In Influence, Robert B. Cialdini combines experimental research with real world immersion studies in different professions and situations over three years to analyze the power of influence. Although the tactics he used to persuade others are numerous, Cialdini discovered the majority of people fall into one of six primary categories: reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. These categories are used as “weapons of influence” to persuade people to make decisions they otherwise would not have made.
WEAPONS OF INFLUENCE
The power of influence is very important to business, especially in the world of retail. For instance, in one shop studied by the author, a particular item was not selling well and the owner asked his staff to cut the price in half. The staff misread the owner’s note and thought they were instructed to double the price instead. Because customers assumed that expensive items meant they were higher quality, the entire stock immediately sold out.
People’s lives are so complex that they must rely on shortcuts to make decisions. This is why weapons of influence can be so powerful, and essentially why discount coupons in retail are so effective. Shortcuts tell people that these discounts will save them both money and time from thinking about what they really need or how to get it.
However, problems occur when people exploit these shortcuts and use them as weapons. This usually happens when people understand how much these shortcuts can impact other’s actions. Those who use shortcuts are able to manipulate others, and most people who are being manipulated do not even realize they are victims.
Another weapon of influence is when things that seem somewhat different from each other are viewed as extremely different. Essentially it comes down to how things are presented, which is how savvy retailers sell high-end items. For example, a $95 sweater may sound expensive if it is the first item presented to a customer. However, if a man first buys a $495 suit, the $95 item is seen as a more reasonable price. Although both items are expensive, once the suit is purchased, the sweater price seems fair and the person is more likely to make the purchase. Automobile dealers use the same method to sell new cars. Once the price of the car has been agreed upon, it is easier to sell add-ons, which will seem reasonably priced after the large initial purchase.
RECIPROCATION: THE OLD GIVE AND TAKE AND TAKE
A professor once tested the rule for reciprocation when he sent Christmas cards to people he did not know. Surprisingly, the majority of recipients reciprocated the gesture without question about whether or not they knew him. This principle indicates that the social norm is for people to repay the positive things others do for them, often without thought. People comply with this reciprocation rule because it is viewed as an appropriate social norm and, at times, there are sanctions for non-compliance.
People who are not well liked can increase their chances of having others reciprocate their gestures by first offering them small favors. The rule for reciprocation is very strong and difficult to ignore, which is why there are limitations and rules in place about giving gifts to public officials.
An interesting aspect of this rule is that recipients do not even have to receive something they originally wanted to begin with. Such is the case when charities send out free address labels along with solicitation requests. The obligation to repay is still present even though recipients did not request the address labels in the first place. Once gifts are received, however, recipients have given all the power to the givers.
Reciprocal concessions are another way to convince people to make unwanted purchases. For example, if someone declines to purchase a $5 item, the seller can offer a $1 item instead. This is viewed as a concession by the seller, so buyers are also expected to concede by agreeing to make the $1 purchase even though they never wanted either item.
With reciprocity, the real opponent is the rule, not the compliance professional. When the potential recipient recognizes that the goal of a “gift” is compliance rather than a no-strings attached favor, the reciprocation rule no longer applies and the potential recipient can decline.
COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY: HOBGOBLINS OF THE MIND
The concepts of commitment and consistency were originally noted by the author during an experiment done at a racetrack. Moments before people made their bets, they were uncertain about their decisions. However, once their bets were placed, they became convinced that they made the right choices. Because of their need for consistency, they came to believe in what they had already done. This is something many people do in order to feel good about their actions and decisions.
This need to be consistent is another powerful weapon of influence and results in behaviors that may not be in people’s best interests. When people are inconsistent, they are viewed in a negative light, which is why consistency, no matter the cost, is generally seen as the best option. People are consistent out of habit even when it may not make sense. This automatic behavior keeps people from having to think about their decisions.
The advantage to sellers in regard to consistency is that they can structure their interactions with buyers based on their need to be consistent. For example, once a stand is taken about an issue, or a desire is made public, it is difficult for a person to change his or her mind out of fear of inconsistency. As a result, earlier commitments can be used to sellers’ advantages. Sellers can turn a small decision into something bigger that can benefit them.
