Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Influence: the psychology of persuasion by Robert Cialdini, gives us an insight into the tools used by the people, whose intentions are less than honorable. We like to think we are a hard nut to crack, when, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

Day in and day out, we make decisions. In order to make those decisions, we have to process pieces of information. However, the amount of information that we have to process is overwhelming.  

  If the amount of information is too large, how can we possibly know if we are making the right decisions?

The answer is we don’t.

In order to make sense of the information we receive from the outside world; we have developed certain filters.

These filters allow us to know certain aspects of the world and guide our behaviors. Call them short-cuts, if you will. 

The irony is that the same short-cuts that are supposed to help us, can lead us astray. 

In his doctorate thesis “Transformational Grammar”, Noam Chomsky states that there are three processes through which human beings create those filters to understand the outside world.

 

The three processes are:

Elimination

We eliminate a lot of internal and external information.

Eliminating information

George Miller, an American psychologist, in his book “Seven, plus or minus two”, says the following: 

– our conscious mind remembers 7 pieces of information at any one time, plus or minus two.

The rest is erased.

On a good day, we can retain up to nine elements. On a bad day, around five. 

Distortion 

is our second filter. 

Distortion

Think of the moment you visit an empty house and you can already see where the furniture goes.

Well, the furniture was not even there, which means you were hallucinating. In other words, you were hallucinating.

We can distort reality either through

  • hallucinations or
  • creativity
Generalization 

Generalization

Our learning process takes place through generalization.

For example:

A child learns to open one door.

Then he learns to open the second door.

Then, the third door.

As a result, the child will generalize: all doors open the same way.

The moment the child uses an electric door, the learning process starts again.

Because we eliminate, distort, and generalize, we cannot say that what we live in is reality but a perception of reality. 

Each of us perceives reality in a different way, based on our knowledge, experience, education, and memories. 

 

What do filters have to do with influence?

Using such filters in our daily lives can be both positive and negative.

In order for the brain to cope with the amount of information received, it will take short-cuts.

These short-cuts are the same as the filters we use. They are programmed responses we have used before in a similar situation. 

This means that we are vulnerable to other people, who will try to manipulate the information to take advantage of us. 

This is where Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: the psychology of persuasion”, warns us about the negative use of those principles. 

Cialdini talks about behavioral patterns we have developed to help us react in everyday situations.

He goes even a step further in warning us of the individuals who will try and manipulate our weaknesses to get what they want.

This applies to all aspects of our lives: from selling to buying, from marketing to business transactions. We are surrounded by people who need or want something from us. These people will use every tactic in the book to their best interest, leaving us wondering why we reacted the way we did.

 

 According to Robert Cialdini, there are six principles of influence:

Reciprocity

Consistency

Consensus

Liking

Authority

Scarcity

 

The principle of Reciprocity

 

A university teacher has conducted an experiment. He sent Christmas cards to a group of complete strangers.

The answers he got back were astounding.

People he had never met before sent him Christmas cards in return.

Why did this happen?

According to the principle of reciprocity, we feel the need to repay a gesture with a similar gesture.

When someone is doing us a favor we reciprocate the deed by doing something similar in return.

At first, this seems innocent. After all, we are nice to someone who has been nice to us.

In our minds, the transaction is double-sided, in which each of the parts has something to gain.

But, what happens when people take advantage of the reciprocity principle?

One of Robert Cialdini’s students had car problems one day.

A young man offered to help with the problem.

As a thank you, the student told him that if he ever needed a favor, he should only ask.

A month later, the young man showed up at her door. He asked to borrow her car for two hours. Although the request seemed unusual, she gave him the keys.

The problem is when the requested favor is disproportionate to the initial one. In order to rid ourselves of owing someone, we become victims of other people’s requests.

What are we to do in such cases, where people are trying to take advantage of the reciprocity principle?

 

The favorite method is the jiu-jitsu way.

Refuse the initial favor in the first place. 

Another way is to try and see the act for what it is not for what it might be. Return a favor with a favor.

Don’t allow the other person to decide the manner in which he is repaid.

If someone makes us a gift, let’s remember it and make a gift, at a point in time, in return.

 

The principle of consistency

We have the tendency to be consistent with what we have said or done.

A philanthropist is a person, who helps when there is a crisis. In a future crisis, we count on the same person to act in a consistent, philanthropic manner, as before.  

Moreover, being consistent does not only build a certain image of ourselves to the outside world but builds the image we have of ourselves.

Are we still being consistent when that appears to be to our detriment?

Of course, we are.

Not being consistent with our previous actions, is frowned upon and deemed as foolish and irresponsible.

Even if, at times, this tends to backfire, we still do it to preserve the image we have of ourselves. We also do it to show others that they are right when they view us a certain way.

But what do we do in situations where we feel we are being taken advantage of?

By the time we analyze every situation individually, the time for action is gone.

We need to trust the gut feeling that tells us to recognize the situation for what it is instead for what it appears to be.

Evy Poumpouras, former Secret Service Agent, in her “Becoming bullet proof”, calls it the sixth sense. It’s the feeling we get when something is wrong. We can trust it to guide our steps. It also gets us out of dangerous situations. 

 

The principle of consensus

 

In a new situation, we tend to let other people decide our course of action.

We perceive the actions of others as being the correct ones. As a consequence, we adjust our actions accordingly.

But what if other people’s actions are not the correct ones?

Do we simply copy them, without deciding for ourselves if the actions are correct or not?

If you think you are strong and can resist the temptation of copying other people, think again!

