Many people want to learn how to persuade others, but few want to admit that they themselves are vulnerable to persuasive techniques and would benefit from countering them.
“Many people” includes me. I picked up Influence by Robert B. Caldini mainly because it appeared on a recommended book list, but also because I would like to improve my ability to persuade others. So I was a bit surprised when I learned that Dr. Cialdini looks at it from the other perspective, that his main focus is learning how to defend oneself from persuasive techniques.
I can admit it freely now. All my life I’ve been a patsy. For as long as I can recall, I’ve been an easy mark for the pitches of peddlers, fund-raisers, and operators of one sort or another…With personally disquieting frequency, I have always found myself in possession of unwanted magazine subscriptions or tickets to the sanitation workers’ ball. Probably this long-standing status as sucker accounts for my interest in the study of compliance: Just what are the factors that cause one person to say yes to another person?
Dr. Cialdini covers six categories of techniques to get “compliance” from others, but they all share a single pattern. We get too much information to process everything. We need psychological shortcuts to make decisions without exceeding our brain’s capacity. The shortcuts which we are accustomed to using will steer us in the right direction most of the time. For example, one of the “compliance” techniques is “social proof” – do the same thing everyone else is doing. If we are uncertain about what we should do, most of the time, doing the same thing which similar people are doing will be much better than doing something random. Reading a #1 New York Times bestseller is almost certainly going to be a better experience than reading a randomly chosen published book. Because these shortcuts are not based on carefully evaluating all available information, they can backfire. Sometimes they backfire by accident, and sometimes someone exploits them for their own gain.
At the end of the book, Dr. Cialdini urges readers to retaliate against anyone who exploits these shortcuts in a dishonest way. He says that, as we are swamped with more and more information, we depend on these mental shortcuts more than in the past. We cannot afford to lose these shortcuts. Therefore, we much punish people who reduce the effectiveness of these mental shortcuts by fraud. For example, if a company advertises a product in a way which suggests it is popular when it is not, in fact, popular, Dr. Cialdini says that he will send a letter to the company saying that he will boycott their products forever and that they should fire their advertising agency. Continue reading