A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
Robert Cialdini


  • Pre-suasion means strategically guiding people’s attention to make them more receptive to a message before they receive it.
  • The most effective persuaders spend more time crafting what they do and say before making a request – rather than on the message itself.
Pre-suaders don’t simply rely on the merits of an offer to get it accepted; they recognize that the psychological frame in which an appeal is first placed can carry equal or even greater weight.
  • No persuasive practice is going to work 100% of the time. Pre-suasion is about increasing the probability of agreement, which can give you a decisive advantage.
  • You can increase the likelihood clients agree to your price by getting them to think first about an unrealistically high number. E.g. Before asking for your $75,000 consulting fee, you can joke “As you can tell, I’m not going to be able to charge you a million dollars for this.”
  • Being associated with trust in the minds of your prospects can increase your ability to persuade. One alarm system salesperson did this by purposefully forgetting something in his car and asking the family for the front door key to let himself back into the house.

Privileged Moments

  • The “positive test strategy”, where people look for hits rather than misses (confirmation bias), can dramatically increase compliance.
  • Watch out for single-chute questions, e.g. “Are you satisfied with X” – these can drastically bias responses.
  • Priming people to bring to mind a desirable self-image (e.g. “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” Will make them much more likely to comply with a subsequent request.
  • Privileged moments occur because the mind can only pay attention to one thing at a time – focusing on attribute X means we can’t simultaneously think about other relevant factors.
  • The best we can do to handle multiple channels of information is to switch back and forth among them, opening and closing the door of mindfulness to each in turn.
  • Dr. Milton Erickson would create privileged moments by waiting for a heavy truck to pass and then lower his voice, causing patients to lean forward – their body wold signal to their brain to pay very close attention to what was being said.

The Importance of Attention

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”
— Daniel Kahnemann
  • By focusing our limited attentional resources on what we deem especially important has an imperfection – we can be brought to the mistaken belief that something is important merely because we have been led by some irrelevant factor to give it our narrowed attention.
  • Th persuader who artfully draws outsize attention to the most favorable feature of an offer becomes a successful pre-suader.
  • Drawing attention to something can increase that item’s perceived value, even if we have no conscious awareness of having seen it. E.g. being repeatedly exposed to an ad can create a favorable opinion of the advertised product, even if we can’t recall having seen the ad.
  • Frequently interjected banners were positively rated and were uncommonly resistant to standard wear-out effects, yet they were neither recognized nor recalled.
  • Environmental noise (e.g. from heavy traffic, airplanes) can be highly disruptive to cognitive tasks even though we think we can block it out.
  • Pulling attention to an idea will only work when that ideas has merit. If the argument is weak, directing attention to it will not make it more persuasive, and might even backfire.
  • Because we have limited attentional resources, people often “satisfice” – the make decisions with the goal to “make it good and make it gone”.

What’s Focal Is Causal

  • We typically pay special attention to causal factors – so the mere act of paying attention to something can give it causal importance.
  • Presenting information in a way that highlights need can influence compliance.
  • Offering people more money to cut in line increases compliance, even though most people don’t accept that money. The amount of money offered signals a need (“This guy must really need to get to the front fast”).

Commanders of Attention 1: The Attractors

  • People pay special attention to what’s relevant to their current goals and desires. E.g. straight, sexually aroused subjects spend more time gazing at photos of attractive members of the opposite sex.
  • People’s level of commitment to their partner determines their tendency to pay attention to attractive photos.
  • People pay more attention to what is threatening — e.g. the negative consequences of poor health habits, instead of the positive effects of good habits.
  • Presenting threatening messages works best if you can provide clear steps to mitigate these risks.
  • Getting people to focus on the distinctive features of your product will lead them to view that one factor as being especially important.

Commanders of Attention 2: The Magnetizers

  • People are naturally drawn to themselves and self-relevant information (e.g., they will spend more time looking at the image of themselves in a group photo).
  • We can use self-relevant cues (e.g. the word “you”) to lead your audience to pay special attention to your argument.
  • People have a deep desire for cognitive closure. Unfinished tasks hog attentional resources (Ziegarnik effect).
  • You can increase recall of a message by stopping five to six seconds before the message naturally ends.
  • Mysteries and enigmas can be very effective ways of holding people’s attention.

