The 6 Principles Of Effective Persuasion
Apollo Robbins might be the best pickpocket alive. This is a man who makes his living by gaining the trust of his targets before slipping off their watches, stealing their wallets, and lifting whatever else they may have in their pockets. Robbins is only great pickpocket because he’s probably even better at reading people, diverting their attention, and gaining their trust and compliance. His skills are recognized outside the Vegas strip; his clients include a list of multinational corporations and he consults the Department of Defense on human behavior.
And so when Robbins notes that he’s a devotee of a book on persuasion, it’s a good idea to grab a copy. That book is Robert B. Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” a national bestseller first published in 1984 (I have the 2007 “Revised Edition”) that gives a thorough treatment of six universal principles of persuasion. Anyone reading this website, when they think of persuasion, probably think of women. As they should. There’s persuasion rampant in the theory and application of game, from male leadership to personal style to text scarcity. But this book is more than just a supplement to increase your success with women. It’s a roadmap of general principles to apply to the particulars of your life.
This book has a basic premise: human behavior works in a mechanical, input-activated way. See, for example, the long-established fact that sons of single mothers are more likely to commit violent crimes than children who grow up with married parents. (The war against sons is often fought by their own mothers.) Once this premise is established for each of the six principles, Dr. Cialdini then notes how to use each weapon of influence and how to defend against their use. These principles are discussed below.
According to Dr. Cialdini, there is no human society that doesn’t practice the rule of reciprocity. This is a cultural standard that obligates us to return favors, gifts, invitations, and the like. Reciprocity allows for the free flow of business, the division of labor, and the exchange of services. The question of how to use reciprocity to your advantage is actually quite simple: “another person can trigger a feeling of indebtedness by doing an uninvited favor.”
Thus, the power is held by the person who acts first. After that, the debt is triggered and the beneficiary of the favor or gift doesn’t exactly act voluntarily in response. Even small favors can trigger a sense of obligation to agree to a substantially larger favor in return. That’s why you’re in trouble if a girls wants to go 50/50 on a bill – she doesn’t want you to think she has any obligations, sexual or otherwise, to you in the future.
Or, take the idea of reciprocal concessions. This is the “obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us.” G. Gordon Liddy, President Nixon’s former head of intelligence operations for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP), once proposed a $1 million dollar plan involving escorts, wiretapping, break-ins, and kidnappings to blackmail Democratic politicians to the CRP’s Director John Mitchell and his CRP Deputy Director, Jeb Magruder. According to Magruder’s later testimony, “after starting at the grandiose sum of $1 million, we thought that probably $250,000 would be an acceptable figure . . . we were reluctant to send him away with nothing.” Without reciprocal concessions, there might not have been Watergate.
The uses of this principle should be obvious. If you’re in outside sales, like I was for a few years, offer the expensive model first. If that’s shut down, come back at them with the mid-range model (the one you knew they’d like in the first place). Research and the principle of reciprocal concessions show that such a strategy works better than just showing a mid-range model first. Or, better yet, break the rule. When a woman gives you a compliment, don’t give one in return. She has been culturally programmed to think that you’re obligated to return the favor. If you don’t play by those rules, you separate yourself from the majority of men out there.
2. Commitment and Consistency
The value of consistency is, quite simply, our “nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.” Dr. Cialdini notes that we practice consistency, in part, because it allows us to be lazy. And this makes a lot of sense – consistent actions allows us to think less about what we’re doing and to focus on other things that require our attention.
Now, the question becomes, how is the power of consistency triggered? It’s by commitment. If you commit to something, it can set the stage for your automatic and ill-considered consistency with that commitment. To prove this point, he gives the example of American POWs held by the Chinese Communists in the Korean War. The Chinese would give American prisoners the simple task of making a seemingly inconsequential statement such as “The United States is not perfect.” Once that statement was made, the Chinese simply had the prisoners give additional statements about the United States that were consistent with what he had previously said. This would be done voluntarily, without any punishment or coercion. The Chinese would then broadcast by radio this prisoner’s essay to the entire prison camp. He’d then be labelled a “collaborator” and would actually start acting like one.
Other examples of consistency following commitment are seen in cultural initiation rituals. African teenagers go through hell to become men, frat boys get hazed. These may be perceived as harsh by some, but there’s a great value in these rituals: the severity of an initiation ceremony significantly heightens the newcomer’s commitment to the group. Perceived value increases through difficulty, and value decreases the easier the initiation is. Think about that the next time you’re making it too easy for a girl.
