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Influencing and persuading: five insights from the science of persuasion and ‘nudge’



By Hassan Saeed

One of the very first self-help books that I owned is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. That was in my mid-teens and I have always wanted to know more about making people say yes to me.

We all strive to be more convincing and persuasive. How well we are able to convince or persuade someone to believe us, cooperate with us, trust us and follow us depends on how much influence we have on them.

Whether it is in our closest circles of family and friends or at work professionally, we are constantly trying to influence and persuade others. Not being able to achieve this causes frustration.

Here are five insights from influence and persuasion literature that I have come to successfully apply in my managerial career. I hope this will be helpful to you. These are based mainly on the writings of Robert Cialdini and colleagues (Influence, Yes!, The Small Big, Presusasion), and the concept of ‘nudge’ first introduced by Thaler and Sunstein and popularised by David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’ in the British government.

Be pro-social

From an early age, we are told to be assertive, genuine and authentic. This is somewhat not aligned with the principle of pro-social conduct.

Prosocial behaviour should not be confused with altruistic behaviour. Pure altruism, many say, is non-existent these days. Pure altruism is when we are completely selfless and have the best interest of the other person as the core motive of our actions.

Pro-social behaviour, on the other hand, can be for one’s own benefit. People like those who are ‘seen’ as caring and responsible. Pro-social behaviour also includes adherence to social norms and upholding of rules regulations.

Volunteerism and community development too can add value to an individual’s pro-social capital. Some commonly cited prosocial behaviour includes helping, sharing, donating, co-operating, and volunteering.

Understand your audience

Understanding what makes your audience tick is key to influencing their behaviour and thoughts. Getting to know them sometimes requires methodical inquiry.

Professor Cialdini’s latest book Presusasion suggests that persuasion starts way before any words are spoken. Prepare in advance and know what you are aiming for. Knowing the audience means taking time to understand them; asking questions and most importantly, listening.

One of the first psychology books I read is Eric Berne’s What Do You Say After You Say Hello? This was my introduction to Freudian concepts and transactional analysis. Transactional analysis and Kurt Lewin’s work before that offers great insight into understanding people. Work done by these pioneers offer windows of understanding to the human psyche.

If you want to understand someone, look at his/her interactions with other people. Politicians do it very cleverly. Door to door campaigns, rallies and town hall meetings are all about getting to know the audience.

It is true that psychology, unlike physics, chemistry and biology, does not have theories or rules like gravity or laws of motion. For this reason, as Rory Sutherland often cites Charlie Munger, social psychology lacks a latticework to hang the many assumptions and hypotheses on.

Understanding humans, therefore, still remains a work in progress.

Harness the power of effective communication

Visual, verbal and subtle priming cues can be a powerful tool to influence and persuade.

Flash fiction has for a long time established that humans can be emotionally moved with just mere words, just six words to be exact! One of the most talked-about six-word stories is ‘For sale, baby shoes, never worn’. This is commonly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though there is some evidence that it predates him.

Technology too is a great enabler to this end. Most of us are oblivious to the fact that we are constantly being bombarded with subtle advertisements through artificial intelligence. We may have bought many things that we don’t actually need. We probably spend a lot more time than we realise simply browsing through social media timelines because the perpetual scroll just keeps us engaged.

Building a powerful personal brand is a deliberate process. This is made much easier by the many social media platforms where individuals with little or no resources can reach thousands of people with any message or messages they want.

In a world of instant mass communication, reputations can be made or lost in the just the blink of an eye.

Use the universal principles of persuasion

Professor Cialdini and his colleagues including Steve Martin have narrated this video. One of the principles of persuasion, reciprocity and one of the studies that are often cited, is by Professor Michael Lynn of Cornell University. I first read Professor Lynn’s guide Mega Tips probably around 20 years ago and the phenomenon has still been quite fascinating after all these years.

There are five more principles: Authority, Liking, Consistency, Scarcity and Social Proof.

I have also published a previous blogpost, in which I discussed how these principles can be applied in the hospitality setting for win-win customer experiences. These principles are universal and applicable across all cultures, though the context may have to be considered for maximum effectiveness.

