Whether or not you know it, or like to admit it, those who have mastered the art of persuasion are working their skills on you. This week’s Wisdom In a Pinch book, “Influence” by researcher and expert, Dr. Robert Cialdini explains the six universal principles of persuasion and influence. At first read, these principles seemed obvious and logical to me in many ways. As I am reading the many case studies and scientific evidence about how these six principles work so powerfully in our lives–it seems so evident to me as to “why we do what we do”. However, upon further reflection, I realized how overwhelmingly powerful these principles have influenced my decisions, actions and reactions in a variety of every day circumstances–without any actual conscious thought or deliberation on my part. In other words, sitting down and reading about these principles seemed apparent and my reactions well within my control. In reality, as every day circumstances are actually unfolding in real time, these principles are linked to such deeply ingrained psychological programming, that more often than not, I am operating in a very mechanical and automatic fashion. There is no point that a conscious decision has been made. In this post, learn about first three principles so you can increase your awareness and see how they operate and influence your actions–from your buying habits, to your decision to help a stranger in distress, to the way you dress.
“…we too, have our preprogrammed tapes; and, although they usually work to our advantage, the trigger features that activate them can be used to dupe us into playing them at the wrong times.” – Robert Cialdini
“Weapon of Influence” #1 – Reciprocity
From personal experience, I have to say that reciprocity is probably one of the most compelling weapons of influence. In essence, it is that obligation we feel to repay someone for a “kindness” or gesture that they have given us. For instance, someone invites you to a dinner party, and you feel obligated to repay that invitation some time in the future. Or, someone gives you a birthday gift and you feel compelled to do something for them when their next birthday rolls around. Or, quite simply, someone pays you a compliment, and you feel a strong urge to do the same, or extend some kindness as well. This unwritten rule of conduct around reciprocity is so firmly ingrained in our upbringing and thus, our culture. In fact, I don’t think many of us give much thought to it because very few would argue that against the fact that this is simply the “polite, courteous and the right” way to behave. If we don’t, we run the risk of being labelled selfish, a parasite, unappreciative, a moocher, inconsiderate, thoughtless. All weighty and unpleasant names to be associated with.
Beyond the fear of being negatively viewed, Dr. Cialdini explains that reciprocity is a principle that has also been responsible for advancing the evolution of societies as a whole. Trading relationships could be established based around the goodwill nature of the reciprocity rule. In other words, one party can initiate trading resources confident that it will not be doing so at a loss in the future.
Several studies that Dr. Cialdini discusses illustrate how powerful this rule operates and can be used for manipulative purposes. He talks about how the Hare Krishna Society used to give flowers as a gift to unsuspecting travelers in busy airports. Or, how merchandisers offer free samples–from beauty products to food at supermarkets. Or, charities that mail out personalized address labels or greeting cards as gifts. All of these marketing tactics are tapping into that cultural pressure to reciprocate the gifts–even if they are unwanted. This can place undesired and uninvited debts. Also, there are negotiation tactics where the reciprocity principle is put into play. Initial negotiations begin with more exaggerated requests compared to what they actually desire, and eventually as concessions are made by the negotiator, the other party is much more willing to concede and agree to the negotiators actual, more moderate desires. Because concessions have been made, the other party actually feels moreresponsible for the final deal and satisfied with the outcome. Because concessions have been made along the way, the reciprocity rule makes the other party feel obligated to concede to the real demands of the negotiator.
To defend against being exploited by the reciprocity rule, is simple awareness. When you get that feeling or internal alarm clock that you are committing to something that you do not really want to–take a moment to reflect on the interaction. In a sales situation, figure out if the reciprocity principle is being used on you. Once you determine that it is simply a sales tactic and not a real favour, you can give yourself the permission to respectfully decline. The awareness of this rule also taught me an important lesson about being able to receive more graciously as well, to be able to receive a kind gift/favour/invitation/gesture without the undue pressure to repay it necessarily. And if given the opportunity to return the gesture does arise, I do so with all my heart and not just out of mere obligation.
“Weapon of Influence” #2 – Commitment & Consistency
This weapon of influence is summed up best by Dr. Cialdini at the open of this chapter :
“It is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (an to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressure will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.” Robert Cialdini
This inclination to be seen as congruent can lead us to automatically take actions that are blindly consistent with matters to which we have taken a previous stand or commitment to. Our need to be “right” and be perceived as “right” and/or justify our past actions will not allow us to consider or re-consider other perspectives. Furthermore,
“The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill. ON the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. It is at the heart of logic, rationality, stability, and honesty.” – Robert Cialdini
Personally, I have always looked to align my thoughts, actions and beliefs. I believe that operating from a place of inner and outer congruency is where I find my clarity, and peace of mind. In fact, it is also where I find much of identity–to be able to be consistent and remain committed to my said values and beliefs. So, when Dr. Cialdini says that the need to be committed and consistent is a powerful influencer of human behaviour I can absolutely see why this is the case. Ultimately this comes down to how we look at our selves. And we will go to great lengths to preserve our self-image. So if someone can get us to alter our own self-image, then there is the opportunity to influence that individual’s behaviour.
