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The Six Weapons of Influence from Robert Cialdini’s Classic Book on Persuasion

Posted by JB on Nov 6th 2020

No matter who you are or what you do, influence and persuasion matter in your life, probably every day. You can ignore it and suffer needless control by others. Or you can learn to use it and resist it.

Robert B. Cialdini, PH.D., first published his classic book “ Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion ” in 1984. It has since become influential in its own right and is now a marketing classic that many successful business owners and leaders have digested and applied. We highly recommend it.

Although Caildini’s Influence has achieved classic status and is often quoted or cited by the most successful, it has undergone a recent resurgence because—years later—he published a sequel called “ Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” And with the ensuing publicity tour and series of, for example, podcast interviews, a new audience is now aware of his original classic on persuasion techniques.

(According to James Altucher, one of the best ways to market a first book is to write another ).

Today we discuss Influence—tomorrow, speaking broadly, we will likely describe Pre-Suasion, which will probably become a classic companion to his first book.

Influence is not just one man’s set of ideas or a theoretical tome on persuasion. Instead, it is a practical how-to book, which is full of both real-world examples and stories and an impressive amount of empirical research backing up the “weapons of influence.”

You should read the book to fully internalize and understand each of the weapons of influence: Reciprocation, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

But, as a taste, we will describe all six of them below.

The Six Weapons of Influence

Reciprocation: This is simple, but often overlooked: “The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.” (p.17). Thus, under the reciprocity rule, we are obligated in the future to repay gifts, favors, and invitations today. Savvy marketers understand this—many of them probably after reading Cialdini’s famous book—and will often provide a small gift to prospective customers, understanding that such a gesture will increase the likelihood that the prospective customer becomes a real customer.

Commitment and Consistency: Human beings have a “nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what [they] have already done. Once [they] have made a choice or taken a stand, [they] will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.” (p. 57).

So how to marketers use the commitment-and-consistency weapon of influence? They try to get you to make a commitment (preferably publicly or on the record), then seek the “sale” by putting you in a position to act consistent with that commitment.

Social Proof: This weapon of influence has become more obvious and apparent with the advent of Facebook and other social networks. “[O]ne means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.” (p. 116). Normally, this rule works quite well, but it isn’t hard to manipulate, which is why old sitcoms had canned laugh tracks and why testimonials are popular for businesses that want new clients.

Liking: Not surprisingly, most people prefer to grant the requests of people that they know and like. And, as Cialdini explains in Influence, total strangers use this weapon of influence to cause people to comply with their requests. This is, in fact, the impetus for the old Tupperware parties. Car salesman and realtors are also particularly good at employing the “liking” weapon.

Authority: This is the classic “expert” testimonial. Sometimes, the person wielding the authority weapon of influence need not actually be an expert, but instead is just someone dressed as an expert. Maybe they are wearing a lab coat or an expensive suit? It has an effect, according to Cialdini (and the research).

Scarcity: Have you ever heard the term “for a limited time only”? Or a salesperson explain that they have a limited supply? The rule is that “opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.” (p. 238). Potential loss plays a large role in human decision-making. So if someone thinks that they are going to miss out on a “deal,” they may move quickly to buy. Marketers, of course, take advantage of this human weakness. In addition, it is natural that if something is rare, it is worth more (supply and demand). So if someone perceives that an item's supply is limited, they will view it as more valuable and that, itself, can sometimes create an immediate additional demand.

These six weapons of influence are powerful and pervasive. As you go about your day, watching television, interacting with sales people, and negotiating, watch for them. You will probably see them implemented almost every day. And pick up a copy of Cialdini’s Influence. You won’t regret it.

You can purchase Influence here.

If this book seems interesting or useful, you might also enjoy the book  "Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions," by Carmen Simon, PhD. We review Impossible to Ignore here.

You can read any of these books on Audible.

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