One of the things that I learnt with persuasion science that you can apply as many of these principles for a particular context, crowd or purpose to increase effectiveness and they are mostly free and very ethical.

Use the concept of ‘nudging’ to influence and change behaviour

Now more than ever, we are trying to get people to adopt certain behaviours.

Community health professionals are coming up with ideas to increase the effectiveness of public health and good hygiene messages. Washing hands, social distancing, wearing masks are all behaviours that we are trying to promote.

Habits relating to personal finance, microeconomic decisions, healthy eating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle — all require an individual to form habits and integrate these habits into their lives.

Nudge, as introduced by Thaler and Sunstein over a decade ago, is also known as libertarian paternalism and nudges are about choice architecture. Simply put, nudging is about designing an environment where the desired behaviour becomes the default choice.

An example of this is changing the placement of food items on a buffet. If we wish to promote healthy eating, vegetable and fresh produce should be the first thing someone sees/comes across.

It is about making the desired behaviour effortless or less effortful. Where a less desired or undesired behaviour is likely, the choice architecture will be designed to provide more information so that the person will be prompted to use their more deliberate and analytical thinking skills.

Remaining relevant in an ever-changing world requires a lot of deliberate work. Thomas Friedman calls this the age of accelerations and he points out that markets (globalisation of trade), mother nature (climate change) and Moore’s Law (technology) are changing our lives every day. In the age of acceleration, the best insights come when you stop, sit or stand still and pay attention.

I will end with a couple of realisations that hit me last night. My wife was attending an online class for poetry writing and as I listened to what was going on, I realised why collaboration is such a complex thing to master. They were merely trying to stitch some words/phrases together; it was supposed to be a fun exercise with no punishments or rewards but the process was still long and arduous. Next, a friend tags my wife on a Facebook post and this happened to be an alert for her to join a live solo music show where a gentleman with a karaoke setup and an internet connection was broadcasting his songs live. He was singing for, interacting with a very active audience. He was building his brand. I find this fascinating.

We live in an interconnected and interdependent world where the best results in anything comes by collaborating with other people. It is difficult, that is why we need to learn and master the skills to influence and persuade others. Luckily for us, we have very effective tools within our reach that will enhance our efforts to become more effective.

Note: This op-ed was originally published on LinkedIn by Hassan Saeed, a highly experienced hotel/resort manager from the Maldives who currently serves as the Resort Manager at Dhigali Maldives, a luxury resort in the northern Raa atoll. To view the original article, please follow this link.


How to diversify Maldives’ tourism-heavy economy



By Sonu Shivdasani

At Soneva, we adhere to the principle that local is best. Whether it’s food produced by our organic vegetable gardens or the fish we source from neighbourhood fishermen, local produce is always fresher, better tasting, and more sustainable.

Producing things within the country, rather than importing everything from abroad, also makes economic sense. And the greater variety of products and services you produce in-house, the easier it is to diversify the economy, making it more resilient.

In an Op-ed that I wrote last year, I mentioned that, “The Maldives is one of the world’s best places to operate a resort. And yet, the cost of borrowing the money to build one is eye-wateringly high. How do we explain this paradox?”

During a recent conversation with a Male-based banker, I was told why lending rates in the Maldives are so high: there is a perception of risk among the financial community because the Maldivian economy is so dependent on tourism.

As Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih, said during his National Day speech on November 11, 2020: “Covid-19 has made us realise our economy cannot solely depend on tourism. This is something we have always debated, yet failed to adequately address.”

It’s easy to understand why the Maldives wants to put some of its eggs in baskets other than tourism. Covid-19 has swung a wrecking ball at Maldivian tourism, which in turn has devastated the government’s finances, foreign currency reserves, and the value of the Ruffiya, which are all dependent on tourist dollars.

Though tourism is recovering since the border reopened in July, and many resorts (including Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani) are currently as busy as they were last year, a few good months at the end of the year won’t make up for the carnage of March-July. And so, how to diversify the Maldives — a country that’s 99 per cent ocean, and with a small population?

