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Robert Cialdini: Influence and Pre-Suasion

Whenever you buy anything on the internet today, it is almost certain you are buying from a site that has been designed explicitly to use one of the principles of influence that Robert Cialdini clarified, named, and described. Cialdini is to influence what Angela Duckworth is to Grit, Daniel Kahneman is to Bias, and Philip Tetlock is to Judgement; the supreme academic researcher of the field, whose principal book is a public best-seller… and deservedly so.

Robert Cialdini
Robert Cialdini

Short Biography

Robert Cialdini was born in 1945 and grew up in Milwaukee. He attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a BS in Psychology n 1967 and moving to the University of North Carolina to study for his PhD in Social Psychology, which he gained in 1970.

After a year of post-graduate studies at Columbia University, Cialdini became an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University, remaining there for the rest of his career. He became a full professor in 1979, and since 2009, he has held the post emeritus.

In 1978, Cialdini secured a grant to study ‘compliance tactics’ and embarked on a programme of attending training courses for salespeople, fundraisers, recruiters, advertisers and any other professionals whose secrets he could learn. He coined the phrase ‘compliance professionals’ to describe these and any other people (like politicians and religious leaders), whose job it is to secure our compliance with their wishes.

Combining careful study and analysis of their methods with his own experimentation, Cialdini built up a clear model of how influence and persuasion work. He published this  – first as a book for the popular reader, and then as an enhanced work, with references to scientific papers. This book, first published in 1984, remains in print today. It has been through numerous versions and editions.

My advice is to secure the latest edition of the US version. Not only does it have better paper, but it is the more academic version of the popular editions, with more references to follow-up. That edition is titled ‘Influence: Science and Practice‘. It is a little better than the very similar ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion‘.

In 1999, Cialdini started to exploit the popularity of his ideas more robustly, establishing his training and speaking business, Influence at Work. Two books have followed:

Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion
This gives 50 case study examples that are a compelling read, but offer little of the synthesis of Influence. It is co-authored by Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin.

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
At time of writing (September 2016), I have only recently received my ‘on the day of publication’ hardback edition. I predict that by the time this article is published (late December 2016) it will already be a big best-seller.

Robert Cialdini’s Six Weapons of Influence

It seems patently unreasonable to summarise a new book and deprive the author of his sales. And there is more than enough meat in Cialdini’s longer published ideas for a manager to benefit from. So, let’s look at the substance – in deep summary – of Cialdini’s early book on influence.

Cialdini identifies seven primary mechanisms for influence.

Yes, seven. Not six, as per my sub-heading. Not six, as almost every website on the topic will tell you. Seven.

Buried in a footnote to the introduction (who reads those? I do – for good reason) is the one Cialdini did not forget, but many of his readers fail to spot. He says:

‘I have not included among the six principles the simple rule of material self-interest: people want to get the most and pay the least for their choices.’

He goes on to say that he won’t discuss this further, not because it is not valid, but rather, that it is so obvious, and (in my words) supported by so much evidence from thousands of years of human history, that it needs no analysis.

So, onto the Other Six Principles

… which Cialdini smartly refers to as his ‘weapons of influence’. These are:

  1. Reciprocation
    You scratch my back, and I feel obliged to reciprocate. This is the law of the free sample, the negotiating concession, and the economy of small favours.
  2. Commitment and Consistency
    I call this the Jiminy Cricket effect, because, once you have made a public commitment to something, your conscience compels you to want to act in a way that is consistent with that commitment. Think of duty, loyalty, honour.
  3. Social Proof
    We’re like sheep really. All it takes is for others to act with certainty, and we just want to follow. Herd instinct and the power of testimonials and Amazon’s review system are at work here.
  4. Liking
    I’m nice, I’m like you, I look good, and you are drawn to me, and therefore more likely to take my advice, help me out, and do what I ask. Celebrity endorsements aren’t social proof, they are based on a desire to associate with people we like.
  5. Authority
    Why do we take advice from our doctor, accountant, lawyer, or car mechanic. Maybe they know stuff, and therefore have the authority to give advice we trust. So dress the part, show me your credentials, and associate with other experts.
  6. Scarcity
    We want what’s hard to get. Have you ever noticed that countdown timer on website sales pages? It tells you how long you have before that special offer gets withdrawn. Or do you feel a desperate urge to bid again, as the eBay clock gets close to zero? These are scarcity marketing at work.

