Book Review: Influence by Robert B. Cialdini PhD

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Table of Contents

About

  • Title: Influence
  • Sub-title: The Psychology of Persuasion
  • Author: Robert V. Cialdini
  • About the author: Dr. Robert Cialdini received his Ph.D from UNC and post doctoral training at Columbia University. He has spent his entire career researching the science of influence. In addition to Influence, his new book Pre-Suasion is out now
  • Published: 2009
  • Link to book

High-Level Summary

This bestseller is all about influence and persuasion. Author Robert Cialdini wondered why a request by someone stated in a certain way was rejected, while a request that asked for the same favor in a slightly different fashion was successful.

He began to do research into the psychology of compliance. For nearly three years, he looked into experimental studies and immersed himself into the world of compliance professionals—sales operators, fund-raisers, recruiters, advertisers, and others.

Although he recognized that there are thousands of different tactics compliance practitioners use, Robert found that all of them fall within six basic categories. He references these principles as “weapons of influence” and there is a chapter in Influence dedicated to each one.

I read the 2009 version of the book, but a new and expanded version was released in May 2021.

The principles of persuasion include:

  • Reciprocation
  • Commitment and Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

This book will walk you through each principle in depth. You’ll learn what they are and why they work. And the author shares many studies and examples that are surprising, insightful, and entertaining.

Recommendation

4.8/5

If you are interested in persuasion and how it works on a psychological level, this book is for you.

By reading this book, you’ll not only learn things that can help you become more persuasive, but you’ll learn about the tactics that could possibly be used against you by shady salespeople.

Since the “weapons of influence” have been put into 6 buckets, it’ll become easier for you to categorize which persuasion principle is being used against you.

Top Takeaways

I’ve broken down the top takeaways from each chapter because the chapters are essentially divided into the 6 principles of persuasion that the author found.

Weapons of influence

1. The are basically 6 principles of persuasion—consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. Each of these categories is governed by a fundamental psychological principle that directs human behavior.

2. A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do and using the word “because” increases the odds of a “yes.”

3. There is a principle in human perception, the contrast principle, that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. If we lift a light object first and then lift a heavy object, we will estimate the second object to be heavier than if we had lifted it without first trying the light one.

4. Clothing stores instruct their sales personnel to sell the costly item first. Common sense might suggest the reverse. Sell the suit first, because when it comes time to look at sweaters, even expensive ones, their prices will not seem as high in comparison. A man might balk at the idea of spending $95 for a sweater, but if he has just bought a $495 suit, a $95 sweater does not seem excessive.

Reciprocation

1. Reciprocation is based on the idea that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. If a woman does us a favor, we should do her one in return. if a man sends us a birthday present, we should remember his birthday with a gift of our own.

2. Because there is general distaste for those who take and make no effort to give in return, we will often go to great lengths to avoid that. The reality of internal discomfort and the possibility of external shame can produce a heavy psychological cost.

3. Example: Joe was more successful in selling his raffle tickets to the subjects who had received his earlier favor. Apparently feeling that they owed him something, these subjects bought twice as many tickets as the subjects who had not been given the prior favor.

4. Example: The power of reciprocity can be found in the merchandising field as well. A “free sample” is actually also a gift and, as such, can engage the reciprocity rule.

5. Although the obligation to repay constitutes the essence of the reciprocity rule, it is the obligation to receive that makes the rule so easy to exploit. The obligation to receive reduces our ability to choose whom we wish to be indebted to and puts that power in the hands of others.

6. Reciprocity can trigger unfair exchanges. A small initial favor can produce a sense of obligation to agree to a substantially larger return favor.

7. The rejection-then-retreat technique. Suppose you want me to agree to a certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, you would make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along. I should view your second request as a concession to me and should feel inclined to respond with a concession of my own. This simultaneously engages the force of the reciprocity rule and the contrast principle.

Commitment and Consistency

1. A study done by a pair of Canadian psychologists uncovered something fascinating about people who bet at racetracks. After placing bets, people are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down that bet. In the minds of those bettors, its prospects improve significantly once that ticket is purchased.

2. The reason for the dramatic change has to do with our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.

3. If I can get you to make a commitment (that is, to take a stand, to go on record), I will have set the stage for your automatic and ill-considered consistency with that earlier commitment. Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in

4. The tactic of starting with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with related larger requests has a name: the foot-in-the-door technique.

5. What the Freedman and Fraser findings tell us, then, is to be very careful about agreeing to trivial requests.

6. Example: Amway Corporation spurs their sales personnel to greater and greater accomplishments by having staff members set individual sales goals and commit themselves to those goals by personally recording them on paper: There is something magical about writing things down. So set a goal and write it down.

7. Whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person. Many weight-reduction clinics will have their clients take a visible, public stand.

Social Proof

1. The principle of social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well. Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do.

2. The problem comes when we begin responding to social proof in such a mindless and reflexive fashion that we can be fooled by partial or fake evidence. Our tendency to assume that an action is more correct if others are doing it is exploited in a variety of settings.

3. Example: Bartenders often “salt” their tip jars with a few dollar bills at the beginning of the evening to simulate tips left by prior customers and thereby to give the impression that tipping with folding money is proper barroom behavior.

4. Example: Church ushers sometimes salt collection baskets for the same reason and with the same positive effect on proceeds.

5. Example: Advertisers love to inform us when a product is the “fastest-growing” or “largest-selling” because they don’t have to convince us directly that the product is good, they need only say that many others think so,

6. In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct. However, those people are probably examining the social evidence, too.

7. The principle of social proof operates most powerfully when we are observing the behavior of people just like us. Advertisers now know that one successful way to sell a product to ordinary viewers is to demonstrate that other “ordinary” people like and use their product.

