How is it that some people succeed at persuading others to do their bidding? In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini uncovers six of the most important psychological triggers governing human behavior: Reciprocation, Commitment and Consistency, Social Truths, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.
Once he names these triggers, Cialdini is straight-forward and frank — he tells you exactly how to defend yourself against their unscrupulous use.
Once the the triggers are identified, you can defuse the “weapons of influence”, as Cialdini calls them. You can stop the persuaders, the hucksters, the salesmen from having undue sway over your life. No longer will you feel snookered into doing things you don’t want. You can use the knowledge of these triggers to better influence others.
Do us all a favor though. Use these newfound powers for good, not evil.
So, why did I read Influence? It was part of Scott Adams’ reading list on understanding the human brain as a programmable “moist machine”. As Cialdini says, if you flip a switch, the human machine reacts predictably — “click – whir“.
For me, though, the idea of the brain as moist machine goes farther back than Dilbert — I think of William Gibson writing about the interfaces between the brain (wetware), hardware and software in the early eighties. That’s what intrigued me most about what Adams was saying about his moist machine, and reading Influence leads to a better understanding of the moist machine’s operating system.
I was not disappointed.
We base these psychological triggers on behavioral shortcuts hardwired into our brains. Shortcuts pivotal to our survival. Like software exploits or system back-doors in programming though, nefarious individuals can take advantage of and subvert these shortcuts.
That’s Cialdini’s thesis anyway …
As humans interacting with other humans, we all have at least an inkling of how our operating system works — we hear a laugh-track and we want to laugh; someone plays a doctor on TV and we want to take their advice; someone does us a favor and we feel obligated to respond in kind.
This is human nature. And human nature is the human operating system.
So, Cialdini covers familiar ground. Especially for experts at the exercise of influence: con-artists, salespeople, politicians and marketers.
Cialdini goes beyond the human nature we are all familiar with though. After describing and classifying them, he breaks down and analyzes the tools of influence. He backs up his analyses, citing psychological and sociological studies and experiments.
These are not idle observations Cialdini makes. This is science.
All together, Cialdini comes to see the tools of influence as based on necessary aspects to the human psyche — these shortcuts have developed over time to enable our survival.
But these aspects can also mislead us and that is where Cialdini really wants to go — how do you step out of the operating system? How do you recognize that someone is taking advantage of the principle of reciprocity or our individual attachment to commitment and self-consistency?
In short, how do we recognize if our programmed responses are genuine or manipulated? And, what should we do when someone is manipulating us?
Just recognizing these influences in action is often enough …
So we question gifts that come out of the blue; there is an obligation attached …
If we feel tricked into making a commitment (in for a penny, in for a pound), we don’t give in. We get angry.
Remember that going along with people just like you is not always a good idea.
Suspect the new guy when he tries to sell you something — would you buy it if you didn’t like him?
Just because someone wears a uniform doesn’t mean he’s official. And even if he is, beware — the police don’t have your best interests in mind, and doctors are just schills for profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies. Watch any police procedural, and you should know this about cops. And how many times have you heard about healthy people who hardly ever see the doctor? As soon as they do, they invariably get sick (from the drugs the doctor gives them!) and die.
Finally, when something is “Out Of Stock” or “Available For A Limited Time Only”, it’s not. We live in an abundant world — messages of false scarcity should put you on your guard.
In short, for defense against the weapons of influence, Cialdini advocates adopting healthy skepticism whenever our buttons are pushed. “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion” is a key to understanding the human operating system and developing this skepticism. The book is a tool to prevent opportunists from subverting that moist machine residing in your skull.