ among employees. 


We often react automatically to commands from authority and even to symbols of authority (such as academic degrees, uniforms, expensive cars etc.) even when our instincts suggest the commands should not be followed. Using testimonials from CEO’s or athletes is meant to enhance our respect for those with power or authority.

How can we apply this principle in D&I programs?

1. Organize a business event during which the CEO explicitly speaks out about the D&I policy.

2. Let senior managers share their personal views, learning and experiences on D&I, for example in newsletters and podcasts.

3. Create a business D&I agreement and share it in relevant documents like employee contracts in order to oblige people to stick to it.


We tend to want things as they become less available. It’s not the product itself that motivates us: it’s the fear of losing it that encourages our behaviour. This tendency has led advertisers to promote goods as ‘limited availability’ or ‘short time only’. The same applies to information: when it is restricted, we desire it and will even hold it in higher regard. 

How can we apply this principle in D&I programs?

1. Give research insights on a business’ profit loss due to not having a diverse workforce.

2. Stress the difficulty to recruit employees of diverse backgrounds by showing the effects of inclusive/non-inclusive word-use in job vacancies.

3. Implement a targeted college recruitment program in order to recruit people from diverse backgrounds.

So far the six principles of Caldini. I am curious to hear your thoughts on how those principles can be applied in D&I programs.

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