Recently I picked up a book by Arizona State University Psychology and Marketing professor Robert Cialdini called, “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion.”
I must say, it is brilliant.
If you’ve ever wondered why you check your cell phone when someone else around you is doing it, Cialdini has the answer.
If you’ve ever been pressured into buying something you didn’t really want and can’t describe why you bought it but felt compelled to, Cialdini has the answer.
If you’ve ever wondered why hot water feels a lot hotter after you dip your hands in cold water? Cialdini has the answer. So let's get into some of them...
How did he come up with this?
It took many years of lecturing students, immersing himself in the cut-throat world of advertising, marketing, recruiting and salespeople and also conducting experimental studies. He first published this work in 1984 and has been revising the book with more examples ever since.
He believes that influence is very scientific. Like brushing your teeth and driving, it just happens. Or so we might think that it’s happening spontaneously. People that I call influencers ,like marketers and advertisers, use these tools very effectively to suck us all in.
Heck, I might even be using some of these tactics on you right now.
So what are Cialdini’s 6 Weapons of Influence?
The old “Give and Take…and Take…and Take”
The old adage “It’s better to give than to receive” is seen as a noble virtue. But influencers use the Principle of Reciprocity against a target and I’m sure you’ll agree that especially around Christmas time, this principle is in full effect. People often feel obliged to offer gifts and favours to others if they have been offered to them. Human beings generally always return such gestures with their own gifts and favours.
Why do we do this? Cialdini basically says that people are uncomfortable being indebted to others. If I buy you something, you will naturally think that I’m expecting something in return and almost always will oblige to buy me something back.
Reciprocity has very far reaches – even in car dealerships. Salesmen are trained to offer you a coffee, tea, water or hot chocolate when you enter their premises. This is partly as a welcoming gesture and mostly the reciprocity tactic at play. When you accept this gift of a coffee, you’re one step closer to compliance even though on the surface it looks like the most miniscule of things.
Commitment and Consistency
“Stick to it”
Ever been in an argument and over the course of it, you know you’re wrong but keep arguing anyway because your own pride or ego? I sure have. This is the Commitment and Consistency weapon of influence at work.
Cialdini says that once someone has made up their mind and taken a stance on something (the commitment), they have a very deep inkling to be consistent. He describes the inner pressures (ego and pride) and outer pressure where people expect us not to flip-flop on our opinions or stances.
When a telemarketer or survey company phones you and asks for “No more than two minutes of your time for this survey,” and you reply with a “yes” you have now committed to it. Over the course of the conversation you will feel very uncomfortable not following through to the end, so you just end up doing it.
So be careful, Cialdini says, “Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand.”
“If everyone else is doing it, it must be right” or “Monkey see – Monkey do”
Let’s go back to grade school where you’d beg your parents for the latest Nintendo or Nike Air’s because “all the other kids have them.” Among humans, our DNA has been hardwired for the last ten thousand years that there is optimal safety in numbers.
This principle is the strongest when you’re feeling particular and unsure about something. The default feeling is to go with something proven and there’s no better proof than social proof.
Say you are on vacation in an unfamiliar locale and are hungry. When you walk by a restaurant that’s empty, do you have a strong desire to go in there? Of course not. When you walk by a restaurant that looks lively and full the social proof principle influences you to decide “Well, the place is jammed so it must be good.”
Back in 1999 everybody was buying technology and dot com stocks, so it must have been ok. If you weren’t buying and making money, you were a fool. Then the crash came. Nowadays there are red hot housing markets in Toronto and Vancouver, “Everyone is buying a home. If you don’t buy now, you’ll be priced out forever.” Social proof is all around us, every day.
As Cialdini says, “We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behaviour for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.”
“The Friendly Thief”
If you are likeable, more people will say yes to you and there is no more common way to become likeable than by providing someone with some flattery. People are huge suckers for any form of flattery, even when it isn’t necessarily true.
In advertising this is commonly used in the form of testimonials from respected individuals. You are more inclined to buy a book if it was a New York Times Bestseller and watch a movie that had big name movie pundits rate it 4 stars because you have developed an affinity and like those names.
How do you build liking? For example, Cialdini goes into detail that 6 separate and distinct 30 minute interactions spaced out are more effective to plant seeds of liking than one straight 3 hour get together. This is where your EI (Emotional Intelligence) and your active listening skills become very useful to build trust and relationships.
“Trust me, I’m a doctor”
This weapon of influence is probably the most universally recognizable. We grow up instantly learning to obey authority – out parents. As we age, we are trained to listen to more authority as it becomes apparent in our lives like teachers and the police. Some of the authoritative tools that influence us include job titles, uniforms and even material things like cars.
Marketers and advertisers cleverly use authority to provide more respect to a product or service. We all watch enough tv and have seen toothpaste commercials use the authoritative punch at the end of it, “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Colgate.”
“Act now or be priced out forever”
Scarcity has been discussed, theorized and dissected as a weapon of influence most notably by economists for hundreds of years. If demand goes up, supply goes down and the object becomes more desirable because it has become scarce.
Influencers, marketers and advertisers use this tactic against us to make us feeling like we’re missing out on a deal or that we’d better act within the next 2 hours before the price goes up. All it takes is for the right (and planned) scenario where a low price jumps and we become hardwired and trained to act on this impulse without any future regard.
The possibility of loss is a much stronger motivating factor than the possibility of gain. “If I don’t buy this now…”
The main way to recognize scarcity is when something is being pitched, offered or marketed to you that describe a time limit or restricted and limited resources.
Key Takeaway of the 6 Weapons of Influence
We want to be able to recognize when and how we’re being influenced.
The above 6 principles should now be easier to recognize in a way that a trigger will be pulled in our brain, alerting us to their existence in the moment. Once we are alerted to these weapons being used against us, we have to employ tactics to negate their influence.
Cialdini’s book is chalk full of specific scenarios and how you might feel when your back is against the wall. He goes on to arm you with the ability to deflect these weapons of influence.
This book is mandatory reading to understand how we are being driven in this world and how to take back your position as the driver.