A written declaration can be even more powerful than a spoken one because it can be shown to other people. Written words can also be used to persuade others to make decisions that favor the desires of compliance professionals. The assumption is that someone who makes a statement — even if he or she is influenced — will stand behind what he or she said. On the other hand, this is why written goals are so powerful and written declarations can be so positive and beneficial.
Commitment is also more likely to stick when it is internalized. External rewards may result in desired behaviors; however, individuals are not likely to remain committed to behaviors until they are internalized. Once they have been internalized, they become even stronger and influence people to engage in additional behaviors that are in line with their commitments.
Once small commitments are made, people tend to justify them and will commit themselves even further. They will continue to do things that are consistent with their first responses even if they agreed to something they did not want in the first place.
Automatic behaviors are not all negative. In fact, most of the time they result in appropriate reactions. However, people can minimize any negative consequences by staying alert and using their gut instincts.
SOCIAL PROOF: TRUTHS ARE US
Social proof is seen when people make decisions based on what others seem to accept as correct. The more people view an idea as correct, the more the idea is actually assumed to be correct. If something cannot be proven visually, people will cling to the belief by proving it to themselves socially through the responses of others.
In other words, if the interpretation of a situation is unclear, people will look around to others and accept their actions to signal what is correct. The irony is that the people who are looked to for the answer are essentially doing the same thing. They too seek social proof about things that are unknown. Simply put, people seek answers based on how others act.
The search for social proof can be dangerous in emergency situations. If people do not respond, the overall conclusion is that nothing is wrong. This pluralistic ignorance is especially common among strangers. People want to appear confident in public, and when they are unfamiliar with the reactions of others, they determine whether to be concerned based on the reactions — or lack thereof — of total strangers.
This can cause real concern for people when they find themselves in emergency situations or when they are in need of assistance. The best way for people to deal with these situations is to request assistance from a specific person in a group. That way, it becomes clear that the chosen individual is responsible for handling the emergency.
PEOPLE LIKE ME
People respond positively to others who are like them. This is why many commercials show real life testimonials from everyday people, even though in some cases these people are paid actors. The point is that the actions of people are often used to dictate appropriate responses and behaviors to others.
The case of Reverend Jim Jones is a perfect example of how people look to define what is “right” by observing others around them. As a well-known cult leader, Jones led 910 people to their deaths through a passive mass suicide. Before that, in the late 1970s, Jones moved the group from San Francisco to a jungle in South America. This move to a foreign environment had a significant impact on how his followers behaved, and they began to look to other cult members for guidance on how to act. As a result, he was able to convince them that suicide was an appropriate action to take.
LIKING: THE FRIENDLY THIEF
The reason Tupperware parties have been so successful in the past is that their success relied on people inviting their friends to participate. Because these individuals were attending the party of someone they liked, they felt an obligation to make a purchase.
Physical attractiveness plays a significant role in how much a person is liked. This causes the halo effect to come into play because this one feature (attractiveness) implies that an individual’s other characteristics are also positive. As a result, sales professionals and retailers are groomed especially well in order to influence others.
People are attracted to other individuals who are similar to them in more than just their appearances. This includes their opinions, personality traits, and backgrounds. With this in mind, some sales professionals are coached to mirror the behaviors of their prospects. Compliance professionals also exploit this when they attempt to find similarities between themselves and any potential buyers.
When groups of people that do not like each other are forced to work together, the shared effort can increase likability. This cooperation causes them to view each other as colleagues who are working toward a shared goal together rather than rivals. Compliance professionals will use this principle to make it appear as if they and the buyers have similar goals. An example of this is when car dealers act as if they are on the buyers’ sides and it is their dealership managers who are in the way. This makes it seem as though the salespeople and the buyers are on “teams” that work against the managers, when in fact the salespeople and managers have the shared goal of maximizing profits from their sales.