Let’s hear Robert Cialdini describe these in his own words

… along with the new ‘7th Principle’ – Unity. This is the feeling of wanting to align with people that we feel we share identity with: the ‘one of us’ principle.

 

You may also like: The Influencing Pocketbook

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Report and Proposal Writing Still Matters

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


If only you could say everything in 140 characters… how easy some aspects of management life would become.

Sadly, you still need to be able to write clear and persuasive reports and proposals, so let’s examine the basics.  There are five.

Report Planning

Exercise: Getting Ready to Write

Plan your report or proposal by answering the questions in each of these five areas.

The Message

  • What does your reader want and need to know?
  • When your readers get to the end, what do you want them think that is different from when they start?
  • … and what do you want them to do?

The Structure

  • How will you introduce your report to give a reason to read it in the first place? Right at the start, you need to create tension.
  • How will you structure your report or proposal to keep them reading from start to finish? Your structure needs to be logical and flow, and needs to ask questions to motivate readers to read the next bit.
  • Think Dan Brown… What question can you leave in your readers’ minds at the end of each section?
  • How will you end your report or proposal? This needs to create a powerful urge in your reader to take action.

The Argument

  • What evidence will you present to your readers? What facts, figures, quotations, results will really convince?
  • How will you prepare and present that evidence to maximise its impact and minimise scope for misinterpretation?
  • How will your structure your arguments into a rational analysis?

The Punch

  • What new insights can you offer?
  • What difference does your report make?
  • How can you use the power of emotion to boost the impact of your message?
  • What is the ‘so what?’ of your report or proposal?
  • How will your readers benefit if they accept your recommendations or procure your products or services?

The Polish

  • How will you assure the quality of your work? Maybe someone else will read and review it for you; or maybe you will put it in a drawer for three days before re-reading it thoroughly.
  • What constitutes ‘good enough’? Before you start writing, list the criteria your finished report or proposal must satisfy before it is ready to go to your readers. Use this checklist rigorously after you have written the document.

 

Further Reading 

The Writing Skills Pocketbook

Blog: Ten Ways to Make your Writing Digestible

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Making Meetings Work for You

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Meetings are work.  They don’t always feel that way, as you emerge from another wasted hour, and, if they habitually do achieve nothing, then they are displacing real work and you need to do something about it: speak to the chair of the meeting and suggest your time would be better spent working on something else, but ask courteously for a copy of minutes, so you can stay in touch.  In extremis, maybe even suggest that the meeting no longer serves a valuable purpose and that it is time for a re-think.

But most meetings do serve a purpose and you are there for a reason.  So let’s examine how to get the most from your meetings.

Exercise 1: Preparation

There are two things you will need to do when you are at your meeting: Get what you need from the time you spend, and contribute effectively, getting your point of view across.  These are why you should prepare: so you know what you want to get from the meeting and so that you are ready to make your point effectively.

My meeting preparation kit consists of:

  • A multipart folder so I can organise and quickly find the papers for each section of the meeting.
  • 12 Part Folder
  • A highlighter pen, so I can highlight the key passages I will want to refer to.  A top tip: don’t just read through other people’s papers; read your own contributions as well, highlighting the points you want to make when you are asked to speak.
  • A pack of sticky notes, to attach comments or create bookmarks.