“You can use small commitments to manipulate a person’s self-image; you can use them to turn citizens into “public servants”; prospects into “customers”, prisoners into “collaborators.” And once you’ve got a man’s self-image where you want it, he should comply naturally with a whole range of your requests that are consistent with this view of himself.” – Robert Cialdini
Dr. Cialdini takes particularly time discussing how written statements are very effective means of creating commitment. It creates a form of physical evidence, a tangible declaration of your stand; it can be shown to other people and made public. Commitments are also effective at changing behaviour when they are effortful to comply to. In other words, anything that is too easy to attain, is not as valued, and hence less effective in altering our self-image. Again, preserving our self-image drives our behaviour in a very instinctive fashion. So, once that image is altered, there are a variety of behaviours that are likely to be changed to fall in line with that new perspective of ourselves.
For instance, when I began my journey into personal development, I was slowly changing my self-image. Once, I started to commit my first goals on paper, I was shifting from a confused and lost view of myself to a more empowered, action-oriented person who set herself for higher standards of being and living. This started getting me to commit to daily routines that I knew would serve me in the long run. I started to write out monthly, weekly and daily goals. Seeing this commitment on paper, made me more adept to keeping with my new habits. Then, this started translating into my physical health. If I am going to be a high-achieving, goal-focused person, then my health and lifestyle routines should also reflect this. So I started exercising regularly, de-toxing regularly and focusing on what and how I was eating. This desire for optimizing my life also had me reflecting on my personal relationships. So, I worked on communication, and parenting skills. And the list continues…
“Once an active commitment is made, then, the self-image is squeezed from both sides by consistency pressures. From the inside, there is a pressure to bring self-image into line with action. From the outside, there is a sneakier pressure–a tendency to adjust this image according to the way others perceive us.” – Robert Cialdini
I can see how this principle to remain consistent can work equally for you or against you. Awareness of this powerful, internal drive to be consistent to my commitments makes me consider what even seemingly “small” commitments I decide to make to myself and others. Also, as per Dr. Cialdini’s advice, we must pay attention to that “gut” feeling in our stomach, and listen to what our “heart of hearts” is telling us. Intuition and paying close attention to what you are saying to yourself, and what you believe about yourself can be very revealing about what types of commitments you may be unconsciously keeping that may or may not be serving you.
“Weapon of Influence” #3 – Social Proof
For me, in reading about social proof and the way that it influence people’s behaviors is very reminiscent of teenage peer pressure and what drives teens to do things that they would otherwise, not do or say. In adulthood, although not as obvious, we are constantly looking at how other people behave and act to determine how we should be have and act. And the more people that are doing something, the more “correct” or “acceptable” we deem this behaviour to be. And while for most every day activities this rule does work–like all the other weapons of influence, it can also work against us.
In general, when there is ambiguity or uncertainty in a situation, we tend to lean on social proof for directions on what to do. However, the oversight in such thinking is that the very people that we are looking to for answers, are also looking at other people for direction. This phenomenon of people looking to other people can causes inaction during times when action is required. This very mindset is what ca lead to entire groups of witnesses or bystanders to be passively watching victims or people in need of help on the sidelines. In ambiguous situations, the onus of responsibility to step up and help is shared amongst everyone else present–and often this leads to nothing being done. In such situations, it is important to single out a person, give directions and explicitly ask for help.
Social proof is also likely to influence us in that we are likely to look to people who we see as similar to ourselves to perceive the “correctness” of behavour. In other words, we are more likely to model the behaviour of someone who we can relate to, or who we see sharing similarities with.
Again, extra vigilance and self-awareness is required to defend against the automatic response of social proof. Rely more on your instincts and facts than simply following the masses–especially when the situation is ambiguous and more information is required. This section of the book simply made me more aware of the need to remain sensitive to what feels true to me–to exercise my fact-finding skills, make inquiries, and formulate my own opinions and action plan–rather than only looking to social proof for direction.
These were the first three weapons of influence that were discussed, studied and thoroughly examined in Cialdini’s book. If I were to sum up what I took away the most from these first few principles was further reinforcement of constant, and increased self-awareness. While each weapon can just as easily work for you or against you–ultimately, it comes down to not just “dumbing” down to your automatic reactions and impulses. In order to use these principles effectively, and also defend yourself from being exploited by them–you must be ready to practice a level of self-awareness, ask yourself some honest questions and interrupt the “default” mechanical response. Stay tuned for the last three weapons of influence that Dr. Cialdini explores in my next post in this series.
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