Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

One of my areas of interest lately has been the emotional side of sales. Essentially, how does one evoke an emotional reaction to what is being provided. Clearly, it is necessary that the service/product being sold meets a fundamental need of the person buying, but the way a solution is presented makes a difference on the satisfaction and choice of the consumer.

This book was recommended as a good one to read on this topic, and indeed it is. This book is very much in a similar vain as Blink by Malcom Gladwell. This one goes into more depth about how people are persuaded to act. There are 6 primary reasons that are discussed:

  1. Reciprocity When someone does something for us, even without us asking, we end up feeling oblidged to act in their favor. Classic examples of this include Hare Krishna followers giving a flower as a free gift, but following with asking for a donation. Another example of course is the homeless person that washes your window and you feel compelled to give something even though you never asked. Related to this idea, is one where someone comes with a suggestion or request which is big and then subsequently asks for something much less. For example, the author had someone come to their door and ask if they wanted to buy tickets at $10 for a baseball game (for fundraising) and when the author said no, he asked if he wanted to buy some chocolate for $1/bar. He closed the door with two chocolate bars even though he doesn’t like chocolate. Since someone feels bad about saying no, coming back with another option that is much less will often result in a positive response. There were other examples of this principle that are quite fascinating.
  2. Committment and ConsistancyIn this case, a small committment can result in people changing who they are. One example of this was that people were called as part of a survey to see how many people are willing to volunteer. They were asked, “If you were asked to volunteer for 2 hours per week for a 2 year committment would you say yes?” People, wanting to be perceived as charitable, were very likely to say they were. Three weeks later, someone would actually call to see if they would volunteer and those who took the survey were about 3 times as likely to say they would and they were actually more committed to the opportunity than those who said yes but were not asked the survey question. Another example involved American POW’s in WWII that were in Chinese prison camps. The Chinese would obtain very small things, like an admission that America is not perfect and they would then use that small concession, to subsequently ask them to say how it wasn’t perfect, then to write them down, etc. By getting them to make a small concession without threat, they slowly got the prisoners to actually change the way they viewed China and America. Almost all of them had changed their view of communism upon coming home. Another way was getting people to write views that they don’t necessarily believe in for some small reward as they are more likely to acutally internalize those views. It seems like the University setting is another area where this could become used.
  3. Social Proof The idea behind this one is that in times of uncertainty people look to those around them to determine what they should do. The classic example of this is the murder that took place in New York City where an attacker murdered a woman with three different attacks. There were 37 people that saw the attack and only one called the police after she was dead. Each looked to their neighbor to assess whether or not there was a real problem, and assumed if there was, someone else would do something about it. Other forms of this are making things appear to be popular, salting a tip jar to make it looks like that’s what others do, etc.
  4. Liking The primary principle of this is that people buy from people that they like. People abuse this by showing that they are on the consumers side by doing something at the beginning that looks like it’s in the interest of the consumer only to essentially take advantage of that trust. Use of celebrities and also things we identify with as a means of being more likable are similar to this. Another example is door-to-door sales man asking for references of other friends that they could talk to and when talking to those friends, mention they are coming on the recommendation of another person. This makes it seem like turning down the sale is somehow rejecting the friend. Tupperware parties and other multi-level marketing campaigns are similar in this way.
  5. Authority The idea and concept here is that people trust the decisions of authority more quickly than they do those who are just like them. My favorite example of this was a study where a person in uniform said to someone, “That person over there needs two dimes, go give them to him!”. 92% of people complied when the person was in uniform. When they were dressed in street clothes, only 42% of people complied. Related to this was the psychology of size (those who are bigger appear to be in greater authority). It seems that when authorities or someone we perceive to be authority commands something people are more willing to do it without thinking about what it is they are asking and why. Amazingly, even just a title or clothes were sufficient to give people this sense.
  6. Scarcity For some reason, when we find out that something is limited we value it higher than we should. The basic example of this chapter was a study where cookies were rated by people. The cookies came out of a jar that was either full or near empty. When the jar was near empty, the cookies rated higher than when the jar was full. Related to this was the idea that when parents prohibit their children from seeing a romantic interest, it makes that person seem even better than if there wasn’t pressure (Romeo and Juliet falling into this to the point of death). If we see something that has a limited time or we are going to lose if we don’t act now, we actually value the object higher. My favorite example from this chapter was the authors brother who put himself through college by looking for used cars taht were listed at the low end of their blue book value, and subsequently buying them, washing them, and listing them again for a higher value with an ad that was sure to draw a lot of interest. When people called to setup an appointment to see the car, he would give everyone who called the exact same appointment time. The first would show up and start looking at the car and making remarks about the dings etc. The second would then show up and would be asked, either by the brother or the first buyer, to wait on the side as the first buyer was here first. This significantly increased the pressure on the first buyer to make a full price offer since the second buyer was waiting to look at it. Similarly, the second person, starts valuing the car higher because he may not get a chance to have it. Then you add a third, a forth and you sell the car for a higher price.

Overall I would recommend this book. It has some fascinating examples in it and is similar to Blink which I also recommend. One of the most valuable pieces of information walking away from this was to be aware of the decisions that we make in our day to day lives without thinking about them and to avoid being manipulated by those who are falsly preying on these types of inclinations.







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