In the New York Times Bestseller, psychology Professor Robert B Cialdini uses his thirty-five years of research to explain the psychology of why people say yes. This book explains the how and why of automatic influence. He breaks down the six components of any skilled persuader so anyone can ethically get anyone to say yes, in business or every day life or detect manipulation.
My key Takeaways from Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Takeaway #1 We Feel The Need to Reciprocate
We're more willing to do people a favor if they give us a reason – Any reason and if someone does us a favor we feel the need to return it, even if we don't like the person.
A powerful persuasion technique that we fall for time and time again is that of the rejection-then-retreat technique. It can either be done through negotiating a price – Starting at a higher (or lower) price that you know will be rejected and then conceding and saying a more realistic price. The other person also has to concede from their starting point and meets you in the middle. Or by you rejecting a higher priced item but feeling bad at saying no and so then buying the cheaper offered option.
Takeaway #2 We Can't Say No To Scarcity
Scarcity is another trick that our brains can't resist – Think how many times a 'Limited Stock', 'Last Chance To Buy' or 'Sale Ending Tomorrow' message has forced you to buy a product because you were scared you wouldn't find it at that price again and didn't want to miss out! Real estate agents do it too by saying there are other bidders interested which might force you to make the offer that day in case someone else snags it before you!
Humans are also susceptible for wanting what they cannot have, just think about a kid who has been told they can't have that toy or chocolate bar and how much teens and adults want that love that's forbidden!
Takeaway #3 Following The Crowd
When we're unsure how to act or react, we look to those around us to see what they're doing. Because it's natural for us to react like this we can be manipulated – Think about the canned laughter on sitcoms, are you meant to find that joke funny? There's a background of laughter so yes, you should laugh now. Companies will often use the phrases 'best-selling' or 'fastest-growing' to encourage you to buy since it seems everyone else is buying that item too.
People who are similar to us greatly influence our choices, just think about following fashion trends with your peers or going to a Tupperware party with friends. But social proof can also have a negative effect – In an emergency, if you're not sure how to react and look to others around you who are also unsure and doing nothing, you're more likely to do nothing too.
Takeaway #4 We Obey Authority
We are taught from a very young age to obey authority without question and it becomes so ingrained in us that this authority negates independent thinking. As adults we don't even need to see symbols of authority (i.e the police badge or nurse's uniform) we use titles to identify the person's authority over us, being more respectful to a professor or doctor than to someone without a professional title. We have to be careful that the person in question is not masquerading as an authority figure to gain our trust and to question what that person tells us to do if it feels wrong to us.
Lesson #1. Our Brains Love Shortcuts
Humans are easily influenced because of the way their brains work. Due to the complex world we live in, we’ve had to create shortcuts in our brains to help deal with the flood of information that comes our way every single day. We react automatically to certain stimuli, such as higher prices, presuming that the higher the price, the higher the quality.
Helping someone if they give a compelling enough reason is another shortcut our brains make. For example, someone asks, “can I borrow your phone? I have no credit, and my car has broken down.” Research has shown that most people will respond positively to this request, but if someone asks for something without a reason we are less likely to comply.
Shortcuts usually work well, helping us through life, but when an unethical marketer or con-artist comes along, we can fall foul to their tactics since they know exactly how to play us (or at least our brains!) to their advantage.
As you’ll see in the following points, the principles of scarcity, reciprocation, authority, social proof, liking, and consistency are all used by companies and marketing professionals to influence us — ethically or unethically — to do exactly what they want.
Lesson #2. The Rule of Reciprocation
It’s only natural to return the favor when a friend or family member helps you out in some way or does something nice for you as a surprise. But have you ever considered that your brain considers free samples and complimentary items as favors, too, and therefore feels the need to repay the favor?
Companies and influencers are well aware of this psychological principle and use it as a way to influence your actions. That’s right, the complimentary dessert, the free sample, and the free stickers for the kids from fundraisers are not as innocent as they first appear—it’s all about getting you to reciprocate their “kindness.”