Liking

1. We most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. What might be startling to note, however, is that this simple rule is used in hundreds of ways by total strangers to get us to comply with their requests.

2. Physical attractiveness: A halo effect occurs when one positive characteristic of a person dominates the way that person is viewed by others. Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence.

3. Contact and cooperation: Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.

4. Conditioning and association: There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news.

5. The linking of celebrities to products is another way advertisers cash in on the association principle.

6. A lot of strange behavior can be explained by the fact that people understand the association principle well enough to strive to link themselves to positive events and separate themselves from negative events—even when they have not caused the events.

Authority

1. Shocking experiment. According to Milgram, the real culprit in the experiments was his subject’s inability to defy the wishes of the boss of the study—the lab-coated researcher who urged and, if need be, directed the subjects to perform their duties, despite the emotional and physical mayhem they were causing.

2. Consequently, we are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong. The essential message fills the parental lessons, the schoolhouse rhymes, stories, and songs of our childhood and is carried forward in the legal, military, and political systems we encounter as adults.

3. Titles: Titles are simultaneously the most difficult and the easiest symbols of authority to acquire.

4. Clothes: A second kind of authority symbol that can trigger our mechanical compliance is clothing. Though more tangible than a title, the cloak of authority is every bit as fakable. The well-tailored business suit has a strong impact on portraying authority

5. Trappings: Finely styled and expensive clothes carry an aura of status and position, as do trappings such as jewelry and cars. The experimenters discovered that motorists would wait significantly longer before honking their horns at a new, luxury car stopped in front of a green traffic light than at an older, economy model.

Scarcity

1. The scarcity principle says that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited—I have begun to notice its influence over a whole range of my actions.

2. The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. For instance, homeowners told how much money they could lose from3.  inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much money they could save.

3. Probably the most straightforward use of the scarcity principle occurs in the “limited-number” tactic. This is when salespeople will say that they only have a limited amount of inventory left.

4. Related to the limited-number technique is the “deadline” tactic, in which some official time limit is placed on the customer’s opportunity to get what the compliance professional is offering.

5. According to the scarcity principle, then, we will find a piece of information more persuasive if we think we can’t get it elsewhere.

What I Liked

  • All tactics fall under 6 principles
  • The book shares eye-opening and interesting findings
  • The research and examples shared make the principles easy to understand and remember

Benefits To Your Life and Career

  • Become more persuasive
  • Defend yourself against tactics of persuasion
  • Understand psychological triggers and biases

14 Actions You Should Take

1. If you ask someone for a favor, you will be more successful if you provide a reason using “because” to trigger a more automatic compliance response.

2. If you work in retail sales, sell the most expensive item first. Then sell the lower-priced items. After purchasing the expensive item, the following items will seem much less expensive in comparison. A $95 sweater will seem cheap if someone just bought a $495 suit.

3. Use the reciprocation rule to your advantage and/or beware of when it is used on you. A small favor can create a “web of indebtedness” where you feel like you owe another person. Be cautious when accepting “free” or small gifts. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

4. Use concession and reciprocation to get someone to comply. Suppose you want me to agree to a certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, you would make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along. I should view your second request as a concession to me and should feel inclined to respond with a concession of my own.

5. If I can get you to make a commitment (that is, to take a stand, to go on record), I will have set the stage for your automatic and ill-considered consistency with that earlier commitment. Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in. Each of the strategies is intended to get us to take some action or make some statement that will trap us into later compliance through consistency pressures. For the salesperson, the strategy is to obtain a large purchase by starting with a small one. The tactic of starting with a little request in order to gain eventual compliance with related larger requests has a name: the foot-in-the-door technique.

6. What the Freedman and Fraser findings tell us, then, is to be very careful about agreeing to trivial requests. It scares me enough that I am rarely willing to sign a petition anymore, even for a position I support.

7. Other compliance professionals also know about the committing power of written statements. Members of the staff are asked to set individual sales goals and commit themselves to those goals by personally recording them on paper: There is something magical about writing things down. So set a goal and write it down. Whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person.

8. The Effort Extra. Yet another reason that written commitments are so effective is that they require more work than verbal ones. And the evidence is clear that the more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater is its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made

9. Be conscious of when social proof could be at work. Are you making decisions based on the crowd? How do you even know the crowd is correct when they are all individually wondering what the crowd thinks.

10. If you want to be more influential get people to know and like you. This is consistent with liking, one of the 6 elements of persuasion. When you find yourself being persuaded because you like someone, make a conscious effort to concentrate exclusively on the merits of the situation.

11. Don’t be the bearer of bad news. There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news.

12. Use the authority principle to your advantage by boosting your appearance of authority. The book mentions titles, clothes, and material goods. Also, be aware of the authority principle being used against you. Are you complying and being submissive due to someone’s appearance of authority?

13. Beware of salespeople and advertisements using scarcity to force you into a sale. Things such as “limited time left” or “limited amount left.”

14. Beware of feeling inclined to take action because of the fear of loss. Realize that humans want to avoid loss more than they seek an equivalent gain. When we watch something we want become less available, a physical agitation sets in.

Resources

Persuasion can be found on Amazon at this link here if you are interested in reading.

Brandon Hill Photo

Author: Brandon Hill

Brandon is the creator of Bizness Professionals and author behind each post. He is currently a working professional, primarily in finance, and looks to provide resources to aspiring or current young professionals for well-rounded professional and personal development. Find out more on the About page.

There may be affiliate links on this page, which means I may receive a small commission for any purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Products that are linked are ones I highly recommend and have used/tested myself.

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