Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, published 1984, 2006
Another study in the motivations underlying human behavior
Originally published in 1984, Cialdini’s “Influence” has gone through several updates and reprints since. The book outlines 6 categories of persuasion, most of which we encounter on a daily basis (frequently by someone who wants us to buy something, but not always), and most of them are so ingrained in us that we barely even notice ourselves complying with them anymore.
Now this is not to say that you won’t recognize the 6 categories, in fact you’ll know them all too well, but the genius of the book lies in describing how each one of these methods is currently used unbeknownst to us, you’ll start recognizing them being used the second someone’s using them, which helps to ignore them if you want.
The 6 categories of influence
- Consistency & Commitment – continuing a course of action to be consistent with your previous actions (e.g. you subscribed to our cable service last year, so why not this year?)
- Reciprocation – feeling obligated to give something in return just because someone gave you a gift (e.g. take these free mailing labels, can you make a donation to the Children Need _________ Fund?)
- Social Proof – when there is a lack of objective, 3rd party evidence, people typically use what other people are doing as a guide for their actions, which is acceptable in most situations, but also horribly unacceptable in many others (e.g. Buy this product because these people did! )
- Authority – ever done something just because someone was wearing a uniform? It’s easy to put a lot of stock into what someone says just because they’re wearing a $20 uniform or have a title in front of their name.
- Liking (Similarity) – ever agreed with someone just because they seemed to be like you, and people like you are agreeable, therefore what they say makes sense right? Erm…sometimes it doesn’t…
- Scarcity – this one is ingrained in us like the need to eat and sleep. When we feel there is the potential for there to be less of something in the very near future, we automatically value it more (e.g. But don’t wait, call now before we run out!)
Truth runs deep beneath the surface
The average person can grasp these concepts with ease, but that’s not to say they’re simplicity prevents them from being profound. In fact, the truth is that these things go much, much deeper.
- Have you ever continued on a path you knew was silly just because you’d already committed to it?
- Have you ever had difficulty resisting what other people are doing simply because so many people were doing it?
- Have you ever agreed with someone for the moment simply because you felt similar to them, only to realize after the fact that you don’t really agree with them at all?
I have absolutely done all of these things, and as you get older most people become less susceptible to the weak forms of these strategies (but this book certainly helped me leap frog my previous understanding of them). These strategies of influence are not inherently bad, but knowing when they’re being used will allow you to step back from the persuader, realize the strategy being used, and assess whether you want to continue your current course of action.
And the implications of these forms of influence go further than just understanding how marketing or advertising messages work. Think about the investment markets– how many investors put their money into something because they heard someone else they respect is doing it (similarity), they’re concerned there isn’t enough to go around such as in an IPO (scarcity), because the government said they’re backstopping it (authority) or because they were caught up in a bubble and everyone else was doing it (social proof).