Our desire to reciprocate is so strong that it doesn’t stop at the individual; even entire nations feel the need to reciprocate. Take Ethiopia, for example: in 1985, when the country was plagued by disease, poverty, and starvation, they sent $5,000 via the Red Cross to help Mexico, which had just been hit by a devastating earthquake. Why would the poorest country in the world do this? In 1935, Mexico had sent aid to Ethiopia after Italy had invaded it, so Ethiopia felt the need to reciprocate the favor.
It’s impossible to entirely remove the feeling of reciprocity obligation, but you can learn to recognize and resist intentional “reciprocacy abuse” by pausing to ask yourself: is this favor or gift genuine? Do I honestly care about this product? Do I genuinely want to take this action or help this cause? Will I feel obliged to repay the favor or give something back in return?
Lesson #3. The “Reject Then Retreat” Tactic
Just as we feel obligated to return favors, so do we feel obligated to make a concession when the person we are negotiating with is making one.
Think about someone trying to sell you something that you reject instantly knowing it’s simply not right for you—it could be a lavish vacation or a piece of tech with too many bells and whistles for your fundamental needs. The salesperson then presents you with a more affordable package. Because the seller has made a concession, you feel the need to match this by buying and may even exceed it by buying two of the cheaper products or opting for some additional add-ons.
This is known as the “reject-then-retreat” strategy, and it’s one of the most powerful persuasion tactics. Those who abuse this tactic never expect you to take them up on their first offer; the over-priced, ridiculous request allows them to work back to a more favorable request that you will agree to.
It’s not just salespeople who use this tactic—you see it happening in politics, courts of law, and employment all the time. A person will start off at an extreme position, with a ridiculous request that they know won’t be accepted, then make gradual concessions until they get to the agreement they always wanted from the other side (anything extra being a bonus if the other side conceded too soon).
Lesson #4. Scarcity Creates Desire
You’re bound to have been drawn in by advertising slogans such as “Hurry - Sale Ends in 24 Hours!” and “Must End Today!” These phrases and many more like it trigger our decision-making process by introducing the idea of scarcity: People are more likely to buy something when they think they could miss out on it if they don’t act quickly. As humans, we hate and fear missing out (i.e., FOMO), and due to this, we can end up buying much more of a product than we actually need (up to 6 times more than we need where food is concerned, research has shown).
Our decision-making process is only influenced when 2 conditions are met, though: first, if the particular thing has decreased over time, and second, if an element of competition is introduced, as we humans cannot bear to lose that thing to a rival. Just think how people keep bidding at auctions, put in a higher offer on a house when told there are other people interested, and go all-out to win the love of someone who is being wooed by a rival. Our need to have that thing becomes overzealous when the pressure of competition is introduced, and we’ll go all out to get it just because someone else is interested.
Always stop to think of your reason behind wanting a certain item: Do you want it because it’s important and has a vital function? Or do you want it because of an irrational desire that has crept in due to a scarcity belief?
Lesson #5. We Have a Weakness for Wanting What We Cannot Have
It’s human nature to desire what we can’t have, and compliance professionals know how to work this “Romeo and Juliet effect” to their advantage. Whether we’re forbidden from speaking to a person, seeing information, or a product is banned, people naturally want that thing more than ever.
In Dade County, Florida, residents began hoarding masses of laundry detergent after phosphate was declared an illegal ingredient. Although other detergents were available, people became convinced that laundry detergents containing phosphates were more efficient. They were wanting what they could no longer have, even going to the extremes of smuggling it! Likewise, research has shown that in the courtroom, juries are greatly influenced by information that is censored.
In your own life, you may know how much kids and teens want something or someone as soon as it’s been deemed off-limits; this “Romeo and Juliet effect” is related to the scarcity effect, so ask yourself, do I want this thing simply because I can’t have it...?
Lesson #6. We Have an Innate Need for Consistency
It has been discovered through research that if you ask someone to watch out for your belongings — whether you ask a stranger on a train to watch your bag or ask neighbours to keep an eye on your home while you’re away — they’re more likely to chase down a thief, even at the risk of their own safety. However, people are more likely to turn a blind eye to theft if they haven’t been asked to keep an eye out. Why is this?
