Do You Know How the Principles of Influence Are Working On You? (“Influence” by Robert Cialdini)

Robert Cialdini

The first installment of this series on “Influence” by Dr. Robert Cialdini explore the three of six “weapons of influence” that make an impact on the way we make decisions and behave.  This post explores the remaining three principles of persuasion.  The most compelling reason for me to personally understand how these concepts work in my life is to cultivate an increased awareness of them, so that my own decisions and behaviour are carefully considered and not a result of a simple, automated response.  The six “weapons of influence” are so labelled because their power inevitably stems from the fact that they rely heavily on the typical, programmed, mechanical, automatic response.  Equally powerful is being able to engage these skills to become a powerful and ethical persuader.  Let’s start exploring the remaining three “weapons of influence.”

“Weapon of Influence” #4 – Liking

I think it a pretty known fact that people like to associate and transact with people that they like.  It is no wonder that the recent explosion of relationship marketing companies have surfaced.  Generally speaking, we tend to want to support our friends and family in their endeavours.  So, when the request to support a charity, or to be a customer of a new business venture comes from a friend, we are often challenged to refuse.  There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the fact that when we “like” a person, we are more likely to also purchase from them.  So what causes someone to be “likeable”?  Here is what research tells us about the factors that increases one’s likability with others:

  1. Physical Attractiveness – It turns out that we are greatly influenced, many times at a very unconscious level, by the physical appearance of people.  The more attractive we deem a person, the more likely we are to associate positive characteristics with that person.  It is called the “halo effect.”  This occurs when we take one trait of a person and it completely colours our entire view of them.  As far as physical looks are concerned, we tend to assign attractive people with positive traits like “talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence.”  It is no coincidence, then, why people in a sales position pay extra attention to the way they are groomed, and how they physically present themselves.
  2. Similarity – In general, we connect with people whom we share similarities with.  If we can find some form of common ground with another person, it greatly shifts our perspective of that person in a more positive light.  You can see how ambitious “influencers” try to create rapport by trying to find common interests with other people–be it a hobby, lifestyle, favourite sports team, or television show.
  3. Compliments – Who doesn’t appreciate a sincere and heart-felt compliment?  As long as we don’t feel like it is being used as a tactic to manipulate us or “butter” us up, we like people who notice, pay attention and compliment us.  Genuine compliments definitely works favourably in the “likability” scale.
  4. Contact & Cooperation – Typically speaking, we not only like people who are similar to us, we also like people who are familiar to us.  We like to make connections that can tie back to something or someone that is familiar.  Think about some stranger who comes up to and starts chatting you up–and how quickly your view of them changes when they associate themselves with someone you know–another friend, a family member.  As long as that association is not only familiar, but also a positive one, our tendency to “like” that person more increases.  Or, someone who you are regularly in contact with.  I think about the people I am in regular contact with at the local bank or supermarket.  This familiarity with them makes me more likely to trust them, and like them.  Related to people or things that we are in “contact” with, we also look more favourably on people or situations in which a sense of cooperation or unification is cultivated.  Working together as a team, or on a unified goal tends to pull people together.
  5. Positive/Winning Associations – In general, people like to associate themselves with people who they view in a positive light, or a winning position, or high achievements that they value.  Dr. Cialdini explores this concept in depth as a way to explain the fanatic fans that a winning sports team can invoke in people.  Some people go to lengths to be explicitly tied or connected to “winners” as a way of bolstering their own ego or status.  In turns out that the type of people that heavily employ this idea tend to have an overall lower sense of self-worth.  In these circumstances, this linkage–even if it is distant and superficial–is used to raise one’s self-image.

“..we purposefully manipulate the visibility of our connections with winners and losers in order to make ourselves look good to anyone who could view these connections.  By showcasing the positive associations and burying the negative ones, we are trying to get observers to think more highly of us and to like us more….Deep inside is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others of attainment.” – Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini

“Weapon of Influence” #5 – Authority

We are taught from a very young age to respect and abide by our authority figures–from parents, to teachers, to coaches.  It is no surprise, then, how this translates into adulthood.  Many of us would like to think that we are independent thinkers, and will challenge authority with no second thought–but the scientific research and studies that Cialdini discusses show a different story.   In all fairness, having levels of hierarchy and structure is essential for most systems and organizations to exist and function.  So, as a society, the need for authority figures and experts, and leaders in our personal and professional lives serves a very vital purpose.

“It allows the development of sophisticated structures for resource production, trade, defense, expansion, and social control that would otherwise be impossible…Consequently, we are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong.” – Robert Ciadini

Robert Cialdini

However, the danger lies in the fact that we may sometimes, unthinkingly, and automatically assign authority without much investigation or questioning to substantiate it.  We tend to easily fall into our automatic processes when it comes to obedience of authority based on little, or sometimes false information–such as titles of authority–which can easily be falsified.

