What is the WIIFM Principle?
First, and most importantly, you must ensure your argument answers the question “what’s in it for me.” WIIFM tells the person why they should act a certain way. In other words, it is a principle used in many types of persuasion to motivate someone to act. The single most consistently powerful motivator is self interest. It is the #1 key to persuasion. If you can align other’s interests with your own, you will be extremely powerful.
One text echoes this sentiment, “Your skill in using people rests ultimately on your ability to fashion circumstances such that their… values… dictate an action… which advances your interests.” (p115 Craft of Power by Siu)
The power of this skill is illustrated well in the story of how a King manipulated two selfish horse owners.
An Arabian King lost a horse in the desert and stopped in a small town to get a new one. Since Arabian kings don’t have to compensate the owners, neither wanted the King to take their horse. So each owner exaggerated the weakness and frailties of his horse. In hopes that the King would take the other person’s horse.
The king of course wanted the best horse. So he decided to have a race. But his servant said, ‘your highness, that won’t work. Each man will just ride slowly.’ So the king told each man to switch and ride the other’s horse.
Thus, each man had an incentive to push the horse as fast as they could, since the winner would have his horse spared. This personal incentive aligned with the king’s incentive to find the best horse. But it only aligned when the king switched the riders. Remember you must know what a person wants and fears in order to effectively craft a “what’s in it for me” pitch to align incentives.
Here is a practical example. Pretend you have a friend who values stability and consistency. Maybe they have a chaotic life. If you are having a political discussion, show them how your candidate’s plan will reduce crime or stock market fluctuations and make their life more stable. Show them how their day to day life will be less crazy if they vote the way you are suggesting. Their fear of chaos and desire for stability will drive them to act. Thus your desire to garner their vote, and their desire for stability are aligned.
Another key is this, don’t ever try to persuade someone if you don’t know what they want. If you don’t know what they want, you won’t be able to tell them “what’s in it for me” (What is the WIIFM Principle). You won’t be able to effectively motivate them to act.
While you are explaining “what is in it for them,” consider using the carrot and the stick approach. The carrot represents rewards, and the stick represents punishments. Since the brain weighs both when it makes decisions, we must include both negative and positive reasons to act if we want to be maximally persuasive. This means showing people how they can benefit from listening to us as well as pointing out how they will miss out if they don’t.
So what do trial lawyers have to contribute to the topic of persuasion? Well juror studies in the legal field show that attorneys who address the opposition’s perspective are more believable. This trust is important for trial lawyers getting a jury to find for their client.
You can apply this by discussing the opposition’s solution before sharing where it goes wrong. Once the person understands that the opposition’s solution isn’t a good one, they will be begging for your way to solve the problem. If the person you are speaking to realizes they have a serious problem and no solution, and they know they can trust you, they will be more open to your persuasion.
Check out a powerful persuasion trick you can use on anyone in our popular video shown here.
One final point. A significantly useful application of this principle is to tell people how their prior actions, words, or thoughts align with what you want them to do. The best way to play this off is to pretend to be inspired by that person as you suggest your idea or plan. For example, if you want to suggest a different picture should be used on a website, find a way to connect that picture to what your boss has said in the past. Maybe they said that good pictures always have faces in them. Explain how his comment about faces led you to realizing that the website’s image needed to be changed.