It’s because us humans have an inbuilt need to be consistent; we need our actions to match our words. Being consistent makes our life easier because we don’t need to consider our actions, so our brain has made this one of its famous shortcuts. As soon as we’ve committed to looking after something or watching over it, we strive to do what we promised, to be consistent with our commitment.
With this in mind, you want to be extra aware of the sales technique known as the “foot in the door technique, ”which gets people to make a small purchase first, small enough in monetary value that you think, “I have nothing to lose if this is no good or if this isn’t for me.” This small purchase is a commitment between consumer and seller and, presuming the buyer is happy, allows the seller to market and sell more expensive items to them in the future.
Once again, always stop to think of your reason behind wanting a certain item. Do you want it because it’s important and has a vital function in your life?
Lesson #7. The Harder Something Is to Attain, the More We Want It
We instinctively value things more if they’re difficult for us to attain. We become more committed to getting that thing the harder it is, and in instances when things are made easier for us, we resist it, preferring the harder way or nothing at all.
Think of fraternity houses where initiation rituals take place for the person to become a member, though these once painful and degrading rituals now focus on giving back and charity work, the whole idea is still to have wannabe members make the inner commitment to doing everything in their power to become a member. Without having convinced themselves that it’s worth the struggle, people come up with external excuses that make it easier for them to give up.
An unethical marketer makes use of this phenomenon by offering a big discount or an extraordinary low price. He will then manipulate the buyer by telling them that the low price was an error and because the seller has already made their mind up based on the good price, they will go ahead and purchase at the higher price, the desire for consistency kicking in.
If you’re in the middle of purchasing something and the price suddenly goes up, ask yourself, Would I still be interested if I’d known the original price in the beginning? If you answer yes, go ahead and make that purchase, but if you answer no, back out of the deal knowing that you were being manipulated by a seasoned marketer.
Lesson #8. We Look to Others When We Are Unsure
Companies make customers think that other people are buying when they use phrases such as “best-selling” and “fastest growing.” This is because when we’re uncertain how to act or react (should I buy this or not?), we will look around to see what others are doing and decide on the correct course of action based on that. This is known as the principle of social proof and can easily be understood when thinking of laugh tracks played in sitcoms; if we hear other people laughing at a mediocre joke, we are more likely to do so.
In an emergency situation, it has been proven that the more people present, the less likely an individual is to get involved; this phenomenon is known as bystander inaction. Two factors contribute to this: first, the personal responsibility of each person is diminished when other people are around (i.e., each individual thinking that someone else will phone the police or the ambulance), and second,, in today’s world it’s quite difficult to identify a real emergency. For example, the man laying on the sidewalk might be drunk rather than truly hurt, and you wouldn’t want to phone an ambulance if there’s any uncertainty, so you observe what other people are doing (if they’re walking past ignoring him, you do the same).
Needless to say, if you’re ever faced with an emergency, don’t let bystander inaction take hold by directly calling on individuals to help. This ensures the individual’s need for consistency kicks in, so they won’t copy the inaction of those around them.
Lesson #9. We Are Influenced by People Who Are Similar to Us
As the above examples show, we look to others to guide us in our behavior, but it should be known that when these people are like us, the tendency to do what they do becomes even greater. This is why teenagers are so easily influenced by their peers, and sadly, also why when there is coverage of a suicide in the media, death rates increase. Statistics show that approximately 58 deaths result from each suicide story that makes it to the front page. This is all down to the Werther effect, named after an 18th century book that led to a spate of suicides in Europe due to readers wanting to emulate the experience of the protagonist.
In terms of unethical marketing, think of adverts in which people “just like you” are being interviewed on the street; often these are fake interviews targeting you, the everyday person who makes up the largest potential market for a product. Any endorsement for a product that comes from a person similar to themselves (if you’re a working Mom, and an advert features a working Mom just like you), you’ll feel more inclined to value what this person says and try out the product.
Lesson #10. We Empathize and Comply With People We Like
Have you ever been to a Tupperware Party, an Avon event, or an Ann Summers Party? If you answered yes, you’ll have witnessed, perhaps unknowingly, the power of some masterfully crafted compliance tricks in action. Social proof is one such compliance trick that you’re now well aware of (“everyone else is buying, so I better purchase something, too” reciprocity is also in action at these events I’ve been invited to this event with drinks and nibbles, and I’ve been given a free gift, so I better buy something to reciprocate”). But the greatest trick you won’t have spotted up until now is that the companies themselves don’t invite you—a friend, family member, or acquaintance does! We’re more receptive to the people we like so, of course, you’re going to “go along” to the party as moral support, to keep them company, as a favor to them.