Exercise 2: Being Present

Let me pass on the best piece of advice I ever got about meetings:

Be in the room, when you are in the room

That is to say, don’t let your mind wander, don’t get distracted by side conversations, and avoid looking at your phone, or writing your shopping list.  Be wholly present.  Practise good quality attentive listening and take notes that will help you to lock important points into your memory, record essential facts, and create your follow-up action list.

Exercise 3: Speaking up

When it is your turn to speak – whether because you are questioned, or you are called upon – structure what you say to make maximum impact.  This means taking a pause before speaking, while you organise your thoughts.  Savour its dramatic effect, then speak with assurance and precision.  When you have spoken, create a clean break and await responses.

Exercise 4: Being Influential

There are three things that will boost your levels of influence in any meeting.

  1. Focus on principles
    Principles and patterns carry far more power than details, so confine your contributions to what matters most and let others contribute the secondary ideas.
  2. Focus on process
    When the meeting gets stuck or hits confusion or conflict, you will be at your most influential when you contribute a simple process to move things on.  Don’t get involved in the confusions and stay above the conflict: just offer a constructive way forward.
  3. Silence
    It is almost impossible to overstate the power of silence.  Silence in pauses; before, during and after you speak, silence when listening, silence when nobody knows what to say.  Command the silences and you control the meeting.

Exercise 5: Follow-up

When you schedule your meeting in your diary, schedule 15 minutes after the meeting to do your follow-up, to reflect on what you have learned, or to chat with another participant.  Rushing from one meeting to your next engagement risks losing the impact of that meeting and leaves you with a load of follow-up at the end of the day.  Worse still, you don’t follow-up… and then, what was the point?

Further Reading

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Reciprocity and Expectation

I got a phone call out of the blue yesterday.  I have noticed that this kind of call can either be a complete waste of time (’do you want to save money on your toner cartridges/wine/mortgage/pet insurance?’) or thought-provoking.  This one was most certainly the latter.

Tip of the day

You may have noticed on the main Management Pocketbooks website (you can get to it by clicking the logo at the top of the right hand column next to this blog) the Tip of the Day function.

SeeOurTipoftheDayTipoftheDay29Apr2011

If you click on it, you will get a different tip each day.  This caller had done just that, and got one of mine.

Keeping Promises

‘If I keep my promise, will you keep yours?
If I don’t believe you will, why should I bother?
Vroom’s model of motivation!

This tip came from the Management Models Pocketbook, where I describe Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory.  This is the section in the free extract you can view on the Management Models Pocketbook page, by clicking on ‘view extract’.

The tip was about the way that we can fail to motivate others if we get a reputation for not delivering on promised rewards.  But the tip had resonated with my caller in another way.

Honesty and Reciprocation

In her job, Alison had been thinking about the importance of truth and honesty.  She had read the quote and thought about the reciprocation of honesty, which got us into an interesting discussion about the nature of truth.

Reciprocation appears to be a fundamental part of human nature.  It is the basis of a large part of our society:

  • Trade, commerce and negotiation
  • Moral philosophy (do unto others… – the so-called ‘golden rule’)
  • Community and the trading of favours
  • Criminal justice (punishment fitting the crime – an eye for an eye)
  • Diplomatic exchange and warfare

Of course pure reciprocity is not always seen as the ideal in all of these cases.  In negotiation, a win-win goes beyond pure exchange of fair value and in moral philosophy, alternative approaches have developed and extended the golden rule, starting with Kant’s categorical imperative.  In community, the concept of paying forward, rather than paying back emerged in the 1950s and hit its peak of popular awareness in the 1990s with the film ‘Pay it Forward’.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPcwQi-AnWI]

There is no need to analyse the failings of tit-for-tat reciprocity in the criminal justice and diplomatic arenas!

In the world of influence, reciprocity is king

As Richard Storey points out in the Influencing Pocketbook, appeal to self interest is a powerful influencer.  But what is equally powerful is to appeal to our innate instinct to reciprocate a gift or a concession.  It is as if, your self interest served, you feel a need to express your gratitude with a reciprocal action.

