Robert Cialdini spent three years observing masters of persuasion. Telemarketers, car salespeople, fundraisers, and other professionals whose roles rely on their ability to persuade others. He then published his findings in a book titled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. That was 1984. The book has never been out of print. It's considered one of the best books on influence and persuasion.

What's in it? Six powerful principles that uncover not just what made these masters of persuasion so successful, but also how anyone can climb the career ladder faster. In this article, we will go over each principle and how you can use it to boost your career as a software developer.

1. Reciprocity: Give and You Will Receive

When someone does something for us, we naturally want to do something in return. The concept of reciprocity is deeply rooted in our cultural and social norms. In a professional setting, people often freely give advice, assistance, or gifts because it encourages the recipient to give back.

One of the ways you can leverage reciprocity as a developer is through open-source contributions. Do something for a community or project and it will lead to more opportunities, collaborations, and help from others even when you're not expecting anything back.

Another way to use reciprocity is through your knowledge. Write blog posts, do a tech talk, and answer questions on StackOverflow to create a sense of goodwill with the developer community that can encourage others to offer help and guidance in return.  

2. Consistency: Useful in Negotiations

People have a strong desire to stay consistent with their past actions and beliefs. Once someone has made a commitment (especially a public one), they'll want to follow through with it to maintain a coherent and consistent self-image.

You can leverage this principle to your advantage in many ways as a software developer, especially in negotiations. For example, after you've set the boundaries for a software project, you can fight scope creep by referring back to the boundaries you've agreed upon. The stakeholder will want to stay consistent with their past and, when phrased properly, will be inclined to agree with your arguments.

Of course, you have to find a balance too. You can't forever stay consistent with your past self. It's equally important to embrace change and new ideas, especially in the software industry. Understanding when you should be consistent with your past beliefs and when it's time to update those beliefs is a core skill for any successful software developer.

3. Social Proof: Showcase Your Success

If a large number of people do something, chances are that it's either good or at least safe to do it yourself. We rely heavily on social proof to make our decisions, from choosing a full over an empty restaurant to choosing one company over the other based on its Glassdoor reviews.

Software developers use social proof to understand which tools, libraries, and frameworks to use. But it's useful in another way too: Don't be afraid to showcase the social proof you've collected over your career, whether those are awards, certificates, or a well-regarded open-source project. These nuggets of social proof instill trust and credibility with whoever wants to know more about you.

It's important to note here that social proof works best if people identify with it. For example, if a small business is looking for a developer, the developer should show social proof from other small businesses. This will work much better than, say, a testimonial from Apple (which would lean more on the Authority principle described below).

Just never rely exclusively on social proof. While you can't do this for every decision, for important decisions, think critically and evaluate for yourself too. Your use case may differ from the majority of other people and you may well be better off taking the road less traveled.

4. Authority: Become the Expert

Be a rebel all you want, humans have a natural tendency to trust and obey those in authority. This comes from the belief that those higher up have access to more accurate information, more valuable insights, and better-informed judgments.

In the context of software development, you should always seek to improve your existing skills. The trick is to become the expert. Then share your knowledge with the rest of the world. The more you put yourself out there talking and writing about a particular topic, the more others will see you as an authority.

Just make sure to use your authority responsibly and ethically. We all know examples of people who are authorities in their field, but who are also manipulative or exploitative or not as competent as they make out to be. Always focus on making a positive impact to avoid these scenarios.

5. Liking: Build Positive Relationships

We are more easily influenced by the people we like, relate to, or find attractive. It's easier to do something or think a certain way when someone who's nice or who's just like us does the same thing too.

Never think that the world of a software developer is just between you and your code. You are not an island. The more likable you are, the better you'll be able to work together with your team and the more professional success you will achieve in your career.

There are many ways you can get people to like you:

  • Be a clear and open communicator
  • Acknowledge the feelings of your colleagues
  • Find shared interests and common ground
  • Be positive and enthusiastic
  • Offer support and encouragement
  • Acknowledge the efforts of your teammates

6. Scarcity: It's Just You Out There

We place a higher value on that which is scarce or perceived to be in limited supply. You almost certainly know countless examples of companies (mis)using this with little notifications on their websites telling you their stock of [product or service] is in limited supply.

But you needn't be deceptive to use Cialdini's last principle. There is only one you. When you become the expert in a small niche, you create scarcity around your skills and will naturally become highly sought after.

And it needn't just be a niche. If you've leveraged the above five principles and become a highly dependable, competent employee with cross-disciplinary skills and plenty of social proof, the same scarcity will apply. So this principle is more passive than it is active. Use the five principles listed above and you'll naturally become someone who others want to work with.