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This is How We Are Influenced and Persuaded

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

Influence is a best-selling book written by Robert Cialdini which discusses the seven subtle ways that persuade us to comply. Robert’s new book Presuasion reiterates these ways which are reciprocation, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity and consistency but he also adds a new way that we are all influenced called unity.

Below is my quick summary of each way we can be subtly influenced.

Reciprocation — When someone does something nice for us, we want to do something nice for them. This also works in reverse. When someone does something bad to us, we have a desire to get revenge by doing something bad to them. Some waiters in restaurants will use the reciprocation approach when they give you something even as small as a mint along with your check. Studies have shown that even a small gesture like this from a waiter or waitress can increase their tips.

Liking— We are more likely to comply with someone that we like than someone who we don’t like. This is pretty self-explanatory. What may not be so self-explanatory is what companies do to teach their employees to be more liked by their customers since they are well aware of how influential it can be. When Robert Cialdini was

researching for his book Influence, he went through the company’s corporate training program to get a better understanding of how we are influenced. He found that some companies had training for their sales associates that focused on how they can become more attractive, friendly and funny. They did this by giving their employees smiling lessons, grooming tips, and jokes to tell.

Social Proof— We are a very social species. We urge for social communication and to be part of a group(s). In the groups we join, we end up conforming to the group’s opinion a lot probably without even noticing it. This influential concept can play a big factor in how we are influenced with our financial decisions, especially pertaining to investing. Whether it is cryptocurrencies, real estate, or dot com companies, when everyone around us and in the media are only talking about the optimism and the “big gains” to be had in these asset classes, the majority of investors can’t resist. We follow the herd instead of doing our own financial analysis or due diligence.

Authority — We are more likely to comply with someone who is in a position of authority such as a policemen or our boss at work. Even someone who isn’t in a position of authority but wears a suit or some other form of professional attire will have a higher compliance rate than one who is dressed casually.

Scarcity — We are more likely to be persuaded when the supply of something is very low or limited. If you have ever shopped online some retailers may write something like “Hurry, only 3 left in stock”. This has shown to increase sales because it creates anxiety in our mind that we will miss out if we don’t act now.

Consistency— We hate being called liars. We don’t want to be seen as someone who always changes our minds. We have a tendency to follow what we say and we don’t want to change our mind even when we know that we should change our mind. Some doctors and dentists’ offices picked up on this one. Some will give you a blank card and ask you to write down your next appointment on the card because if you write it down yourself you will less likely be willing to break what you already committed to.

Unity — This influential concept wasn’t in Robert’s first book but he added in Pre-suasion. It is about shared identity with the influencee and the influencer. It could be as simple as a small interest but has more to do with the categories they share such as race, ethnicity, nationality, family, political affiliations and religious affiliations.

Cialdini demonstrated the influential benefit of using unity by having his students receive an extra point on a test if the students got their parents to fill out a questionnaire. When no reward was given there was a very low completion rate of the questionnaire from the students’ parents but when 1 point on a test was given as an incentive the completion ratio of the questionnaire went above 90%. 1 point on a test isn’t very significant for a student’s overall grade but the parents were still willing to help their kin.

This book also discusses something that Robert doesn’t talk about in his first book but makes up the bulk of this book, not to mention the title, Presuasion. It is about what is happening right before one is persuaded or influenced. It relates to the environment, body language, words, and surroundings that are taking place preceding a sales pitch or a request.

One example of this is when researchers looked at the names of restaurants and asked people how much they were willing to spend. They noticed that when the number in a restaurant’s name was higher, it led people to tell the researchers that they would be willing to spend more. They also noticed that people were willing to pay more for a box of chocolate if they were told to write down a higher digit from their social security number as opposed to a low digit.

“Researchers have found that the amount of money people said they would be willing to spend on dinner went up when the restaurant was named the Studio 97, as opposed to Studio 17; that the price individuals pay for a box of Belgian chocolates grew after they’ve been asked to write down a pair of high (versus low) digits from their social security numbers; that participants in a study of work performance predicted their effort and output would be better when the study happened to be labeled experiment 27 (versus experiment 9); and that observers’ estimates of an athlete’s performance increased if you were a high (versus low) number on his jersey.”

Another example, and my favorite in the book, is a get-rich-quick scheme that Robert Cialdini signed up for just because he was curious what influential concepts the promoters planned to use to sell their scheme. All of the prospects gathered at a restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona but didn’t stay long. They were soon escorted onto a bus and driven to Tuscan, Arizona on a 2-hour bus ride where an additional event would take place.

Robert says the event was very short and they didn’t say anything new except what the promoters said on that 2-hour bus ride. So, Robert concluded that the main sales pitch was never planned to take place at the restaurant or at the event but on the 2-hour long bus ride instead. This is because the promoters could control the environment a lot easier and make it more difficult for their prospects to think clearly and see through their scheme.

On the bus ride, it was harder to think because the bus was noisy, bumpy, crowded and full of cues that linked to wealth and getting rich quick like the playing of the “Eye of the Tiger” song, testimonials from “successful salesman who were once in your shoes”, an $11,000 commission check being waved by another salesman, achievement-related posters, and slogans lining the bus seats.

And with all of these pre-suasive influencers like the music, posters and slogans, want to take a guess on how many people signed-up? 2/3rds is how many. That is a good portion of the attendees. It shows how effective setting up the right environment can be in influencing us or even fooling us into buying something we shouldn’t buy. And I bet a lot of the attendees didn’t even consciously realize how much of a factor the bumpy ride, the crowded bus, the music, the testimonials, the slogans and all of the other factors were playing in driving their decision to sign up.

So the first step in preventing something like this from happening to us is to understand how people are doing it. And that is what Robert Cialdini has devoted a lot of his career to figuring out. He shares all of what he learned on the topic in his two best-selling books Influence and Pre-suasion.

“In large measure, who we are with respect to any choice is where we are, attentionally, in the moment before the choice.”

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