Extracting better value from Maldives’ fish catch

An obvious place to start is in areas the Maldives already does well: fishing. Although the Maldivian fishing industry is already large, much of the value of the fish is in the processing, not the catching.

Here, the Maldives could improve. Instead of selling frozen, whole tuna to Thailand, more money would be made if all Maldivian fish were canned in the Maldives. The fisheries ministry recently said as much; announcing plans to expand cold fish storage.

The branding of Maldivian tuna could also be enhanced. The Maldives operates the world’s most sustainable fishing fleet. Every fish is caught by hand, with a pole and line, one-by-one. Nets and long-lines are banned, meaning there is almost no by-catch of sharks, turtles, dolphins and other charismatic or endangered sea creatures.

More could be made of this inherent strength, especially as consumers in Western export markets demand more sustainable food. Maldivian tourism is globally renowned for being the world’s most luxurious. Maldivian fish should be equally known as the world’s most environmentally friendly.

Growing our own food

Although the Maldives is 99 per cent sea, let us not forget about what can be done on that 1 percent of land. It’s heartening to see a big government push towards growing more food. There is huge demand, especially from resorts, for locally-grown, fresh produce.

Both Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani have highly productive fruit, vegetable and herb gardens that supply the bulk of the ingredients for our restaurants. What we don’t produce ourselves, we strive to buy locally to maintain freshness and reduce carbon emissions. Over the summer Soneva also released a series of video tutorials based on our experiences, showing ways to farm in the Maldives, either on a commercial scale or in a window box.

Looking beyond farming and fishing, another opportunity the Maldives could explore further is its relationship with India.

The $1.4 billion assistance granted by India in 2018, and the more recent economic aid package, have both been of great help. But, rather than aid, the Maldives should engage with India to see how it can grow its economy both through tourism and non-tourism means to develop closer ties with this populous and economically significant neighbour.

Potential offshore financial hub

For example, the Maldives could enter into a double tax treaty with India. The Maldives could also negotiate with India, to allow Indian citizens to make personal investments in the Maldives and be able to remit more than $250,000 — the current Reserve Bank of India limit on any foreign currency remittance by an Indian in a particular year. In addition to this, perhaps more Indians could be allowed to pay for personal investments in the Maldives with Rupees. These Rupees could then be used by the Maldives to buy Indian goods.

With a double tax treaty with India in place, the Maldives could explore the opportunity to become a financial centre. Could the Maldives become India’s offshore financial centre, playing a similar role that Hong Kong does to China?

There is a closer Indian Ocean example; in 1989, Mauritius’ government decided that its economy was too dependent on tourism and sugarcane, so it chose to make the country an offshore financial centre.

Mauritius initiated double tax treaties with 18 African countries and India. Like the Maldives, Mauritius’s tax rate was considerably lower than the 18 African neighbours and India. As a result, foreign investors who wanted to invest in India or these 18 African countries set up companies in Mauritius, helping them to legally reduce their tax bills. There are now 20,000 offshore Mauritius companies.

On average, the basic statutory fees that the Mauritius government charges, such as directors fees, and stamp duties for operating companies, come to $5,000 per year. For all the offshore companies registered in the country, these fees tally up to $100 million per year — a huge source of revenue for the government.

Moreover, according to a recent report, Mauritius-incorporated offshore companies have $630 billion of assets. This is 50 times Mauritius’ GDP. If we assume that these companies achieve a 10 per cent return on capital, that means they have net profits of around $63 billion. It is likely that the Mauritius government received more than one per cent of these profits as taxes. Even at one per cent, this is the equivalent of $630 million of revenue to the government.

It has taken Mauritius 30 years to get to where it is. If the Maldives starts today, potentially in 30 years’ time, the government could generate more revenue from offshore finance than from tourism. There are many considerations when setting up an offshore centre. We have recently seen a global backlash against tax havens, so this will require a lot of thought and consideration. But, it is an opportunity.

