Influence by Robert Cialdini

influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert Cialdini

Levers of Influence

  • Like animals, much of human behavior is mechanical and is driven by fixed-action patterns
  • Fixed-action patterns work to our advantage most of the time, but triggers can also dupe us into engaging in the right behavior at the wrong time.
  • We can't do a rigorous analysis of every person or situation, so we use stereotypes, or heuristics, to simplify the problem down to a few key triggers that let us respond without thinking.
  • If you want someone to agree to a small request, you'll be more successful if you provide a reason. The word "because" activates an automatic compliance response, even if it's a meaningless reason.
  • Consumers often use an "expensive = good" heuristic, so paradoxically, increasing the price for certain products can increase demand for them.


There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.
  • The reciprocation principle works because we feel obligated to repay favors in kind. We receive a gift, and feel the need to automatically return the favour.
  • This is a deeply ingrained tendency in all human societies, and is instilled in us from a very young age. There is a strong cultural pressure to reciprocate gifts.
  • People find it highly disagreeable to be in a state of obligation. We feel uncomfortable when beholden.
  • Because of this strong internal pressure and the need to avoid external shame, we put the power in the hands of others. Compliance professionals can choose the form of the initial favour, and the nature of the debt-cancelling return favour. This means we often pay back more than we owe.
  • Liking the person has no impact on whether we feel a need to reciprocate a favor.
  • This principle is even more powerful when gifts are customized to us.
  • Rejection-then-retreat is a technique where a large initial request is made, which is likely to be refused, followed by a smaller, more reasonable request. Seeing the smaller request as a concession, the person is likely to reciprocate by agreeing to the smaller request.
  • The rejection-then-retreat technique only works to a certain degree. If the initial request is too extreme, the tactic can backfire.
  • The requester's concessions can lead the target to feel more satisfied and responsible for the final agreement.
How to say no:
  • We shouldn't necessarily turn down favours or assume everyone is out to get us.
  • But if we detect that an initial offer was not a favour but a compliance tactic, we should not feel the need to reciprocate.
  • Favours should be met with favours, but tricks don't need to be met with favours.
  • Exploitation attempts can be exploited guilt-free.


  • We're more easily persuaded by people similar to us, or ones that are attractive.
  • One way to get people to like you is to use words, phrases, and slang common to the group.
  • People trust the recommendations of people they know.
  • We automatically assign positive traits to good-looking people, e.g. talent, kindness, honesty, agreeableness, and intelligence.
  • Being attractive earns workers an extra $230,000 in the course of one's career.
  • We're more likely to help people who wear clothing similar to our own.
  • Liking can be easily manufactured, such as when someone mimics our speech and body language.
  • Even obviously shallow praise generates favourable feelings.

How to say no:

  • We should be suspicious anytime we noticed we like someone more quickly than would be expected. If so, that's a good indication the liking principle might be at play.
  • Ask yourself... “In the forty-five minutes I’ve known this guy, have I come to like him more than I would have expected?” Pay attention during the practitioners behavior leading up to this. Did they offer us coffee, compliment us, make us laugh, cooperate with us against the sales manager?
  • We should separate the practitioner from the merits of the deal, not how much we like someone. Focus on the fomer, not the latter.

Social Proof

  • We determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct.
  • This principle is most effective when people are unsure about the correct course of action. The actions of other people reduce our uncertainty.
  • The social proof principle works best when there's uncertainty about how to act, when the evidence comes from many others, and when the evidence comes from people similar to us.
  • The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more a given individual will perceive the idea to be correct.
  • Seeing actions come from people similar to us increase our confidence that we should perform the action, too.
  • Advertisers have learned it's best to us testimonials from "average people like you and me".
  • If you have a new product, your best bet is to point to evidence of growing popularity, provided you can do so honestly.
How to say no:
  • We should purchase no products associated with biased “unrehearsed interview” commercials or artificial waiting lines.
  • Seek objective information and consider the context before relying solely on the behavior or opinions of others.
  • Any autopilot device, like social proof, should never be trusted fully. Trust, but verify.


  • People are more likely to comply with the request of perceived experts.
  • Obedience to authority is needed for society to function properly, and we're taught from a young age to listen to those in charge. If we didn't follow authorities, society would devolve into anarchy.
  • But, our tendency to follow authorities can be exploited. In Milgram's famous experiment, two thirds of ordinary people were led to inflict seemingly lethal levels of electric shock on fellow subjects.
  • Perceived authority is heavily influenced by visible status symbols, like titles and uniforms.
  • Titles are simultaneously the most difficult and the easiest symbols of authority to acquire (they can be faked).
  • Studies show nurses often blindly follow the recommendations of doctors, even the recommendation seem to defy logic. The consequences of this can be deadly.
  • High status people are perceived as taller than their lower status counterparts.
  • In one study, 3.5x more pedestriants followed a jaywalker crossing the street when they were wearing a suit.
  • Credible authorities are perceived to be higher in expertise and trusworthiness.
How to say no:
  • Always consider the relevance of credentials. Ask yourself, is this authority truly an expert?
  • An actor playing a doctor on TV is not a legitimate authority figure. A doctor treating you in the emergency room is.


  • We see rare items as more valuable. This usually makes good sense. Things that are difficult to get are typically better than those that are easy to get.
  • This is related to loss aversion. Losses carry more weight than similar gains.
  • When showed limited availability of hotel rooms, conversions went through the roof.
  • If you don't have a limited supply, identify a feature of your product or service that is unique or so uncommon that it can’t be obtained elsewhere.
  • When we feel like our freedom to experience something is limited, our desire for it increases. This is why attempts to censor information can backfire.
  • In one study, cookies were seen as significantly more desirable when they became scarce. But the scarce cookies were not rated as any better-tasting.
How to say no:
  • We can use our heightened arousal as a cue that the scarcity tactic might be at work. And if this is the case, we might want to exercise caution and think more carefully about the decision being made.
  • We should ask ourselves what our motivation is for buying the thing. If it's about the social, economic, or psychological benefit of possessing something rare, then we might want to factor scarcity into our decision making.
  • But if we want it primarily for it's function, we should remember that it doesn't matter how scarce the item is. The scarce cookies are no tastier.

Commitment and Consistency

  • We're highly motivated to keep our future actions consistent with past actions.
  • Stubborn consistency saves us the mental effort of having to think hard about our decisions. In cases where the truth might hurt, consistency provides a safe hiding place from troubling realizations.
  • Gamblers became more confident in their decisions immediately after placing a bet.
  • Romantic partners that said a brief prayer for the other's wellbeing, they were more likely to remain faithful.
  • Getting someone to commit to a small action will make them much more likely to commit to a larger one (foot-in-the-door technique).
  • People who put a small sign in their window reading "Be a safe driver" were much more likely to agree to placing a large and unsightly billboard on their lawn.
  • Be careful about accepting seemingly trivial requests (like signing a petition). This can make us more susceptible to agreeing to larger favours later.
  • There are certain conditions that should be present for commitments to be most effective in this way: they should be active, public, effortful, and freely chosen.
  • If you want people to take an action, get them to write it down. Salespeople who had customers fill out the order form were more likely to prevent customers from backing out of the contracts later.
  • We're more likely to accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we have done it in the absense of strong outside pressure.
How to say no:
  • Pay attention to your stomach. It'll alert you to when someone is trying to get you to take an action you don't want to do.
  • The perfect counterattack: explain to the person using the consistency tactic on you what they're doing.
© 2023 Mike Fiorillo
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