This offers me a powerful way to influence your thinking or your behaviour.  If I meet your need or give you something you want, then you will feel an urge to give me something in return.  If I give you an honest answer, then you are more likely to be honest with me.

Game theory

But here is where the problem lies.  If I deal honestly with you, can I expect you to deal honestly with me?  If I do trust you and you reciprocate, we can get the best possible collective results, but if you cheat on  me, you optimise your gain, while I lose out.  So what should I do?

This is the domain of ‘game theory’ – the mathematical study of sequences of plays within a set of rules, where the players have some choice.  It turns out that tit-for-tat is a pretty good strategy…

… but not the best.  Constant cheating and constant trusting are both poor strategies, but one strategy stands out.

I am wondering whether I should share this.  What are the ethics of sharing a strategy that must mean some cheating, some trusting and some tit-for-tat behaviour?  Hmmm, that is something to think about.

So here’s the deal

The optimum strategy  in part depends on the strategy of your counter-party – your ‘opponent’ in the game.  But one of the most successful strategies seems to be ‘modified tit-for-tat’.  This means you start by reciprocating, to build trust, but every now and then, take advantage of the situation by cheating.  Then, revert to tit-for-tat behaviour to rebuild trust… and so on.

Does that sound familiar?  I have encountered it a number of times and it hurts.  For those of us who believe we act fairly and with integrity, encountering it in someone we trust is unpleasant.  It leaves us with a difficult choice: one I faced recently.

Should I reciprocate the cheating behaviour?  That was my instinct.  But maybe pure reciprocity is not the ideal strategy.  I relented and resorted to a tactic designed to rebuild trust.  Does this make me a gullible mark, ready to be fleeced the next time?  I don’t think so, because there is always one strategy I have not yet rolled out: not cheating, not trusting, not tit-for-tat.

You can always stop playing the game.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Negotiator’s Pocketbook

The Influencing Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

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Is This Relationship Going To Work?

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, working with people who aren’t our natural soul-mates. Whether the relationship is Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, or two colleagues sharing an office, conflict is probably going to arise at some point in the relationship.

Messrs Clegg and Cameron are both assertive and persuasive individuals who are used to winning the argument. But if they are going to work successfully together they will need to use a range of styles to manage potential conflict between themselves and their party members.

Five Approaches to Managing Conflict

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann describe five approaches we can take to handling any particular conflict:

Compete – we aim to win.

Accommodate – our priority is to keep the other person happy.

Compromise – we do a deal. It’s not perfect but we can both live with it. At least in the short term.

Avoid – we take the view that it’s better not to open the can of worms, so we don’t address the issue.

Collaborate – we look for a solution that fully meets our needs, and also satisfies other person. A true ‘win/win’.

Which One To Use?

Looking at these five styles, you would think that the ‘right’ approach to conflict would always be to collaborate. However, there are a couple of problems with collaboration:

  1. It can take a long time – you have to sit down, explore the other person’s position, analyse the underlying needs and concerns then try to thrash out a resolution. It’s great when you have the time (and the energy) to do this. But sometimes there’s a deadline. Sometimes the markets are showing signs of impatience.
  2. It isn’t always possible. For example, when you and your colleague have fundamentally opposing views or values.

The trick is actually knowing which type of approach is most appropriate in any situation, and consciously adapting your natural preference for one of the five styles.

T-KStyles

So here’s the deal

One of the secrets of handling conflict successfully, whether it’s in a shared office or the House of Commons, is choosing the right strategy.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

TacklingDiffConvsFor more on handling conflict, and coping with difficult conversations generally, take a look at Peter English’s new Pocketbook, The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook.

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Other Pocketbooks you might like include:

You may also be interested to know …

The Thomas-Kilmann model is also available as a self-scoring psychometric instrument. For global sales, check out the CPP website, or for UK sales, check out OPP’s website.

Author: Peter English

This article was written by Peter English, author of:

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook and

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook.

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