Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

by Robert Cialdini

Scott Adams listed persuasion as an essential skill and Influence is one of the books he recommends on the topic. This book is about compliance. It details methods for making people more compliant to your requests and also gives tips for resisting the compliance techniques of others. Overall I found the book very enlightening. Below I'll go over the main persuasion techniques covered by the book.

The book intros with details on how certain trigger features will start automatic responses in people. At some point in our evolution these the automatic responses to the trigger features were beneficial to our survival. However in modern life these trigger features can be abused to produce responses that aren't in the responders best interest.

The first persuasion technique introduced is the contrast principle. It's simple, effective, and can easily be used in combination with the 6 other techniques which make up the bulk of the book. The choice you want the person to make is first contrasted with a less desirable choice. A simple example is going to a bar with less attractive friend to appear more attractive in comparison. For a more complicated example, imagine you are a suit salesmen and a client wants to buy a suit ($$) and a sweater ($). Should you try to sell the suit or the sweater first? If you are trying to make as much money as possible, you should sell the client the suit first. This is because it will be easier to sell a more expensive sweater when it's price is contrasted against the more expensive suit the client just bought.

The other 6 persuasion techniques are:

  • Reciprocation - When someone does something for us we feel obligated to reciprocate. This can be exploited by setting up an unbalanced reciprocation scenario where the initial favour is many times smaller than a presented opportunity to reciprocate. Reciprocation is essentially someone offering a concession and the other person feeling obligated to make a concession of their own. In this sense, if your initial offer for request is refused, you could retreat to a less beneficial request (ex. well if you won't do that would you at least consider) which is framed as a concession. The other person would then feel obligated to make a concession of their own. This is called the reject and retreat technique and it also gets benefit from the contrast principle.
  • Consistency - People like to appear consistent, even if its against their own interest. This is obvious to anyone who has tried to get someone to change their mind on something they have been publicly vocal about. A study was conducted where the researchers asked home owners if they would place an obnoxiously large sign in their yard promoting some environmental cause. The sign was so large it was rejected by the vast majority of home owners. A different group of home owners were first asked if they would be willing to support environmental causes, which nearly everyone supported. They were then asked if they would allow the large sign to be placed on their lawn and the majority said yes. Even if they were asked about supporting the causes weeks before being asked to place the sign (by different people), they still allowed the sign to placed on their lawn. 
  • Social Proof - Social proof is often far stronger than facts. If everyone else believes it, it must be true. Pluralistic ignorance is when an entire group is fooled in a situation where a single individual wouldn't be fooled. This is summarized as "no one believes but everyone believes everyone else believes so they follow the actions of everyone else." The bystander effect falls under this category. Convince others and you will become convinced (all those reports of gay hating preachers getting caught doing very gay things suddenly make sense). Increasing similiarly between the people increasing the potency of social proof. The chapters on social proof also had some incredibly scary statistics about the strong correlation of the news covering a suicide and the increase of plane crashes or single car collision fatalities. Check these out on your own.
  • Liking - You are more likely to comply with someone you like. The halo effect means one aspect you like of someone can have you inflate their abilities in other areas (this good looking salesman must also be pretty smart). Good cop bad cop employs the contrast principle and liking to get compliance from suspects.
  • Authority - Milgram experiments. A person with a perceived high status (even if unverified) can cause us to bypass our own thinking as following the prompts of authority is the path of least resistance.
  • Scarcity - People tend to be motivated more by potential loss (FOMO) than by potential gain. Limited quantities, deadlines, banned views (teenagers and Streisand effect?), and exclusive information (conspiracy theories) are all techniques that can be used to increase compliance.

As always, here is a quote I found enjoyable.

When prestige, both public and private, is low we are intent upon using the success of associated others to restore our own image.