I first learned about Robert Cialdini’s work on the “psychology of persuasion” from Mike when he brought copies of an article by Cialdini to our super-secret Tuesday discussion group. The article outlined Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion and intrigued me enough that I did some searching online and downloaded a talk of Cialdini’s from Audible. The talk covered the same principles and contained many of the same examples, but Cialdini’s engaging speaking style made it worth the price of the download. I actually incorporated some of his speaking style into the lectures I give to students.

That was well over a year ago, and since then I’ve often found myself thinking about Cialdini’s work and noticing his principles in action. When I was back in the US over spring festival, I decided to pick up a copy of his book Influence: Science and Practice.

Here are Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, with a simple example of each in action:

1. Reciprocation
-We feel compelled to return favors. If someone sends us a holiday SMS, we feel compelled to respond.

2. Commitment and Consistency
-We feel compelled to keep our commitments and be consistent. A restaurant was able to greatly reduce no-shows by adding one word to a sentence in phone conversations with guests making reservations. Instead of “Please call us if you won’t be able to make it”, employees were instructed to ask, “Would you please call us if you won’t be able to make it?” Getting people to make the commitment made the difference.

3. Social Proof
-“We view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it” (p. 100). When watching TV, people are more likely to laugh and laugh for longer when there is a laugh track, even thought the laughter is obviously canned.

4. Liking
-We’re more likely to say yes to people that we know and like. Also, we’re more likely to like people who are attractive, who are similar to us, who we have had positive contact with, and who are associated with things we like. For example, people are significantly more likely to respond to a mailed survey if the person mailing the survey has a name similar to theirs.

5. Authority
-People are likely to be influenced by people who are or appear to be in positions of authority, or who are associated with authority. A crowd at a crosswalk is much more likely to follow a man with a suit as he jaywalks through a red light than a main wearing a shirt and khakis.

6. Scarcity
-Things seem more valuable to us when they are or seem scarce, exclusive, or forbidden. Subjects in a test who were given a jar with two cookies rated the cookies as more valuable than subjects given a jar containing ten of the same cookies.

Cialdini describes scores of studies that illustrate his principles, and goes to great lengths to describe how “compliance professionals” such as car salesmen use the various principles to make us say yes. His examples are fascinating, and more often than not a lot of fun.

I found the weakest parts of the book to be the “Defense” sections at the end of each chapter, in which Cialdini describes how to defend oneself against professionals using each principle. While he has evidence to back up the rest of the material presented in the book, the “Defense” ideas seem to be just suggestions, with no research to back up whether they work or not. That said, most of the suggestions probably work.

I was also a bit turned off by his militant attitude towards compliance professionals who use the principles to “trick” us into saying yes. He even suggested not tipping bartenders who make use of the “Social Proof” principle by stuffing a couple of dollar bills into the tip jar before a shift. My opinion is that, as long as they are not outright dishonest, people have the right to make use of these principles to try and get others to comply.

Overall, I loved the book. It’s an engaging read about a topic that affects our daily lives. I’ve enjoyed reading it so much and found the principles so important that I recently purchased several copies of the Chinese version of the book to give to colleagues at New Channel.

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