Bodhi Book Summary: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
by Robert B. Cialdini, PH.D.
Summarized and Reviewed by Tim Delson
The Brief Summary
We often get persuaded or influenced without even realizing it, thanks to the culprit taking advantage of some basic human principles.
Well now, thanks to Robert Cialdini's book "Influence" based on his research, you can learn these principles to defend yourself from unwanted influence, or even use these techniques to your advantage. Here are the 8 principles of influence:
#1. Contrast: Being presented two things impacts how we perceive both, magnifying the difference between them.
#2. Reciprocation: The rule of reciprocity says we should try to repay what another person has done for us in kind.
#3. Top Lining: Start your request HIGH, then when it's turned down, make a smaller request.
#4. Commitment and Consistency: People need to be consistent with commitments they've made. Get them to commit, then hold them accountable.
#5. Social Proof: When in doubt, we look around for what others are doing and let that guide us.
#6. Liking: We're much more likely to do something for a person if we like that person.
#7. Authority: We often obey authority – or even the symbol of authority – without question.
#8. Scarcity: The harder it is to get, the more we want it.
The Long Summary
What persuades us? Why do we so often get tricked into buying things we don't want or need, or otherwise manipulated?
According to Robert Cialdini's book "Influence," based on his own experiments and gathering of secondary data, there are a few fundamental principles of manipulation at play. You can learn them as self defense, or you can even put them to work in your own life.
Modern life is big, fast, and busy, and our brains aren't wired to process all that comes at us all the time. According to Cialdini, whether we like it or not, we all use shortcuts.
Here are two examples of shortcuts:
- We're much more willing to do people a favor if they provide us with a reason. In an experiment where a researcher asked people queued up to use a copy machine "May I skip the line?" they complied 60% of the time. If she added a reason – any reason – it jumped to 94%.
- If you price something higher, people usually assume it's of higher quality.
These shortcuts can be categorized into the principles of influence outlined below:
Principle #1: Contrast
Being presented two things impacts how we perceive both, magnifying the difference between them. If the first one that's presented is more expensive, it makes the second seem much less so.
Principle #2: Reciprocation
The rule of reciprocity says we should try to repay what another person has done for us in kind. Humans have an overpowering need to return the favor.
Where is this employed in sales and marketing? Think free samples at the grocery store, or waiters at restaurants bringing you a complimentary sweet with your bill.
Principle #3: Top Lining
- Step 1: Make a large request of another person, a request that will likely get turned down.
- Step 2: After refusal, make a smaller request (the one you wanted all along).
Why does this typically get a yes the second time? Because of the Top Lining Technique, AKA the "reject and retreat" technique.
Principle #4: Commitment and Consistency
Once we have made a commitment, we feel an immense pressure to stay consistent with that commitment. Whether we took a new job or bet on a horse, we fool ourselves to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already decided.
Principle #5: Social Proof
Laugh tracks are a great example of social proof. They're so obviously cheesy, and yet they're still used. Why? Because they work. Other examples include when advertisers boast their product is the "fastest-growing" or "largest selling" or when a barista "seeds" their tip jar with a $1 bill.
Generally, when we're unsure of ourselves, or the situation is unclear, we tend to decide what the correct course of action is by looking to others' behavior around us.
So how might you best to influence someone in an emergency situation, for example? Single out an individual from the crowd, point at them, and direct a clear request for help at them: "You, call an ambulance."
Principle #6: Liking
The Liking principle states that if we like someone, we tend to comply with them. Queue the Tupperware party.
So what are the ways we may like someone?
- Attractiveness (they're attractive)
- Similarity (they're similar to us in some way)
- Flattery (they praise us)
- Required Cooperation
- Positive Association (e.g. celebrities endorsing a product)
Principle #7: Authority
We obey authorities, often without question. Even if their evidence of authority is questionable, mere symbols of authority can be enough to get us to comply.
How can you protect yourself against this form of influence? First, ask yourself if this person is REALLY an authority, or merely masquerading as one. Second, ask yourself how we can expect this authority to behave in the situation. Do they reasonably have your best interests at heart?
Principle #8: Scarcity
"For a limited time only!"
"Sale ends in two days!"
These are demonstrations of the scarcity principle. When something is harder to get, we see it as more valuable, and we want it more.
When does scarcity work best?
- If the scarcity represents a recent change, as opposed to a constant
- When there's obvious competition (e.g. Auctions or real-estate bids)
- Ban it completely! (AKA "The Romeo and Juliet Effect")
We don't like to think of ourselves as easily manipulated, using shortcuts to even make often complex decisions. But in the end, advertisers and sales people use the above 8 principles every day to take advantage of our preprogrammed instincts. Knowing them can help you defend yourself against them. Take it a step further, and you can use these principles yourself to garner influence in the world.
Enjoyable to Read: 4.5 out of 5
I found Influence to be a nice mix of theory and interesting research results that back up that theory. It's easy to want to not believe an abstract theory, but when you're given the results of a study, it makes it real.
I also felt like he didn't waste a lot of time. Books in the genre often meander and dwell on a topic, providing annecdote after annecdote to drag out into a whole chapter what could've been accomplished in a page or two.
The book is well organized, with basically one chapter dedicated to each principle.
Reviewer's Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
After having read this book, I have found myself coming back to it again and again. I see little evidence of it in my real life and am reminded of its content. Now, I think to myself, "Oh, that's one of the Influence principles!" and I'm able to save myself from undue influence! It's a truly new concept that, for me, withstood the test of time.
Actionable Info: 2 out of 5
I suppose enacting these principles for your own influence over others is certainly actionable. But with great power comes great responsibility. You certainly wouldn't want to use them maliciously, but rather, only for good. Walking that line feels a little tricky for me.
Quality of the Ideas: 5 out of 5
|We're all unknowingly influenced every day by outside actors and situations, simply due to our human nature and our programmed tendency to take shortcuts.|
|The principle of contrast says that being presented two things impacts how we perceive both, magnifying the difference between them.|
|The principle of reciprocity says we should try to repay what another person has done for us in kind.|
|The principle of top lining says start your request HIGH, then when it's turned down, make a smaller request.|
|The principle of commitment and consistency says that people need to be consistent with commitments they've made. Get them to commit, then hold them accountable.|
|The principle of social proof says when in doubt, we look around for what others are doing and let that guide us.|
|The principle of liking says we're much more likely to do something for a person if we like that person.|
|The principle of authority says we often obey authority – or even the symbol of authority – without question.|
|The principle of scarcity says the harder it is to get, the more we want it.|
Quotability: 3 out of 5
|“We all fool ourselves from time to time in order to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided.”|
|“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”|
|“Freedoms once granted will not be relinquished without a fight.”|
|“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”|
|“Our best evidence of what people truly feel and believe comes less from their words than from their deeds.”|