Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini PhD
May 11, 2017
Why it is that a request stated in a certain way will be rejected, while a request that asks for the same favor in a slightly different fashion will be successful?
Influencing others isn’t luck or magic, it’s science. There are proven ways to help make you more successful as a marketer, a salesperson, or as an individual trying to influence someone.
The book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Cialdini, dives into the 6 principles of influence and demonstrate ways to make people say “yes” to you or your messaging.
“People’s ability to understand the factors that affect their behavior is surprisingly poor,” Cialdini says. Most people can’t explain why they made a particular decision. But Cialdini can, and being able to identify the underlying factors that influence decisions means he also understands how to use them to get more positive responses.
Let's get to it!
But first let this little piglet start influencing 1980's aerobic attire back into fashion...
The 6 Key Principles of Influence: consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. While the following cliffnotes will devote a section to each of these principles, it is worth noting that the simple rule of material self-interest—that people want to get the most and pay the least for their choices - is not included in the 6 principles. This is because Cialdini views the material self-interest rule as a motivational given, as a goes-without-saying factor.
Commitment & Consistency Principle:
People do not like to back out of deals. We’re more likely to do something after we’ve agreed to it verbally or in writing. People strive for consistency in their commitments. They also prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions.
“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” - Sir Joshua Reynolds
Our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Indeed, 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. Once we have made up our minds about an issue, stubborn consistency allows us a very appealing luxury: We really don’t have to think hard about the issue anymore. We don’t have to sift through the blizzard of information we encounter every day to identify relevant facts; we don’t have to expend the mental energy to weigh the pros and cons; we don’t have to make any further tough decisions.
Example of Leveraging the Consistency Principle: Toy manufacturers intentionally limit supply of the most popular new toys they've advertised leading up to Christmas to get more sales in the down months of January and February. They undersupply the stores with the toys they’ve gotten the parents to promise. Most parents find those things sold out and are forced to substitute other toys of equal value. The toy manufacturers, of course, make a point of supplying the stores with plenty of these substitutes. Then, after Christmas, the companies start running the ads again for the other, special toys. That juices up the kids to want those toys more than ever. They go running to their parents whining, ‘You promised, you promised,’ and the adults go trudging off to the store to live up dutifully to their words.”
Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand. This is the reason publicly stating something (mission to lose weight, starting a company, etc) will increase follow through.
Foot-in-the-Door Technique: The tactic of starting with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with related larger request.
You can use small commitments to manipulate a person’s self-image; you can use them to turn citizens into “public servants,” prospects into “customers,” prisoners into “collaborators.” And once you’ve got a man’s self-image where you want it, he should comply naturally with a whole range of your requests that are consistent with this view of himself.
Once an active commitment is made, then, self-image is squeezed from both sides by consistency pressures. From the inside, there is a pressure to bring self-image into line with action. From the outside, there is a sneakier pressure—a tendency to adjust this image according to the way others perceive us. For appearances’ sake, then, the more public a stand, the more reluctant we will be to change it
Something special happens when people personally put their commitments on paper: They live up to what they have written down. I used to wonder why big companies such as Procter & Gamble and General Foods are always running those “25-, 50-, or 100 words or less” testimonial contests. They all seem to be alike. The contestant is to compose a short personal statement that begins with the words, “Why I like…” and goes on to laud the features of whatever cake mix or floor wax happens to be at issue. The company judges the entries and awards some stunningly large prizes to the winners. The aim is to get as many people as possible to go on record as liking the product. Participants voluntarily write essays for attractive prizes that they have only a small chance to win. But they know that for an essay to have any chance of winning at all, it must include praise for the product. So they find praiseworthy features of the product and describe them in their essays. Those who testify in writing to the product’s appeal and who, consequently, experience that “magical” pull to believe what they have written.
Persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort. The severity of an initiation ceremony significantly heightens the newcomer’s commitment to the group. The hazing to get into fraternities at US Universities is an example of this. The surveyed fraternities refused to allow civic activities into their initiation ceremonies. They wanted the men to own what they had done. No excuses, no ways out were allowed. A man who suffered through an arduous hazing could not be given the chance to believe he did so for charitable purposes. Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures. A large reward is one such external pressure. It may get us to perform a certain action, but it won’t get us to accept inner responsibility for the act.
Note: Interesting point to consider when coming up with consumer contests or sweepstakes, if the reward is too great it won’t trigger the consistency principle.