An association between two things can result in positive or negative feelings about a particular item. This is seen when companies have attractive females next to their products, such as boats or automobiles. People subconsciously respond better to the products as a result, but they will deny the attractive females had any influence on their responses. They are instead convinced that their liking is only toward the product. Because this happens subconsciously, manufacturers will frequently work to connect their latest products with the latest cultural trends.
People will even try to associate themselves with positive events and remove themselves from negative events when they have no true affiliation with either. When people are associated with positive events, they believe their public prestige will also increase, even if they are not responsible for the events in question. This is demonstrated when people name-drop or become band groupies.
In order not to be manipulated by this liking principle, people must stop and ask themselves if they like other people or things more than they should. If they spend a very short amount of time with others and find they like them quite a bit, it is possible they were manipulated by the liking principle. Rather than concern themselves about how this happened, they should deal with the effects of what has already happened or what they have already agreed to.
AUTHORITY: DIRECTED DEFERENCE
The Stanley Milgram experiment was one that surprised a lot of people. Subjects were asked to shock “learners,” other people participating in the experiment, when they got an answer to a question wrong. What they did not know was that the learners were part of the study and in fact were not harmed at all. An authority figure told the subjects to increase the shock when a learner’s answer to a question was wrong, even though it appeared the learner suffered with each increase in shocks delivered. Even when the learners shouted out in pain, the subjects continued to deliver the shock as instructed. What surprised the researchers was that none of the subjects were originally found to have psychological problems or aggressive tendencies. Instead, their actions and compliance were the direct result of following instructions that were being delivered by an authority figure.
People are trained from a young age to obey authority figures. Since obedience is regularly rewarded, many people just to do what is asked of them rather than think about their actions. However, there are many times when this blind obedience is not the best plan of action. In addition to the Milgram experiment, this has been seen when physicians give incorrect orders for nurses to follow. At times, the incorrectness was obvious; however, the majority of nurses did exactly what was asked rather than question the doctors. It can be extremely dangerous when people do not question what is asked of them by authority figures.
This response to authority is the main reason why con men make up titles they do not have, such as physicians or lawyers. Oftentimes, people will often respond to this appearance of authority without any proof at all. Clothing can also have a strong impact, such as when people dress in hospital coats or police uniforms. Similar to the vocalizations of a title, the simple appearance of an individual can impact the behavior of others.
People can protect themselves from automatic responses to authority by simply being aware of how they are generally impacted by authority figures. It is important that they recognize how easily authoritative presences are faked. Individuals should also evaluate the authenticity of situations by asking themselves how perceived authority figures will benefit if they choose to comply with their requests.
SCARCITY: THE RULE OF THE FEW
The scarcity principle can be very easy to fall prey to, as Cialdini recounts. A Mormon temple near where he lived was open to the public for a limited time. Normally, non-Mormons were not invited to view temples, with the exception of the few days right after they were built. Since this particular one had recently undergone a significant renovation, it was considered new enough to permit non-Mormons to tour it. Cialdini immediately wanted to go see it, and it was not until after a conversation with a friend that he realized the only appeal was that it would soon be unavailable to him. He had never expressed interest in a tour of the temple until then, and quickly realized he was caught up in the scarcity principle.
This principle makes opportunities seem more valuable because they are limited. Many retailers capitalize on this with “limited time” or “limited availability” offers. When customers believe there are only a few items available or that their opportunity to get special prices will expire, they are more likely to want them. If something is difficult to acquire, the assumption is that it is also more valuable.
If a message is censored, people become more interested because it is now considered scarce. Manipulation occurs when there is no censorship in the first place, but people state there was in order to capitalize on others’ desires to have something that is scarce. Courtrooms often have an issue with scarcity when a comment is stricken from the record. Once that happens, studies have shown that jury members become even more interested in the comment that was made.
To protect against this scarcity principle, people must be aware of their reactions to things that may no longer be available to them. As they respond physically to this knowledge, it should be taken as a signal for them to stop and think about the situation rationally. Next, they should ask themselves if they want the item for the sake of ownership or usability. If they simply want to own it, it is likely the desire comes from scarcity rather than necessity.