3. Social Proof
Dr. Cialdini next addresses the principle of social proof, the idea that we determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct. Social proof leads us to believe that “the greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.” This is reflected in the inherent danger of democracy – the oppression by the majority. This leads us to think, incorrectly, that if nobody is concerned, then nothing is wrong. And it’s a tool used to by governments and the media to suppress and criticize voices of reason. The critic of the Patriot Act was once considered paranoid. Now that the public’s view has shifted on the matter given the disclosure of the extent of US government’s spying, he’s prescient.
In America, we see social proof in a few ways. The more obese women there are, the more women think that obesity is a correct lifestyle choice. TV shows have laugh tracks to convince you a joke is funny. Studies have shown that suicides increase when a front-page suicide story is published. Match.com features commercials of women and men discussing how their friends, coworkers, and family have used the site to find “the one.” I used to think that they were trying to convince me that the website works. I still think that, but now I realize they’re also trying to make the public think it’s acceptable to use their service.
Of all the principles discussed in this book, this one probably gives the reader the best opportunity for self-reflection and self-correction. It makes you ask yourself, “What do I think, and why do I think it?”
The fourth principle Dr. Cialdini addresses is the “liking bond” between parties. If you like a person, you’re more prone to do what they want or ask. A good salesman gets you to like him, and therefore trust him, before he sells you anything. The factors cited as influencing whether one person likes another include attractiveness, association, compliments, similarities, flattery, and common goals. The tricks to reach this principle are pretty straightforward – if someone wants something from you, they’ll compliment what you’ve done.
Generally, men can be especially obvious in seeking out similarities as they try to pursue a woman (I know I’ve done it). That just gives off a bad vibe because it’s so basic and desperate, though it might work on 5. (However, it could be an IOI if she’s noting similarities between the two of you.)
The trick is to achieve positive association – the positive values, feelings, and traits you’re associated with. Achieve this and you set yourself apart from your competitors. How can you make a woman associate you with positive feelings or events? Thankfully, the book doesn’t answer this question. You have to look at yourself and evaluate how you act, who you’re with, and what you do with her.
We’ve been trained to obey authority. We sat when our teachers said “sit,” we went home when the school said we could, and we went to bed when our parents told us to. Obedience to authority can be automatic and there’s no consideration of alternatives, no deliberation, or no critical thinking on our part (we commit to our obedience). This makes a culture operate smoothly, but there is a down side and the incentive for authority to abuse its power should be obvious.
This isn’t a remarkable chapter by any means. We all know that titles and clothes matter. You get more respect if you’re introduced as a Cambridge Professor than as a research assistant. Wearing a suit increases a man’s perceived authority and ability to lead. A self-described authority on topics like law or economics has instant credibility, no matter what he says. But it’s the principle itself, and not the application, that is valuable. So set yourself apart. Recognize that an authority figure may trigger an automatic response from you. Figure out what that response is and why you’re doing it.
This is by far the best chapter of the book, and it probably has most use in the field of dating. People can be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. Increase scarcity and you increase value.
Dr. Cialdini recognizes the value of scarce items, but he gives us a more nuanced source of power within the scarcity principle: “…whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to retain our freedoms makes us desire them (as well as the goods and services associate with them) significantly more than previously.” Thus, increasing scarcity causes us to react against the interference “by wanting and trying to possess the item more than ever.” This is the theory underlying push-pull. Give her something and then take it back. She’ll want it even more.
This principle is very powerful. When political ideas are suppressed and restricted, those ideas become more popular. For members of a political minority, the most “effective strategy may not to publicize their unpopular views, but to get those views officially censored and then to publicize the censorship.” Likewise, when a jury hears information and is instructed to not use that information, they use the information more than they would have without the limiting instruction. The restriction places a higher value on the information.
Scarcity is linked to the Commitment & Consistency principles. A scarce man is a challenge, and the harder the challenge the greater the commitment when that challenge is met. Scarcity increases your perceived value and can cause a woman to actually react against the scarcity in any number of ways, such as increasing pursuit or stepping up her game in bed.
In conclusion, this is a damn good – but not perfect – book. It’d be more interesting if it had less real-world examples (there are plenty) and more in-depth psychological theory. It needs less how and more why. It doesn’t mention much about women, though its principles apply to dating. A more thorough revision might be needed to account for the digital age. But these are small criticisms of an interesting and well-researched book. It’s well worth your time and investment. Go get it.
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