The powers of persuasion

Influence is the most dynamic and central force in human relationships. How we get people to agree with us or resolve disputes or sell some product or idea—all of this and more is built on the concepts of influence and persuasion. But how does this actually work? And how do you learn to be on guard against (or utilize) persuasive power?

In his classic book, Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini gives a thorough, highly readable, and well-researched analysis of influence on a number of levels. First published in the 80s, the book has gone through five editions, the most recent one being published this year, complete with updated materials and a whole new chapter. The book has very much earned its classic status by being completely grounded in science, but also very relevant and actionable.

Cialdini draws primarily from psychology and sociology, but there are elements of history, marketing, sales, and politics woven in throughout. He actually went “undercover” in various sales jobs and other positions while researching the book to experience first hand how the masters of persuasion work in the field.

Influence argues that all instances of human persuasion work along one or more of the following six concepts: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency, social proof, likeness, and authority. The best influencers combine several of these concepts in order to create a sense of obligation on someone else. He gives many examples throughout the book of the ways in which companies use these principles to close sales. For instance, Tupperware parties exploit natural feelings of reciprocity and friendliness, to get guests to buy products from the host.

Most instances of persuasion or manipulation work because of human beings’ animal psychology. There is too much information out there to process effectively, so animals frequently conserve energy by using routine responses to certain triggers. For instance, as Cialdini opens the book, he describes how mother turkeys nurture and protect their young primarily in response to their distinctive chirping sound. This automatic response is so strong that not only will mother turkeys neglect their offspring that do not chirp, they will even shelter models of predatory animals that do make that sound.

It’s the external stimulus that matters. Human beings are far from immune to this kind of automatic response, as Influence shows at length. Knowing what our basic triggers are and how people deliberately exploit them is an invaluable tool. That, combined with Cialdini’s excellent writing from a stylistic standpoint, make it a genuine must read.

Influence by Robert Cialdini is available for purchase here.

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