Recently, a study has been conducted, where a young lady was placed in a doctor’s waiting room.

She was surrounded by other people, who were part of a social test.

The moment a bell rang, all the people involved in the test stood up, then sat down.

The young lady was the case study. She had no idea she was part of the test. The question is: will the lady copy the others even if she doesn’t understand the meaning of the bell? 

The first time the bell rang, the people in the test stood up. The young lady didn’t.

A second time the bell rang. Everybody stood up. Not the young lady! At this moment she was starting to question herself.

The bell rang a third time. This time, the young lady stood up. She had no idea why everybody was standing up when the bell was ringing. Social proof compelled her to stand up as well. 

Every time the bell rang, the young lady stood up.

The logic went out the window.   

The people involved in the test went inside the doctor’s office until the young lady was left alone in the waiting room.

Every time the alarm rang, she stood up. 

Her behavior had already changed.

Now, when new people arrived, they did exactly what the young lady did.  The first couple of times they were reluctant, but they soon stood up when the bell rang.

  When we look to others to guide our actions in unfamiliar situations we might be in trouble.

We might end up copying behavior without understanding the reason. 

Do not rely simply on social proof!

Base your decision also on objective facts, personal experience, and your judgment. Even if you are wrong, you are the one responsible and not somebody else. 

 

The principle of liking

 

We are more vulnerable than we think.

We say “yes” more easily to people that we like.

People who pay us compliments are in our good books as well as those who help us achieve a goal.

We are attracted to what we like. In consequence, we tend to extend the liking to other people, situations, or objects.

The opposite of liking is also true.

This explains the experience of a weatherman.

He said that whenever he announced bad weather, people would come up to him and act badly. They held him responsible for the bad weather.

However, the moment he moved to a sunny town, he didn’t have that problem anymore. People were associating him with good weather. 

Selling people exploit the liking principle more than others.

They start by asking us a lot of questions, to get to know us better.

The idea is to find things in common.

Once we feel like we are similar, we loosen up and start to like them.

Since they earn our “trust”, saying “no” the next time they try to sell us something will be more difficult. 

Look at the situation objectively!

Ask yourself if your actions towards others are a natural response to their good nature or simply an automatic response induced by the false claim made by others that they have your best interest at heart?

In the “One sentence persuasion” course by Blair Warren, we have the explanation of the liking principle in a simple manner: 

  • people will do anything for people who support their dreams

 

The principle of authority

 

As children, we were taught to respect and obey people with authority.

Our parents, our teachers, doctors, and the government.

We have the tendency to play upon the behavior we were taught.

The dangerous thing arises when we submit to these authoritarian figures without the need to question their motives or the quality of their authority. What is even more dangerous is the amount of influence these authorities have over us. What’s even more dangerous are the lengths to which they tend to go in order to exercise their influence over us.

A nurse gets a phone call from a doctor.

The doctor tells her to administer medicine, in a dangerous dose, which was not even on the list of approved prescribed medicine in the hospital.

Will she perform an action based on a phone call from a person she didn’t even know only because they said they were a doctor?

Out of all the nurses in the study, almost ninety-three percent have administered the medicine.

In order to protect ourselves from dangerous situations, we need to ask ourselves what type of authority we are dealing with. We cannot just do things just because someone in a position of authority asks us to do. Trust your sixth sense, as Evy Poumpouras describes in “Becoming Bullet Proof”. The sixth sense is the feeling we get when something is wrong. 

 

The principle of scarcity

Abundance is not as appealing as scarcity.

The more something is in a limited number, the more we crave it.

This explains why we tend to fall victim to trained salespeople. They make us believe that the thing we want is in a limited number, when in fact it’s not true.

Think of “Romeo and Juliet” . Was William Shakespeare aware of the scarcity principle or was it a simple coincidence?

The more their families were against their love, the more attractive they become to one another.  Would their behavior have been different, had their families agreed to their love?

The moment we are hit by the scarcity principle, the logic goes out of the window. Emotions set and we want what the others cannot have.

Before you buy something, take a minute and think. Then, ask yourself you really need the product or you just want to prevent others from having it?

 

Takeaways 

We should take “Influence: the psychology of persuasion” for what it is: an introspection into human nature and the meaning behind our behavior in certain given situations.

We all use these principles, whether we are aware of it or not.

“Influence: the psychology of persuasion” helps us understand why we do the things we do.

“Influence” can be a dangerous tool in the hands of those who are trying to take advantage of our good nature. “Influencing” other people to agree with us does not have to be a bad thing. The difference between influence and manipulation lies in one crucial detail: intention. 

Does that mean that we will be prepared not to fall victim to those trying to take advantage of us and our good nature? Of course not. 

We will continue to:

  • do things for others based on the reciprocity principle
  • crave the things that are scarce
  • do more for the people we like
  • be consistent and stick to our words and actions
  • respect authority
  • rely on others’ behaviors to show us what to do

The question is are the others doing the same for us or are they abusing the principles to their advantage? 

We should take “Influence: the psychology of persuasion” for what it is: an introspection into human nature and ta means to understand our own behaviors. 

We all use these principles, whether we are aware of it or not.

 

This post contains an affiliate link. This means I get a small fee, at no cost to you. For further information, please read our disclaimer

 

Influence- the psychology of persuasion

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4.65

Ease to read

4.9/5

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3.8/5

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4.9/5

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Pros

  • An insight into our behaviour
  • An eye opener
  • Experiments conducted in the real world
  • The principles are explained in a very simple way
  • Accessible to digest

Cons

  • You have to be patient to follow the idea

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