The Role of Associations

“If you want to change the world, change the metaphor.”
—Joseph Campbell
  • Just as amino acids can be called the building blocks of life, associations can be called the building blocks of thought.
  • The language and metaphors we use can strongly influence behavior. E.g., exposing subjects to violence-linked words caused them to deliver greater amounts of electric shock.
  • Used car salespeople are taught to describe cars as “pre-owned”. Pilots are told to talk about “your destination” vs. “Your final destination” and “gate” vs. “Terminal”.
  • People holding a heavier clipboard tend to view an applicant as more capable for the job, and heavy books are perceived as higher value.
  • Fluency – how easily we process information – can increase not only liking, but perceived validity and worth.
  • Rhymes enhance fluency, and can improve persuasion.

Persuasive Geographies: All the Right Places, All the Right Traces

  • The location where information is presented can
  • Asking Asian American women to record their gender at the start of a mathematics test damaged their performance, but asking them to start by recording their ethnicity boosted their performance.
  • The reason seniors are happier than younger people is because they focus on positive memories and pleasant thoughts – they tend to focus their attention on the positive.
  • Gratitude is a mood booster – If you want to be happier, you should:
  • Count your blessings and gratitudes at the start of every day, and then give yourself concentrated time with them by writing them down.
  • Cultivate optimism by choosing beforehand to look on the bright side of situations, events, and future possibilities.
  • Negate the negative by deliberately limiting time spent dwelling on problems or on unhealthy comparisons with others.
  • Younger people’s life goals are about learning, development, achievement – which requires more focus on mistakes, failures, and an honest appraisal of our shortcomings. We need to be more sensitive to negative feedback at this stage of our lives.

The Mechanics of Pre-Suasion: Causes, Constraints, and Correctives

  • Transfer of attraction. Advertisers know that linking their products to popular celebrities makes the products more popular.
  • The effect of hyperlinking to a location has been labeled by Web browser engineers as “prefetching it.” Just as the designers of our information technology software have installed rapid access to particular sources of information within our computers’ programming, the designers of our lives—parents, teachers, leaders, and, eventually, we ourselves—have done the same within our mental programming.
  • Individuals surveyed by phone reported themselves 20 percent more satisfied with their existence—as a whole—when asked on sunny days compared with rainy days.
  • Simply being focused on the weather for a moment, reminded the survey participants of its potentially biasing influence and allowed them to correct their thinking accordingly.
  • It turned out that the survey respondents were least likely to select the products that had been inserted most prominently. It seems that the conspicuousness of the placements cued viewers to the advertisers’ sly attempts to sway their preferences and caused a correction against the potential distortion.


  • For reciprocity to work best, what we give first should be experienced as meaningful, unexpected, and customized.
  • To enhance their likability, sales people are taught to highlight similarities and provide compliments.
  • Waitresses coached to mimic the verbal style of customers doubled their tips. Negotiators coached to do the same with their opponents got significantly better final outcomes.
  • Flattery works – even when we know its not genuine.
  • If we want to be perceived as honest, we should be up front about the drawbacks of our proposal.
  • Use transitional words like “however, but, yet” to channel attention away from weaknesses and towards countervailing strengths.
  • Loss aversion is a powerful psychological lever. “If you wake a multimillionaire client at five in the morning and say, ‘If you act now, you will gain twenty thousand dollars,’ he’ll scream at you and slam down the phone. But if you say, ‘If you don’t act now, you will lose twenty thousand dollars,’ he’ll thank you.”
  • You can leverage the consistency principle by getting people to make a verbal commitment. E.g., if you want people to show up for a meeting, don’t say “We’ll mark you on the list as coming then. Thank you!”. Instead say… “We’ll mark you on the list as coming then, okay? [Pause for confirmation.] Thank you.”

Unity: Being Together & Acting Together

  • Unity is achieved when people feel at one with others. They move from “that person is like us” to “that person is one of us.” Said another way, “we is the shared me”.
  • Helping family members activates the self-reward brain centers.
  • Match the System 1 versus 2 orientation of any appeal to the corresponding orientation of the recipient.
  • For emotional purchases, a salesperson should say “I feel this is the one for you”. If instead the purchase is a more logical one, they should say “I think this is the one for you”.
  • Background music enhances emotional purchases, but negatively affects purchasing of more funcational/utilitarian products.
  • The more involved managers were in a project, they more they both attributed the success of the project to themselves but also their employees.
  • Asking for advice puts people into a merging state of mind, which causes the advice giver to have higher opinions of the advice seeker. But asking for opinions creates a disconnect.

© 2023 Mike Fiorillo
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