How out-of-date is the library-sale copy of Influence: The Power of Persuasion I finished recently? When my 1984-minted paperback was printed, its subtitle was “The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion.” (Italics mine, of course.)
Today, the psychology Robert Cialdini outlines in his now-classic book is so not-new, it’s almost shocking to think that anyone could ever have been sucked in by any of examples of Cialdini uses to illustrate the six “Weapons of Influence” he describes. If you’re not a small-business owner or one of the bajillions of marketing freaks the social web has spawned, you may not be able to list all of the terms by name, but you sure as hell can recognize them when they’re coming at you.
That friendly car salesman who gets you to take a test drive, who goes to the mat with his boss in the back room to get a better deal for you, who confides that the exact model you want is due to come in tomorrow, but only one of them, and only if you sign on the dotted line today? You might not know that he’s employing Weapons #1, 5 and 7, a.k.a. “Reciprocation,” “Liking,” and “Scarcity”, but you know he’s hustling you.1 His going-to-the-mat b.s. has already been debunked for you in several mainstream Hollywood films. Hell, chances are you’ve already used the Google to find out exactly how many cars were made with those options, when they shipped, and what the dealer price is.
So why read a 25-year-old book about “modern” persuasion in a postmodern world like ours, populated by savvy, heck, jaded consumers like us?
Because while the book is 25 years old, the techniques themselves are thousands of years older, as old as the first person trying to get the first other person to do something. And whether you are an honest person trying to get your message across or an honest person trying to keep from getting shafted, it behooves you to gain a real understanding of what motivates your fellow human beings, and what’s fueling the transactions between us every single day.
And I’m not just talking about learning how to sell sell sell, or, on the other hand, to avoid being sold sold sold. The way we are moved has ramifications in all sorts of interpersonal situations, and there’s terrific advice in Influence that will help you do better at everything from buying soap to choosing lovers to raising children. The chapter on Commitment & Consistency alone has more useful information about smart relationships than 99% of the crap targeted to women in the self-help section.
Which brings me to another huge plus for Cialdini’s book over most of what’s out there purporting to illuminate the darker corners of our souls: it’s well-written, and downright enjoyable to read. Somewhere during the chapter on Social Proof, it hit me, with its mix of footnoted and well-researched information, great illustrative stories and (thank you!) wry humor, Cialdini reminded me of not a little of Malcolm Gladwell. Cialdini is far more earnest and not nearly as sophisticated, but then, he was at it a full 10 years before Gladwell. (And, yeah, okay, Gladwell is just a singularly silky and sexy and fabulous wizard with words. You bewitch me, Malcolm!)
I will likely release my ancient copy of Influence back into the wild and pick up a revised version, if only to see how the text has been updated. I’d love to hear Cialdini’s take on Bernie Madoff’s use of the Weapons of Influence, for instance (although you can read one take on it here.)
But if you are a marketer, or a buyer, or a person who wants to be in a good relationship, or to NOT end up in that oh-so-bewildering place of “how the hell did I get here?”, I’d pick up a copy, any copy, old or new, of this fantastic book.
- Buy Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. on Amazon
- Visit Robert Cialdini’s website
- Read Scott Fenstermaker’s six-part series on Cialdini’s “weapons of influence”
1The six “Weapons of Influence,” in the order Cialdini describes them in the book, are: Reciprocation, Commitment & Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.
Photo of Robert Cialdini © Jason Petze, used with permission.
Disclosure! Links to the book(s) in the above post are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: while small, it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.