“Pre-Suasion” by Robert Cialdini was first published in 1984.

At the time, the impact was so low, that the publisher’s house withdrew its funding saying it was the decent thing to do. Otherwise, it would be money down the drain.

            The basis of this book as with “Influence: the psychology of persuasion” by the same author, are the experiments conducted not in a laboratory but among people in real-life events.

Dr. Robert Cialdini took on various jobs, went through training courses to be able to study and analyze his findings in a real-time event.



            Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist said: “Every battle is won before it even took place”, which points out the importance of the preparation stage of the action stage. When the preparation stage has been perfectly completed, the action stage is only a consequence and not the action itself. That is the setting of “Pre-Suasion”.

            Dale Carnegie in his How to win friends and influence people, assured us that “you can make so many friends in two months by actually begin interested in people then you can make in two years by making people be interested in you”. 

            “Pre-Suasion” is setting the stage before the event takes place to ensure its success. Make people receptive to your message prior to listening to it.


Persuaded without even realizing it…


“Maybe the press doesn’t always succeed in telling people what to think; but it has tremendous success in telling people about what to think”, Bernard Cohen, a political analyst.

            Our lives are a sort of magic show.  The magician draws our attention to the focal point. 

Advertising corporations, the media, and the people around us fight for our attention. 

As a result, our point of attention becomes central and will influence future actions. For this reason, setting the scene before the event is so important. 

            Like a mouse in a maze, where the mouse is us.

Imagine someone standing above the maze, opening, and closing doorways to guide the mouse on the road the observer has prepared for him.


How dangerous can pre-suasion be?

            On the 20th of March 2003, President George Bush ordered the invasion of Irak. After a series of military attacks that crushed the Saddam Hussein government, things started to degenerate into a brutal and crushing effort that costs the USA a lot of blood, money, prestige, and global influence.

The initial justification of the war was the seizure of the Saddam Hussein warehouse of weapons of mass destruction. Since the weapons were never found, the intention of the war changed periodically from the elimination of humanitarian abuse by Saddam Hussein to the protection of world oil reserves and the establishment of a democratic regime.

            Given the fact that the war was going further and further from its initial justification, with an intention changing periodically, the media managed the situation beautifully. It shifted the attention from the general motivation of the war to its daily execution. 

Around 600 to 700 reporters were living among the troops, filming their daily activity.

The public’s attention shifted from the general to the particular. Instead of looking at the war from a general perspective, you lived and breathe through the streaming of the lives of the soldiers. 


The result of persuasion 

            One year after the invasion, colonel Rick Long, from the USA marine corps, was asked why the army supported such a program.

His answer couldn’t have been more direct: “Truthfully speaking, our job was to win the war. A big part of that war was informational. In consequence, we will try to dominate the informational environment… Mostly, we were very pleased with the results”.

            We are all familiar with Amazon, the e-commerce platform where everybody goes nowadays, and what it represents.

For many years the sales strategy was simple: sell at a lower price than your competitors.

Sometimes the quality was better but most of the time not. All those private labels sellers were competing on price instead of quality.

As a business person, we all know competing for the price is a game where only the strong brands can stay in the game.

However, over time, the sales strategy has shifted going from price to quality. If you want to push for quality instead of price, you have to dip into your bag of tricks and make it happen.

            Naomi Mandel and Eric Johnson explained in an article they wrote in 2002 how determined the visitor of a furniture website to buy furniture. 

At first, they wanted to emphasize comfort not price.

All the information on the website related to furniture had the word comfort in it. Everything was about comfort. The emphasis went only on comfort while the price remained irrelevant. 

The results were amazing. So, they decided to place the focus of attention on price instead of comfort. They changed the background image from one with clouds into one with little coins. Everything now became about price and discounts. The results were as expected.


A change in our environment


Remember Ivan Pavlov‘s dogs. Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment where he placed a dog in a room. Before bringing in the dinner, the experimenter would ring a bell to let the dog know the food was coming. In time Pavlov used only the bell to let the dog know the food was coming, without actually bringing the food. 

