Book Review: Influence by Robert Cialdini

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Robert B. Cialdini, Ph. D. (Quill/William Morrow, New York, NY, Revised Edition 1993). 320 pages.

I love to read, as I feel that it is an essential ingredient for personal and professional development. So, I read a lot and today I would like to share with you my first book review. Having seen Influence appear on a number of business and personal development related reading lists, I decided to give it a go. It was a real eye-opener, which I would recommend to everyone.

Cialdini, a Professor at Arizona State University, shares his research on the art and science of persuasion. Backed by scholarly research, he shares his own real-world experiences and other lessons learned from people described as “compliance professionals”. These are, essentially, people whose job it is to convince others do or buy something. This group is not limited to marketers and salesmen, but also includes parents, waiters, political and business leaders amongst others.

Throughout the book, Cialdini shares his six principles of influence. These principles still ring true today, regularly appearing in books and journal articles on the subject by many others. They are;

  • Reciprocity: If I do something for you then you are obliged to return the favour.
  • Scarcity: The harder it is to get my hands on it, the more I want it
  • Likeability: If you find me likeable, then you are more likely to do what I ask of you.
  • Authority: If you look and act like somebody in a position of authority, then I will obey you, often unquestioningly.
  • Social proof: We look to other people for guidance.
  • Commitment/consistency: If I say something I am more likely to act in a way that shows consistency with that commitment.

The author explains that each of these principles of persuasion can be employed effective against us, because they often appear to be reasonable. Modern life is complicated, and rather than apply critical thinking to every moment of every day, we allow these principles (and their countless variations) to guide our decision-making processes in order to make our lives a little easier.

One of the many anecdotes which I found to be most interesting was his revelation regarding the marketing of toys in the lead up to Christmas. Leaders in the toy industry, naturally, want an increase in sales to last throughout the year rather than just a short surge over the Christmas period. The author shares how he discovered that toy makers will market a certain toy very well, but once interest has been generated they will deliberately ship a limited amount of the toy to stores prior to Christmas. Parents who have promised their children this toy for Christmas will then struggle to find it in time. So, instead, they buy something else to make up for it, only to discover that the desired toy becomes available in January. Wanting to keep their promises to their children, parents then buy the toys which their children had originally wanted. The toy companies thus succeed in selling a large number of alternative toys in December, followed by strong sales of the popular toy in the following months. Like many other techniques used by compliance professionals, this is a hybrid, using both the consistency and scarcity principles to manipulate people and their buying decisions.

In each chapter, Cialdini also offers ways in which we could counteract these forms of influence. There is often a reluctance to simply say no, even when we are not completely convinced, because the aforementioned principles usually work, and can potentially be good for us. So we tend to follow them automatically. Therefore, the author stresses the importance of  being alert, so that we can identify instances in which the above principles are being manipulated by unethical sales or marketing professionals. After all the sooner we become aware of the principles being employed against us, the better able we will be to avoid being manipulated or misled.

This book, and the lessons it can teach us, can benefit everyone. Being aware of how we are influenced can help us to make better decisions in our personal and professional lives. This in turn can lead to stronger relationships, better buying decisions and success in business. Or it might just make us less susceptible to the manipulation of others, which is not a bad thing.

One thought on “Book Review: Influence by Robert Cialdini

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