Reciprocation recognizes that people feel indebted to those who do something for them or give them a gift.
For marketers, Cialdini says: “The implication is you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return.”
It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end. — Leonardo Da Vinci
Reciprocation is one of the most potent of the weapons of influence around us. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. There is no human society that does not subscribe to the rule.
The rule for reciprocity is so strong that it can simply overwhelmed the influence of a factor—liking for the requester—that normally affects the decision to comply. It makes no difference whether the recipient likes the giver or not; the recipient still feels a sense of obligation to repay him, and they do.
Example: It is a testament to the societal value of reciprocation that we have chosen to fight the Krishnas mostly by seeking to avoid rather than to withstand the force of their gift giving. The reciprocity rule that empowers their tactic is too strong—and socially beneficial—for us to want to violate it.
The beauty of the free sample, however, is that it is also a gift and, as such, can engage the reciprocity rule. The rule only states that we should provide to others the kind of actions they have provided us; it does not require us to have asked for what we have received in order to feel obligated to repay.
However, once we get used to unwanted gifts, the feeling of obligation to repay lessons. Some examples are: return address labels sent for free, food samples at the grocery,
“There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.” Although the obligation to repay constitutes the essence of the reciprocity rule, it is the obligation to receive that makes the rule so easy to exploit. The obligation to receive reduces our ability to choose whom we wish to be indebted to and puts that power in the hands of others. Most of us find it highly disagreeable to be in a state of obligation. It weighs heavily on us and demands to be removed. In combination, the reality of internal discomfort and the possibility of external shame can produce a heavy psychological cost.
Rejection-Then-Retreat Technique: Another consequence of the rule, however, is an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us. For example, people will change from noncompliant to compliant when the request changes from a larger to a smaller request, even the person being asked to do something was not really interested in either of the things offered. This is a type of anchoring (making a large request first), then using the reciprocity principle (making a concession to a smaller request) to trigger a yes from the other person due to their feeling of responsibility to also make a concession. But note, this rejection-then-retreat technique shows that if the first set of demands is so extreme as to be seen as unreasonable, the tactic backfires. In such cases, the party who has made the extreme first request is not seen to be bargaining in good faith. Any subsequent retreat from that wholly unrealistic initial position is not viewed as a genuine concession and thus is not reciprocated. It’s interesting to note that the rejection-then-retreat tactic spurs people not only to agree to a desired request but actually to carry out the request and, finally, to volunteer to perform further requests. A pair of positive by-products of the act of concession are: feelings of greater responsibility for, and satisfaction with, the arrangement.
Social Proof Principle:
When people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look to those around them to guide their decisions and actions. They especially want to know what everyone else is doing – especially their peers.
Laugh tracks on comedy shows exist for this very reason.
Where all think alike, no one thinks very much. —Walter Lippmann
The principle of social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.
Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.
Note: Giving the impression of social acceptance or demand could be enough to create it. The reason behind seeding products with celebrities.
People respect authority. They want to follow the lead of real experts. Business titles, impressive clothing, and even driving an expensive, high-performing automobile are proven factors in lending credibility to any individual.
Giving the appearance of authority actually increases the likelihood that others will comply with requests – even if their authority is illegitimate.
When people are uncertain, they look outside themselves for information to guide their decisions. Given the incredible influence of authority figures, it would be wise to incorporate testimonials from legitimate, recognized authorities to help persuade prospects to respond or make purchases.
People prefer to say ‘yes’ to those they know and like. People are also more likely to favor those who are physically attractive, similar to themselves, or who give them compliments. Even something as ‘random’ as having the same name as your prospects can increase your chances of making a sale.
One of the things that marketers can do is honestly report on the extent to which the product or service – or the people who are providing the product or service – are similar to the audience and know the audience’s challenges, preferences and so on.
In fundamental economic theory, scarcity relates to supply and demand. Basically, the less there is of something, the more valuable it is. The more rare and uncommon a thing, the more people want it. Familiar examples are frenzies over the latest holiday toy or urban campers waiting overnight to pounce on the latest iPhone.
The tendency to be more sensitive to possible losses than to possible gains is one of the best-supported findings in social science. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to switch your advertising campaign’s message from your product’s benefits to emphasizing the potential for a wasted opportunity:
“Don’t miss this chance...”
“Here’s what you’ll miss out on...”
If your product or service is genuinely unique, be sure to emphasize its unique qualities to increase the perception of its scarcity.