The dog continued to drool without the food. The idea behind the project was classical conditioning.

When Pavlov invited scientists to witness the experiment, the dog didn’t drool anymore.

The same happened when one of the experimenter’s students worked with the dog in a separate room.

The student stimulated the dog, with great success. Then he asked Pavlov to witness the experiment. When Pavlov came in, the dog didn’t react the way he would normally react.

The explanation was simple: every time a new element appears in the dog’s environment, the drooling process fails to take place. The new element captures the dog’s attention. Thus, the process of classical conditioning is not effective anymore. 

In order to survive, an animal has to be alert and fully aware of all the changes in his environment. For this reason, when new elements are introduced into the environment, the survival and investigation reflex is so powerful that it cancels all other previous activities.


Does this happen only with animals?

Did you ever go from one room to another with the intention of looking for something you needed only to find out that the moment you stepped into another room you forgot the reason you went into the room in the first place? Don’t worry! You’re not getting old. It’s the same thing that happened to Ivan Pavlov’s dog. The moment you step from one room to the next, even a familiar room in your house, your point of attention is on the distractions of the new environment. That leaves you oblivious to the reason you went inside the room in the first place.


Setting the mood for pre-suasion


When you want people to move in the right direction, there are ways to make it happen. 

If we want somebody to buy a box of expansive chocolates, we plant the idea that paying more for a quality product is desirable.

Simply get the people coming into the store to write down a higher number on a piece of paper than the price you are asking for your chocolates.

Having set the pre-suasion mood of higher value, it’s easy to get them to buy the chocolates you need them to buy.


If you want people to…Set the pre-suasion stage

  • buy an expensive bottle of French wine, place French music in the background.
  • buy untested products, have them answer a short questionnaire, asking them if they are adventurous.
  • be more open to what we have to say, offer them a hot beverage first.
  • to help more, focus their attention on pictures of people working or living together.

Think, in advance, what you want other people to do.

Set the pre-suasion stage.

Watch the magic happen.

The others won’t even understand why they are acting the way they do.

No matter our level of intelligence, influence will work on all of us. The moment when we realize it, it can be too late.


Is persuasion so simple?


Imagine you are sitting at a coffee shop with your cup of coffee.

You see a couple sitting at a table in front of you.

They seem to be having a discussion about what movie to watch that evening. You watch the conversation and draw the conclusion that the man was clearly the decisive hand in the matter.

The couple is leaving.

A few tables down you see a friend. He walks up to you and you realize he also witnessed the couple’s conversation. His conclusion is different: the woman won the argument. 

Two people witness the same situation. Yet their conclusions are totally different?

It all depends on the focal point of view!

You were sitting at a table and you could only see the man’s face. You were seeing only the back of the woman. Your focal point was the man. Therefore, you conclude that the man had the final word. 

Your friend, on the other hand, was facing the woman. He could only see the back of the man. Therefore, he concluded that the woman had the last word.



The decision process depends on the face that is the most visible. 

The most central factor determines the outcome of the situation. 

The conclusion would have been closer to reality if the position of both yourself and your friend had been to the side of the table rather than at the back.

It’s funny how something so apparently meaningless as the physical perspective you have in a situation can change your conclusions.

It makes you wonder about the high possibility of being wrong in so many situations.




Like many books by Robert Cialdini, “Pre-Suasion” is a useful tool to have under your belt.

You learn that the very instincts that you rely on to protect you from influence and manipulation are the same instincts that can be used against you, without you even noticing it.

Does that mean that, once we discovered the methods, we will be more careful the next time around? Who knows!

If we read what most salespeople and advertisers out there are telling us, we might not have a chance after all.

They all start from the presumption that no matter how much the world has changed, there’s one thing that stays the same and that is human nature. 

Even if we have become more intelligent in sensing when people around us are trying to manipulate us or influence us into doing what they want us to do, there will always be new methods discovered that will put us into a sensitive situation of becoming victims of our own human nature.


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  1. Pingback: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

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