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Insights From Influence: Science and Practice (#23)

If you want to understand why everybody and their baby moms are buying enough toilet paper to last them until Kanye runs for president in 2024, you should check out the following book to explain why they’re doing so.


Jokes aside, obviously these are uncertain times for many….but IMO it’s not that deep. Humans fear what they don’t understand, and as a result in times like these we tend to defer our decision making to others.

Influence: Science & Practice is a classic book and arguably the best psychology book ever (if you have any suggestions or recommendations on what’s better - I’m all ears.. please). 

Here are my insights from Robert Cialdini’s Influence (8 min read) and in each principle summarized I've also added how to counter the persuasive technique or tactic.


Chapter 1 - Automaticity

  • Humans tend to have an automatic trigger in their behavior

    • Example expensive must mean good

    • Sometimes this leads to humans acting irrationally, like buying more toilet paper than we need because everyone else is buying it

    • Sometimes blindly listening to experts “If an expert says it, this must be true” even if the expert is obviously wrong.

  • Contrast principle:

    • We suffer from contrast bias, put a hot chick in front of a man, then put an average chick in front of him, the average chick looks way uglier

    • Marketers & salespeople can use this to great effect

      • For instance after a customer at a car dealership has agreed to a price: the car dealer will offer all these little hundred dollar upgrades that seem like nothing in contrast to a 20K car.

How to counter automaticity: Be more of an analyst in your decision-making, and try to avoid an automatic shortcut mentality.  

Chapter 2 - Give Then Take Principle (Reciprocation)

  • When you receive something as a favor, you feel compelled to give something

  • Rejection then retreat:

    • People feel they’ve won something when you make a concession as to what you were offering at a certain price

    • Example:

      • Say you’re selling something for $40K but you’d be thrilled to take it at $25K, offer it at $40K and if they reject it, offer it at $25K or $30K. They are much more likely to comply. The price has to seem genuine though, or else it comes across suspect.

      • When you use the rejection then retreat principle, it increases customer satisfaction and also the customer feels responsible for it.

      • However, in a negotiation if the first set of demands are to be seen as unreasonable, the tactic backfires.

  • The use of surprise to get effective compliance

    • People who are surprised by a request will often comply because they are momentarily unsure of themselves and therefore influenced easily

    • Example:

      • In a 1975 study, people riding on the NYC subway were twice as likely to give up their seats to someone who surprised them with the request “May I have your seat?” (56%) as opposed to those who forewarned them first by mentioning that they were thinking of asking for someone’s seat (28%).

How to counter reciprocation: Obviously you want to accept favors from people, but if you see it being used as a sales tool you can just accept the tool, once again it’s case by case.


Chapter 3 - Consistency

  • Humans like being consistent because it is trustworthy, and you are seen as reliable

  • In this regard, people can use commitment as a way of taking advantage of this consistency part.

  • Best way to get someone to make a large purchase is to get them to make a smaller purchase first. In terms of the book, smaller commitments can lead to larger ones.

  • Using written pledges as well as the foot in the door technique is effective because it is a smaller commitment

    • Publicly stated commitments work really well for people with big egos.

    • People tend to live up to what they write down.

More principles

  • Once we make a commitment, we tend to be stubborn and automatic about it.

  • You can use small commitments to manipulate a person’s self image. It’s why you see people “bragging” about donating or volunteering.

  • We feel responsible for actions we have chosen to perform in absence of strong outside pressure.

  • Low-ball technique is when someone agrees to something low then you take it away

  • Low-ball technique works because a person is already committed to getting the product or service.

How to counter consistency:

  • A way to counter when someone is using the consistency principle on you is to ask yourself:

    •  “Knowing what I know now, if I could go back in time after I make this decision, would I still act like this?”

  • Another way to counter when the consistency is being used against you is to just call them out on it.

Chapter 4 - Social Proof

  • Social proofWe view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. 

  • Social proof works well under two conditions:

    • uncertainty

    • when people are similar to us

  • People tend to think in herds and as a result will do what others will do (like buying unnecessary amounts of toilet paper). What’s the rationale?