I remember a trip to San Francisco one year in which I received a bizarre phone call in the middle of the night at my hotel room.  I picked up the phone.  The person on the other line, with a very authoritative and commanding voice, stated that they were the hotel management and that they had just experienced a complete failure of all their systems.  As such, they needed to contact each and every guest in the hotel and manually update their records for security purposes.  One of the pieces of information they required was my credit card that I had used to check-in the hotel with.  In the midst of a hazy confusion from being awoken in the middle of the night, and the urgency and authority in which the person spoke, I almost became a victim to a credit card fraud scam.  Although I refused to give them the information, it was a long and intense conversation as he referenced the police department, and kept insisting that he had the full authority to throw me and my family out of the hotel in the middle of the night, if I did not comply with his request!  In fact, I was so filled with doubt–I purposely gave him a fake credit card number, just so I could get off the phone and call the front desk to confirm.  At least this way, if the story was true, I could simply tell the front desk that I accidentally gave them the wrong number.  t was with great hesitation that I hung up the phone and called the front lobby myself only to find that it was indeed a con.

I not only learned the power of authority and the automatic inclination we have to listen to authority–it also made me realize that these days so many people call themselves an “expert” in just about anything.  It’s amazing how some choice words, a fancy suit, a uniform, a tone of voice can make us vulnerable to exploitation–or even feeling small and uninformed.  At the end of the day, we’re all an expert in something–be it knitting, or cooking a killer macaroni and cheese dish!  I also appreciated how to use this tactic, in all integrity and authenticity, to be more persuasive–whether it be the way I carry myself (physically, mentally & emotionally), to the way I dress, to the way I speak, to the way I look people in the eye.  It also taught me that it’s absolutely imperative to not shy away from asking questions–even at the risk of being scolded by an “authority” or made to feel “less than” because of it.  It’s important not to dissuade ourselves, or allow ourselves to fall into that automatic reaction in the presence of “authority”–especially when things are ambiguous or uncertain.

“Weapon of Influence” #6 – Scarcity

We live in a very scarcity-minded society.  So, it does not surprise me to see how the scarcity principle is used to persuade and influence other people.  I can think of several examples in how this concept has played into many big and small decisions in my life.  For instance, if I found a pair of pants or a fashion top that I really liked–I would buy it in two or three colours that it came in.  This was not because I could not make up my mind.  It was purely driven by the scarcity principle that told me I better get more than one in case I can never find another top like that, in that style, for that price and value again!  I am a total sucker for “limited time” offers that create this great sense of urgency and “limitedness”.  I am sure there is some deep psychological explanation for the automatic response that this type of scenario produces in me.  But, apparently I am not an anomaly.

“The risk of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making.  In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.” – Robert Cialdini

We tend to think that the rarer an item is, the more valuable it is.  And in general, this is probably true.  If something is in great demand, it is highly likely that it is a more valued item.  However, there are those who take advantage of this default mindset and purposely invoke the scarcity principle to influence their behaviour.  This can include forcing us to commit to make decisions under time constraints, or purposely withholding a desired item.  In fact, don’t you notice that once an item, idea or even person that you were taking into consideration suddenly becomes unavailable–they become that much more coveted and desirable?  It is the scarcity principle in effect.

“As opportunities become less available, we lose freedoms; and we hate to lose the freedoms we already have….whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to retain our freedoms makes us desire them…significantly more than previously.”  – Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini

So how do we counteract making rash decisions based on scarcity, rather than rational facts and deliberation.  The inherent issue with scarcity is that it robs us of our clear thinking as we get emotional, agitated, and narrowly focused on getting what we can’t, or possibly can’t have.  Dr. Cialdini suggests using that noticing when that mild “panic” feeling starts to set in as a signal that our scarcity-mindedness may be kicking in. At that point, we must ask ourselves why we really want what we want?  Bringing greater awareness to this principle for me, has at a minimum made me a more conscious and less impulsive consumer.

In Conclusion…

So now that you have an overview of each of the six weapons of influence, have you seen how often you rely on these psychological shortcuts when making your own decisions?  I could see myself in every case automatically reacting to these common and habitual ways of thinking and processing information.  It also taught me that these weapons are powerful and to be cognizant of how they can be used to exploit and take advantage of people.  Can you recall having a mechanical reaction to a situation based on these concepts?  How did you react?  When, or did you realize what had happened after the fact?  How would you act now?  Please share your comments and thoughts below.

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