That’s just the beginning, though. These companies know that people love flattery and enjoy mixing with like-minded people, so the salesperson will often be told to dish out the compliments, so that people like them; this is known as the halo effect. Once you like someone, you’ll trust them, think they’re kind, smart, and honest, and then you’ll buy from them—job done!
The halo effect isn’t just something that compliance professionals use; it is also used in presidential elections to get people to think they’re all on the same team or working towards a shared goal.
It goes even deeper than this. We associate people with information, so you may dislike a person simply because they were the bearer of bad news. Watch out that your brain doesn’t get confused: if you’re watching someone talk on TV whilst eating delicious food, you may associate the person with pleasure and like them. In this case, it’s not their words that are making you like them, it’s the food you’re eating. So next time you find yourself thinking you made a new friend and liking someone that you haven’t known long, make sure you’re not being manipulated, whether by them or another factor.
Lesson #11. Obeying Authority Without Question
The majority of us are taught to respect authority from a young age, be that the police force, teachers, judges, medical staff, etc. Our inclination to comply with authority is so ingrained and powerful that as adults, we will often do as we’re told, or believe what we’re told, without question, even if it negates our independent thinking and we end up doing something in error because we trusted the person so much we didn’t question their mistake.
Take, for example, the funny story of a nurse who had a patient with an earache in his right ear. The doctor had written down instructions to administer medicine in the R ear. The nurse administered the medicine in the patient’s rectum. Neither she nor the patient questions the treatment due to the doctor being a figure of authority.
Sometimes we search for evidence of someone’s authority—badges and official passes, clothes such as a white doctor’s coat or a priest’s robes, but also titles such as “professor”—can greatly influence our perception of someone, making us more respectful of them and more accepting of what they tell us. Con artists know this and will often present us with fake paperwork / ID or dress up in order to gain our trust.
To avoid being manipulated by a fraudster, ask yourself, Do I know 100% that this person is an authority figure or could he/she be pretending? Second, ask yourself, What level of honesty should I expect from this person in this circumstance? For example, a waiter might be qualified to recommend wines, but it’s in his best interest to recommend an expensive wine to you. Pause to think and avoid being manipulated.
Key Points from Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
- Humans' brains use mental shortcuts and fixed-action patterns in order to save energy. This causes us to respond in the same, predictable way to everyday experiences.
- While these mental shortcuts can be useful, they can also be easily manipulated and exploited by companies and unethical marketers and salespeople.
Some of the most used psychological principles of influence are:
- 1. Reciprocity - We’re likely to return the favor when we receive something from others.
- 2. Consistency - Once we’ve committed to something, we usually conform to that commitment.
- 3. Social proof - We are heavily influenced by the actions of others.
- 4. Likeability - We are more easily influenced by individuals we like and see as trustworthy.
- 5. Authority - We have a tendency to comply with and be influenced by people in positions of authority.
- 6. Scarcity - We attach more value to things that are scarce and few in quantity.
- Critical thinking and deep reasoning help us consider what is in our best interest.
Chapter One - Weapons of Influence
Chapter Two - Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take... and Take
Chapter Three - Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind
Chapter Four - Social Proof: Truth Are Us
Chapter Five - Liking: The Friendly Thief
Chapter Six - Authority: Directed Deference
Chapter Seven - Scarcity: The Rule of the Few
Chapter Eight - Epilogue Instant Influence: Primitive Consent of an Automatic Age
Best Quotes from Influence
“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”
“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much." —WALTER LIPPMANN
“Embarrassment is a villain to be crushed.”
“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”
“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”
“There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news. The simple association with it is enough to stimulate our dislike.”
“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 way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”
“People seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.”
“Freedoms once granted will not be relinquished without a fight.”
“The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start.”
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." —ALBERT EINSTEIN
― Robert B. Cialdini - Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
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Editor and Founder
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.