Second-home schemes and outsourcing

Introducing second home schemes for foreigners is another way to diversify the economy. The government recently changed the law to allow foreigners to become resident in the Maldives if they invest $250,000 dollars, and deposit another quarter of a million in a local bank’s fixed deposit account for at least five years. Similar programmes, in countries such as Malaysia, are very popular. They make it easier for the government to sell debt and help ease dollar shortages.

Lastly, the Maldives could also look to offshore business process outsourcing, which has made cities such as Bangalore wealthy. These days, a British or American customer ringing into a bank call centre is as likely to speak with someone sitting in Bangalore or Hyderabad as Birmingham or Houston. While the Maldives does not have the huge pool of labour that India does, young Maldivians speak English well, so offshore processing could be done, albeit at a smaller scale.

The Maldives has paid a heavy price this year for its over-dependence on tourism. Nobody predicted Covid-19, or the impact it has had on the economy. But, as any good investor will tell you, the best way to mitigate risk is through diversification.

Editor’s Note: This op-ed was originally published on Linkedin by Sonu Shivdasani. Sonu is the founder and CEO of Soneva, which owns luxury resorts Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani in the Maldives, and Soneva Kiri in Thailand.

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A day in the life of Amilla Maldives’ HR Special Projects Manager



Hussain is a well-known face at Amilla Maldives as the resort’s energetic Assistant Manager of Recreation. With lower demand due to the pandemic this year, Hussain pivoted to a three-month secondment in HR Special Projects.

These unique projects are aimed at maximising the quality of life for everyone working at Amilla. They range from renovating the Islanders’ accommodation block to transforming the staff bar into a chilled-out café-style community space.

This dynamic and multi-talented Islander has also helped plan and run staff events — creating some dazzling decorations in the process. He has even channelled his inner artist to create paintings to brighten up staff areas.

Hussain originally hails from Kurendhoo, a small island in Lhaviyani Atoll. We caught up with him to find out more about how he’s ringing in the changes behind the scenes at Amilla.

How does a typical day begin for you?

With my current role, I don’t so much follow time as follow projects and people. So, I normally wake up around 6am, read the news from the Maldives and around the world for half an hour, do 15 minutes of stretching and warming up for the day, take a shower and then I’m ready to start my day.

Often, when I start something, I’ll have to finish it, otherwise I just cannot sleep! So, sometimes, if I had a late night, I’ll wake up at around 7am but never later than 7.30am, so I can get things done.

Every day can be different depending on my tasks, but one of my favourite things to do is making decorations for staff events. Everybody says I’m really good at it. I also like doing carpentry and painting abstract stuff. The management has given me a lot of opportunities to try out new ideas and the freedom to learn new things, which I really appreciate.

How closely do you work with the other Islanders on your projects?

The best resource of any company is their staff. If we don’t care for them, they won’t enjoy their jobs or their life with us. So, our first priority is always our staff and our guests.

Getting feedback every day is the biggest thing in HR Special Projects. Before we make any new service or changes, we get feedback from the staff. That’s because we need to give them what they want where this is possible. Normally, lunchtime is the best time to go speak to them. The best way I’ve found to do it is to have a friendly chat. I just go to wherever they are, have a coffee with them, then ask them in a friendly way. Otherwise, if I just ask them formally, they might not open up.

What has been your favourite special project to work on so far?

I thought something I really had to do was provide what the Islanders really need, so I started working with the Bliss tuck shop, because it’s difficult to get what they need from other islands, especially with the Covid-19 restrictions. So, I’ve changed the concept and created more options as well as redesigned the shop. Red Bull is the most popular item, of course! It’s their basic need, they enjoy it a lot. But although we have a canteen, we didn’t have anything like a café area for them to enjoy the drinks they bought from the shop.

What was the solution?

We have a nice bar which needs a little attention to evolve the concept into something new because as Maldivians, with our culture, we’re not allowed to drink alcohol. So, if we have a bar where people think it only serves alcohol, it means some of the staff can be there, but some might not feel comfortable. I’m leading on the project to transform the bar into an area where the Maldivian staff and expat staff can enjoy things together as one family. This new concept will be more than a bar, it’ll be more like a café area where staff can also do things like book a cinema night, or celebrate a private birthday party with their friends, and so on.

