By: Robert Cialdini



What are the factors that cause one person to say yes to another person and which techniques are used to bring about such compliance?

Why it is that a request stated in a certain way will be rejected, while a request that asks for the same favor in a slightly different fashion will be successful?

These are questions asked in answered in Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence”. Spend the next ten minutes with us to learn the secrets of the persuaders and if necessary, how to avoid their spell.

Lesson 1: Contrast

Today’s works moves at a fast pace. We need to absorb, process and act on information constantly. When we need to make a decision, we often resort to using shortcuts in the decision making process. One such shortcut is the contrast principle.

The contrast principle affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is.

This “weapon of influence” as Cialdini calls them does not go unexploited and its greatest advantage is not only that it works but also that it is virtually undetectable.

Have you ever been shopping for clothes, selected a fairly expensive suit or dress and then been persuaded to accessorise with a shirt, shoes or bag? I have – at least with the suit, shirt and shoes! That’s the contrast principle in action.

It is much more profitable for the salesperson to present the expensive item first, not only because to fail to do so will lose the influence of the contrast principle; to fail to do so will also cause the principle to work actively against them. If we the first thing we buy is comparably cheap the more expensive seems – more expensive.

Do you want fries with that?

Lesson 2: Reciprocation

The second of Cialdini’s weapons of influence is the rule of reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.

A large number if not all of us have been taught to live up to the rule, and know about the social sanctions and derision applied to anyone who violates it - moochers, freeloaders, spongers.

Because there is general distaste for those who take and make no effort to give in return, we will often go to great lengths to avoid being considered one of their number.

Cialdini suggests , one of the reasons reciprocation can be used so effectively as a device for gaining another’s compliance is its power. The rule possesses awesome strength, often producing a “yes” response to a request that, except for an existing feeling of indebtedness, would have surely been refused.

As a marketing technique, the free sample engages the reciprocity rule. The promoter who gives free samples can release the natural indebting force inherent in a gift while innocently appearing to have only the intention to inform.

A person can trigger a feeling of indebtedness by doing an uninvited favour. The rule only states that we should provide to others the kind of actions they have provided us; it does not require us to have asked for what we have received in order to feel obligated to repay.

Most of us find it highly disagreeable to be in a state of obligation. It weighs heavily on us and demands to be removed.

Consequently, we may be willing to agree to perform a larger favour than we received, merely to relieve ourselves of the psychological burden of debt.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Lesson 3: Top Lining

Cialdini’s third weapon of influence is the top lining technique.

This is easy to state: first make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along. Most likely I’ll oblige.

Here is a commercial example. You go to buy a new Laptop. The sales assistant, Bob, invariably shows you the deluxe model first. If you buy, great for Bob. He’s just made a bigger margin. However, you’re likely to decline – after all you don’t need the bells and whistles. Bob counters with a more reasonably priced model. You’re hooked, you buy. Bob wins again, after all a sale is a sale.

This technique happens all the time in retail. Tomorrow, count the rejection and retreat offers you encounter. I expect there are more than a handful.

Lesson 4: Consistency

Cialdini tells us something fascinating about people at the racetrack: Just after placing a bet, they are much more confident of their horse’s chances of winning than they are immediately before laying down that bet. Of course, nothing about the horse’s chances actually shifts; it’s the same horse, on the same track, in the same field; but in the minds of those bettors, its prospects improve significantly once that ticket is purchased.

This is Cialdini’s fourth weapon of influence: The force of consistency.

Quite simply, once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we encounter pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. We fool ourselves to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already decided.

But because it is in our best interests to be consistent, such consistency can also be exploited by those who would prefer that we don’t think too much in response to their requests for our compliance.

Take toy manufacturers wanting to increase sales in January or February.

They start prior to Christmas with attractive TV ads for certain special toys. The kids, naturally, want what they see and extract Christmas promises for these items from their parents. The manufacturers undersupply the stores with the toys they’ve gotten the parents to promise. Most are forced to substitute other toys of equal value.

The toy manufacturers, of course, make a point of supplying the stores with plenty of these substitutes. Then, after Christmas, the companies start running the ads again for the other, special toys which are now in great supply and as a parent we need to be consistent to our promise and hey presto. Double toys, double expense.

Lesson 5: Compliance

“How are you doing today?” The caller’s intent seem to be friendly and caring. But it has a cutting edge. There is a sales pitch approaching. The theory behind this tactic is that people who have just asserted that they are doing fine—even as a routine part of a sociable exchange—will consequently find it awkward to appear stingy in the context of their own admittedly favoured circumstances.

You’ve fallen into the compliance trap.

Cialdini tells us to be very careful about agreeing to trivial requests. Such agreements not only increase our compliance with similar, larger requests, it can also make us more willing to perform a variety of larger favors that are only remotely connected to the little one we did earlier.

Whenever you take a stand that is visible to others, you are driven to maintain that stand to look like a consistent person. Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, and effortful.

So how are you doin’?

Lesson 6: Social Proof

Like Seinfeld? Ever join in the laughter while on your own? To discover why canned laughter is so effective, we first need to understand the nature of yet another of Cialdini’s weapons of influence: the principle of social proof.

The principle applies to the way we decide what constitutes correct behaviour. We view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the extent that we see others performing it.

Advertisers love to inform us when a product is the “fastest-growing” or “largest-selling” because they don’t have to convince us directly that the product is good, they need only say that many others think so, which seems proof enough to us.

In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct a phenomenon called “pluralistic ignorance.”

We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behaviour for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.

We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or life-style. Consequently, those who wish to be liked in order to increase our compliance can accomplish that purpose by appearing similar to us in any of a wide variety of ways. Which leads nicely onto the next lesson.

Lesson 7: Liking

An important fact about human nature: We are phenomenal suckers for flattery. Although there are limits to our gullibility—especially when we can be sure that the flatterer is trying to manipulate us—we tend, as a rule, to believe praise and to like those who provide it, oftentimes when it is clearly false. Liking: Cialdini’s next weapon of influence. A host of examples is possible. Most are familiar, like the new-car salesman who takes our side and “does battle” with his boss to secure us a good deal. In Olympiad years, we are told precisely which is the “official” hair spray and facial tissue of our Olympic teams. The linking of celebrities to products is another way advertisers cash in on the association principle. Professional athletes are paid to connect themselves to things that can be directly relevant to their roles (sport shoes, tennis rackets, golf balls) or wholly irrelevant (soft drinks, popcorn poppers, even after shave).

Lesson 8: Scarcity

The scarcity principle: opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.

Whilst in conversation we are routinely interrupted to answer the ring of our cell phone. And we answer rather than continue talking. In such a situation, the caller has a compelling feature that our face-to-face partner does not: potential unavailability. If we don’t take the call, we might miss it (and the information it carries) for good.

Cialdini suggests people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. For instance, homeowners told how much money they could lose from inadequate insulation are more likely to insulate their homes than those told how much money they could save.

As a rule, if it is rare or becoming rare, it is more valuable.

A variant of the deadline tactic, much favoured by some face-to-face, high-pressure sellers, carries the purest form of decision deadline: right now. Customers are often told that unless they make an immediate decision to buy, they will have to purchase the item at a higher price or they will be unable to purchase it at all.

Incidently, scarcity is also a primary cause of political turmoil and violence.

Revolutionaries are more likely to be those who have been given at least some taste of a better life. When the economic and social improvements they have experienced and come to expect suddenly become less available, they desire them more than ever and often rise up violently to secure them.

When it comes to freedoms, it is more dangerous to have given for a while than never to have given at all. So remember once delivered you can’t take it away.