The two best books on influence and psychology that I have ever read

Robert Cialdini is a celebrity among people who want to influence others.  Salespeople, negotiators, politicians, business leaders, lecturers and now you – can learn loads from his two books.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

UCT has 6 copies of this book in the library, because it is widely used in Psychology classes. Cialdini conducted years of research, he is an academic after all, and wrote about the 6 factors that persuade.  To answer the question, “How to Influence?”, he responds:

  1. Create a positive associationreciprocity and liking.  This means giving people something of value (they will feel the need to reciprocate).  And also making sure that the person knows that you like them.  Bottom line is that people like people that like them.
  2. Reduce uncertaintysocial proof and authority.  Highlight how others have chosen the route you are suggesting (social proof) and try to quote someone who can be trusted as an authority on the matter.
  3. Motivate actionconsistency and scarcity.  Finally, if the person has expressed a view (like “I need new shoes”) but they are now stalling just before the purchase, appeal to consistency.  Tell them, “But you said that needed new shoes didn’t you?”.  This works because people don’t want to appear inconsistent.  If that fails, try to create scarcity (for one day only, it might not be here tomorrow, tickets are going fast…)

Pre-Suasion: A revolutionary way to influence and persuade

This book was published recently and takes his research further.  He reveals a 7th factor – unity – which is often created when the person who is influencing us is family or a trusted advisor.  We move at the speed of trust and are happy to go along with someone who we feel united with.  The basic premise of the book is that framing a situation can dramatically influence the subsequent interaction.  Here are my practical highlights:

  • Target chuting – you need to ask a “satisfied or dissatisfied” question to get an unbiased response in a survery– or else people will only focus on gathering up one type of experience.  This is the focussing illusion that Daniel Kahneman rates as being the one that would make the biggest difference if we all understood it.
  • Priming – if you ask someone, “Are you a helpful person?” and then ask for assistance in a survey – they are more likely to agree.
  • Too much noise or too heavily decorated classrooms reduce student performance – there is a lack of focus.
  • If  people are fearful, emphasise what the group is doing, because they want to stay with the herd.  In contrast, if people are comfortable, give the “stand out” from the crowd message.
  • Use the word “you” to maximise the self-relevant focus that all of us possess.
  • Sit opposite the decision maker and don’t speak after or before a major player in meetings.  It helps your ideas get focussed upon – the decision maker looking at you makes a big difference.
  • Zeigarnik effect – we all want to deal with unfinished business – this effect can be used to your advantage by leaving tasks undone (i.e. stopping an essay halfway through a sentence) because you will want to return to the task at the earliest convenience.  Motivation to start becomes easier.
  • Use the mysterious when teaching.  1. Pose the mystery 2. Deepen the mystery 3. Home in on the proper explanation by considering (and offering evidence against) alternative explanations 4. Provide a clue to the proper explanation 5. Resolve the mystery 6. Draw the implications for the phenomenon under study.
  • Language and imagery matters!  He gives some great examples.  There is power in image – runner winning a race.  There is power in words – soft language used by the hospital group.  There is power in metaphor – life insurance salesman “One day you will walk out on your family, and on the day you walk out, our money walks in” (Ben Feldman).  There is power in physical weight – increases perceptions!
  • To make it climb, make it rhyme!  Easier to remember
  • Acknowledge a weakness upfront and then use a transition phrase like (but, however, yet) to move the conversation along.  This increases credibility.
  • Co-creation is also powerful (ask for “advice”, never feedback)
  • For more insights from the book – here is a great podcast.

Can this knowledge be used unethically?  Yes, but any organisation that encourages staff to do so runs a big risk.  What kind of employees would be comfortable using these techniques to sell products that customers don’t need?  Are those the kind of employees that create a good culture?  Cialdini argues that this information, if used unethically, will weaken an organisation in the long-term, by weakening its culture.  This book is invaluable however because it helps to make sense of what happens when others use these techniques on you!

Is it ethical for a lecturer to use these techniques to help students qualify as CA(SA)s?  I will let you, my blog readers, who I like very much, decide!


Paul Maughan

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