Book Review: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini, PhD.
Good for: pretty much anyone, but especially those in marketing or sales; business owners; and people (like me) who get sucked into shady sales tactics
Topics: marketing, sales, motivation, psychology, behaviour
Find it on Amazon, here.
What I learnt:
Someone wiser than me once said that people read for two reasons: learning or entertainment. And if you read to learn, generally, the best stuff was written years ago and it is timeless. I could say that about this book, which was penned before I was born.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a meaty book written by Robert Cialdini, PhD, one of the preeminent voices on marketing and psychology. It took me about a month to read it on-and-off (I was also reading The Outsiders and Zen in The Martial Arts) – but I’m a slow reader.
Cialdini uses great examples, which are still relevant today.
The book covers six universal principles of persuasion, which are easily relatable — they’ve probably been used on you this week!
Instead of my usual headline “three things I learnt from the book”, I’ll briefly cover what the six principles mean to me.
- Reciprocation. The next time you shop at the supermarket or bakery, grab a free sample. The principle of reciprocation states that such an action makes us feel compelled to ‘return the favour’. Marketing teams will use this technique by offering “free” access to something.
- Commitment and consistency. A colleague would always say to me, “I am nothing if not consistent”. Even if he knew he was wrong, sometimes he would just dig his heels in and argue. The reason: inconsistency is often perceived to be undesirable.
Commitment and consistency is a very powerful technique. It is often used by master manipulators to trap you into doing something. They start with little things and force you act consistent with that action over time. Politicians and spies use this technique to great — and terrible — effect. The way to overcome it is to ask yourself: “Yes, I made that decision before, but would I make the same decision now knowing everything that I know?” It’s important to stop your first decision from making your next decision. Don’t let a decision you made in the past be the reason you are making the decision now.
- Social proof. When I went to fancy restaurants for work, my mind was always blown away by how many different sets of knives and forks were on the table. “Bloody hell,” I would think. “Which knife do I use!”
I would look around the room at others, trying to determine the socially acceptable behaviour. Now I know: start from the outside (with your entree) and work inwards until dessert. Simple!
We use these mental tricks as a shortcut through life, but they can also lead us astray. As Yogi Berra famously said about his favourite restaurant, “No-one goes there anymore – it’s too busy!” Obviously, social proofs can be faked. And as Cialdini notes, “the consequences of single-minded reliance on social evidence can be frightening.”
- Liking. You already know I like you because you are awesome and signed up to my free newsletter (below). Seriously though, everyone likes to be…well, liked. So, naturally, people use liking against us.
- Authority. Did I tell you I’m degree qualified? And did you know I have years of experience? Well, chances are, I should tell you that because you’ll be more likely to trust my advice.
Concerningly, authority is easy to fake. Titles (PhD), clothes (a flashy suit) and trappings (e.g. a sports car) are symbols of authority and yet are equally as powerful as the substance, according to Cialdini.
- Scarcity. If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read: “For a limited time only!” or “Only 2 left!” I would be a zillionaire. This is a fascinating principle and requires more than just this paragraph. Bottom line: it works!
It was also interesting to note that if you give something to someone and take it away, their desire for the item and its qualities become more pronounced. “The joy is not in experiencing a scarce commodity but in possessing it.” – Cialdini
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