Posted in HS4CC

5 P’s of Persuasion for College: People

I’m a homeschooling dad of 8 working to do college on the cheap.  So far we have three grads, and that has been working well.  But one thing has been consistent – there are problems when you’re trying to do anything as complex as make a path to graduation.

This is a series of posts about what I call the 5 P’s of persuasion for overcoming college obstacles.

So far we have covered the importance of persuasion by being pleasant, having a plan, being persistent and being patient.

Where you have people, you have problems

Today we are going to talk about the last P – People!

It’s VERY easy to get frustrated with this process.  Planning college, like planning a wedding, is something that most people do once in a lifetime.  There is a lot of emotion, a lot at stake, a lot of pressure, and a great deal of the unknown.  We certainly don’t want to blow it!

We have to remember that the people we interact with are PEOPLE.  I have touched on this in other posts in the series, but I want to remind you that they are constrained by a TON of rules, systems and processes that guide what they are able to do for us.

They are often frustrated with the crazy rules. 

They also have more than one student to work with.

They have students with

  • no guidance,
  • helicopter parents,
  • anxiety,
  • low study skills but massive pride (ask me how I know about that one!)
  • super high achieving personalities, and
  • sometimes low motivation.

I’m convinced that NONE of these school employees get up in the morning thinking

“Today I will be evil.  I will thwart students and annoy parents who want the best for their kid.”

People are dealing with all of the people stuff we deal with. 

They have a long to do list, and not enough time to complete all of the things that people want them to do.

We need help

We want them to help us.  We need their help. 

In fact, if they don’t help our kid, or don’t help our kid, we are pretty much done.

When it comes to dealing with people, we have to remember that “all things being equal, people do business with people they know, like, and trust”

If we want to be liked and trusted, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and try to relate to them where they are. 

That’s why I started this post with some things that are on the minds of advisors and professors.

How can we influence them?

Dr. Roberty Cialdini, in his book Influence, documented six principles of ethical influence. 

It is wise to consider these as we look to influence these powerful people.

  • Reciprocation – “You then me”
  • Scarcity – “The rule of the rare”
  • Authority – “Showing knowing”
  • Consistency – “The starting point”
  • Liking – “Making friends to influence people”
  • Consensus – “People proof, people power”

Where to start

Of these six, I’d recommend that you focus on just two for most of the things you need:

Liking and reciprocation.


For Liking, you’d be amazed at how little you need to do to come across as likeable.

Over a year ago, my wife and I were on the hunt for a pair of recliners.  We visited MANY retailers and largely we were unhappy with the value, service or quality we found.  Eventually we found a retailer where the salesman was extremely helpful, where the selection was good and the prices didn’t crush my penny-pinching heart.  We happily bought some chairs and almost a year later we returned to the store. 

I was astonished that the professional salesman genuinely seemed to remember my wife and me.  Why? 

He said “I remember you.  You were nice.” 

We didn’t remember being particularly nice to him. We were thankful for his expertise and his customer orientation, but we hadn’t made a special effort to be “nice.”  I suspect manay people in his professional experience are not very nice to deal with.

Nice matters.  Being respectful of the advisor’s role (or the bursar or the registrar, or the professor, or the department chair, or whoever) is surprising because often students or parents come in ready for a fight and guns blazing. 

Worse, many students and parents have not done their homework.  They have not looked at the school’s rules, the department policies, the course progressions. 

They are ignorant and angry.  Who wants to deal with the angry and ignorant?

Asking for help is a powerful influence technique, too.  If you’re humble enough to say

“This is my idea.  Do you think it will work?  Is there something you could recommend that would be better?”

it’s surprising how often they will “go to bat” for you. 

Being friendly and respectful is a powerful influencer and it’s a great way to make friends who want to help.


Reciprocation is a powerful motivator.  When someone does something nice for us, we feel inspired, even driven, to respond in a similar way.

But you might ask “What do I have to give them?”  Cialdini reminds us that if we can give *anything* that is a motivator.  One surprising thing that he teaches is that if we give concessions, or express weakness in our position during our interaction that can help the other person to want to reciprocate.

I recently saw this in an amazing way at the DMV.  I was helping a friend relocate to the US after many years living abroad.  She needed a car, and we learned that the car could not be titled in her name unless she held a local driver’s license.  Fortunately she had actually renewed her out of state license not long before, but needed to establish residency in NC to get a local license.  The odds were stacked against us.  We were in a small town.  It was late on a Friday afternoon.  We got in line. After waiting a while we were greeted by the most angry and hostile public servant I have ever encountered.  He was having a BAD day.

I explained our goal, and admitted that we were ignorant about what was needed.  He was gruff and confrontational and demanding as he walked over to a printed list of the requirements.  He said

“Unless I have all of that on paper, I can’t help you.”

We knew we didn’t have some of the paperwork on paper.  But we didn’t give up.  We thanked him, and assured him we would do our best to provide everything he needed. 

After some tense questions and answers, I offered

“Thank you for helping us.  I’m sure this is a tough job, and many people you deal with feel entitled.”

His eyes got huge, and his voice was loud as he said


Wow – a powerful expression of emotion!

We continued patiently offering a respectful and submissive attitude and we were amazed that our concession of weakness in our position, and our respectful asking for flexibility in his work allowed an angry rule follower to be generous and helpful (although he remained grumpy through the entire interaction!)

When we offered humility and compassion toward his situation, he was willing to help, even though we didn’t quite have 100% of the things he insisted were fundamental requirements.

When you treat people as humans, you’ll often be surprised at how helpful they can be for you. 

Oh – and that furniture sales person?  He helped us find the sofa we wanted, and then said: 

“Wait – I think I have one of those in the clearance section, and I didn’t tell you this, but we are having a half price sale today on the sales price in the clearance section, too.”

The people we deal with at the school have a choice to make – do they want to help us? 

Do they want to prioritize a million other things in front of us.

If you can treat them like the people they are, you may be shocked at how happy they are to treat you like a person, too.

We have had some lost battles over the years, but we have won many I thought we’d never win by having a plan, being persistent, pleasant, patient, and remembering that these are just people like us.

All the best to you on your journey!


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