How did you end up in this special projects secondment?

I went back to my island when the Covid-19 pandemic hit but they called me to ask if I was interested in this role. Before this I was working in recreation. I love being active and working with guests and wanted to be back at Amilla with this new opportunity to help me grow and have new experiences.

Can you tell us about your journey to working in recreation?

When I was a teenager, I loved sports and I wanted to play sports professionally, but unfortunately there weren’t many opportunities in the Maldives at the time, so I decided it wasn’t a good idea. Then I decided that recreation at a resort would be a good job because then you get to do everything. But it was hard to get into, so I actually started working in childcare at another resort.

I love kids and it was fun. I spent four years there and became Kids Club Manager, but I still wanted to get into recreation. So, I took a step down to become a Recreation Supervisor at another resort and then finally became Recreation Manager. It was hard to take a step backwards, but it was worth it .

Then I got a knee injury and couldn’t do sports anymore. I had to slow down and from there I decided to learn more about creative art and tennis too. Then this year I got offered the chance to join the HR team, taking care of special projects and staff communications.

I learned one thing from my past; I didn’t follow my passion when I was a teenager to become a professional sports player because of the restrictions including my injury. But I ended up learning many other things that I can use to create beautiful things or to make magic, as our HR Director says! And now with the knowledge and experience I have, I just want to help other people to be happy and follow their passions.

For more information about the resort and bookings, please email  or visit

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Sustainable development of coral reefs at Cinnamon Dhonveli Maldives



Renowned for its iconic stunning over-water suites, Cinnamon Dhonveli Maldives is a beautiful tropical island resort offering exclusive access to the classic Pasta Point surf break, described as the “wave-machine” of the North Malé Atoll due to its consistent four to six foot waves.

Green Globe recently recertified Cinnamon Dhonveli Maldives.

The resort first started their coral restoration project in 2018 to help replenish diminishing coral reefs and have continued to develop this initiative since then.

“Coral reefs represent some of the world’s most spectacular beauty spots. They are also the foundation of marine life, without them many of the sea’s most exquisite species will not survive,” Sanjeeva Perera, General Manager at the resort, explained.

“The awareness and in-depth knowledge we receive from Green Globe during the recertification process continues to guide us on the correct path to take in the bold steps forward toward the sustainable development of coral reefs that will benefit future generations in the Maldives.”

Coral reefs in oceans all around the world are dying. It is estimated that nearly one sixth of these reefs will be dead within the next twenty years.

In keeping with the commitment of Green Globe members to manage and operate businesses to the highest level of sustainability, the Cinnamon Dhonveli team initiated this mariculture project two years ago focusing on the pre-emptive restoration and rejuvenation of reefs affected by coral bleaching.

The project uses ‘reef balls’ as artificial reef structures implanted with Mari corals that are cultivated in special nurseries. The reef balls are then transplanted onto the bare substrate to grow.

With marine conservation at the heart of their sustainability vision, the Cinnamon Dhonveli team is committed to making their artificial coral reef propagation project a great success in the Maldives.

They also aim to set up a Marine Discovery Centre to educate visiting youth and children in coral reef propagation, environmental awareness, and the rearing and rescue of sea turtles.

Located no more than a 25-minute speedboat ride from the main Velana International Airport, Dhonveli’s proximity and diversity combine to make it one of the most popular destinations in the Maldives.

The island is constantly buzzing with action as divers, surfers and beach bums alike find a common ground in the world of excitement this little island has to offer. Magnificent waves and a policy of sustainable surfing combine to make Pasta Point at Cinnamon Dhonveli one of the most sought after surfing locations by award-winning surfers from around the world.

Large families, groups of friends, divers and snorkelling buffs all seem to find a comfortable common ground in the heady atmosphere of the 16-acre island as well. Sink your teeth into our succulent seafood and indulge in the theme nights at each of the three restaurants with the best of international cuisine. Unwind at the spa or sink into the comforts of the 148 plush rooms.

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