    • We seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t. Especially when we are uncertain.

    • Frequently, the crowd is mistaken because its members are not acting on the basis of any superior information but reacting to social proof

  • Social proof is powerful because 95% of people are imitators and only 5% of people are initiators

  • Example of being hurt in public 

    • If you are ever in trouble and need help, point out one individual in a crowd and ask for help, chances are if you’re in a really big city, the masses will ignore you unless there’s some free-thinking soul around. Monkey see, monkey do.

    • Why? Because you could be getting stabbed/attacked and literally because a couple of people ignore you others will also think that it’s ok to ignore you

  • Social proof is more effective when people feel unfamiliar or unsure in a specific situation and must look outside of themselves for evidence of how best to behave.

How to counter social proof: Don’t use social evidence as your only means and rationale to make a decision.

Chapter 5 - Liking

  • We like things or people that are similar to us.

  • We like to associate with things that are of higher status than us or something we feel that will be of positive association to us.

    • This is why physical attractiveness is regularly exploited by compliance and sales professionals. Because we like attractive people, we tend to comply with those we like. 

    • Or if you place a hot chick in a car ad, most guys are going to think that the car is more expensive-looking, more appealing, better-designed than men who saw the same ad w/o the model.

  • We tend to hate people who bring us bad news even if that person isn’t affected with the bad news.

How to counter the liking principle: It’s really hard because we are just innately hard-wired for this s***t and to not do so would just make you paranoid. However, when it comes to the realm of sales, you can ask yourself “Would I buy this thing if this particular person wasn’t here?”

Chapter 6 - Authority

  • Humans will go to extreme lengths to obey commands from an authority figure

    • Example:

      • There was an experiment where they had a punisher subject under the command of an authority figure give deadly amounts of electric shock to an actor, and they kept going because of the pressure from an authority figure. (Think why Germans obeyed Hitler)

  • People respond to status symbols or authority figures really well not necessarily substance.

  • People are hesitant to question authority, which is why sometimes subordinates stop thinking in a situation and start reacting.

  • People automatically respond to authority and respond really really well to titles.

  • People respond well to clothes as well as trappings such as jewelry and cars.

    • People are less likely to honk at a driver of a new luxury car at a green light then one in an older, economy car.

  • A small shortcoming in your product or position that you admit to makes you seem more credible and believable down the line.

    • Avis: “We’re number 2, but we try harder"

    • L’Oreal: "A bit more expensive and worth it"

    • Listerine: "The taste you hate 3 times a day"

  • Best letter of recommendation is best when you contain one unflattering comment in an otherwise wholly positive set of specific remarks.

How to counter the principle of authority: Ask yourself is the person in authority truly an expert on what they are giving advice in?

Chapter 7 - Scarcity

  • We value what is limited

  • We want something even more when it is taken away from us

  • Factors like competition drive us sometimes to act irrationally in terms of scarcity

    • Things like auctions and bidding (terrible for business)

  • A scarcity tactic in use which is effective is related to some official time limit to get what the compliance professional is offering.

  • We hate to lose freedoms we already have.

  • If we lose what we have we have even more will to possess and want the item more than we did before.

  • A drop from abundance to scarcity produces a more positive reaction to the good that is now in scarcity than constant scarcity. This usually the cause of political turmoil and violence.

  • Feeling of being in competition for scarce resources has a powerful motivating resource (Coronavirus toilet paper).

  • When under a scarcity attack we must remember that the item will function equally well whether scarce or plentiful. Scarcity seriously hinders our ability to think.

How to counter scarcity: It’s really hard to counter scarcity because of FOMO (the fear of missing out). The best we can do is ask ourselves if whatever we want will function equally well whether it is scarce or plentiful. 

Chapter 8 - Instant Influence

  • With the modern world throwing so much at us with technology we feel more compelled than ever to rely on triggers of influence because our brains are like “there’s too much to process!!!!”

  • Because we are overloaded with choices we are going to take whatever shortcuts we can because the world has become increasingly and increasingly complex. 

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