Book review: “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion”

[Originally published on November 21, 2008]
Summary:  This book can’t be summarized.  It can only be very, very strongly recommended.
Recommended? YES. Buy it now if you haven’t read it.
Table of contents:
1 Weapons of Influence
2 Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take…and Take
3 Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind
4 Social Proof: Truths Are Us
5 Liking: The Friendly Thief
6 Authority: Directed Deference
7 Scarcity: The Rule of the Few
Below are my key takeaways and some interesting points, but I’m telling you.  Buy it.  Read it. Trust me.
  • Expensive implies quality. Example: gems in a jewel case that weren’t selling were marked up and then sold at a “discount” to the markup (a price higher than the original price), and they sold like hotcakes.
  • Power of contrast. Example: If you go into a men’s store they’ll try and sell you an expensive suit before the sell you the expensive sweater, because the contrast makes the sweater appear more affordable.
  • Reciprocity. Example: If someone buys you something (say, a Coke), you’re more likely to by something from them (say, raffle tickets).
  • Concession. Example: If someone tries to sell you something and you pass (say $5 of $1 raffle tickets), they’ll try and sell you something less that you’ll end up buying because you feel bad (1 $1 raffle ticket).  Another term used here is “reject then retreat.”
  • Commitment leads to consistency leads to collaboration.  Example: During the Korean war, the Chinese got American soldiers to make public commitments of various things.  Then they made those commitments even more public, which the American soldiers had to stand by to be consistent.  That consistency then led them down a path of minor forms of collaboration – without them really thinking about it as such.
  • Writing something down, even privately, strengthens your commitment to something.
  • People like and believe in commitment because their image and reputation is on the line (ie the Chinese concentration camp example above).
  • People like more what they struggle to get, even if it’s not that good. Example: frats (hey, it’s in the book, don’t hate the messenger).
  • People like to feel they have control over a decision – even if they really don’t.
  • The power of social proof, or the idea that if others do it it’s good.  Example: introverted pre-schoolers who saw introverted kids become social in a movie were more inclined to go play. Another example: cults.  People follow the crowd because they believe in the “wisdom” of the crowd.
  • Convince and you shall be convinced.  Example: cults, where people who convince or convert others become more convinced (that’s why so many are evangelical).
  • Assign responsibility if you want things done. Example: a stabbing that took place over many minutes had 38 witnesses…it happened cause everyone figured someone else would call the police.
  • The power of copycats that’ll play on social proof.  Example: if you find a wallet of someone like you and you’re more likely to return it (it’s true).   Another (scary) example: more suicides when the press publicizes a suicide…more fatal “accidents” too.
  • Liking is an important part of influence.  Attractiveness, similarity (identity and context), compliments, contact & cooperation all can make someone more influential.
  • The reason good cop/bad cop works is because the subject feels someone is on their side.
  • Associations are powerful. Bearers of good news get treated well, and bad news get treated poorly.  Examples: weathermen (or Roman messengers reporting lost battles!)
  • People tend to defer to authority/experts.  Examples: experiments involving shock therapy where people listened to a guy in a lab coat to inflict pain on another human being (incredible how strong this is).
  • The power of connotations and context over content, and how it can imply authority.  Titles and clothing do this.
  • Gaining trust.  Example: a waiter who advises against a more expensive item early in the meal will gain the trust of everyone at the table, and then he can suggest more expensive items and more items through the course of the meal.
  • Scarcity is powerful. There’s a psychological reaction…people don’t want to lose their freedom, and don’t want to lose.  This plays to a second point: competition. Invite 3 used car buyers at the same time and you’ll sell the car faster.  A cookie is more attractive if there are two of them than if there are 10 of them. (Always as yourself when something is scarce: will the cookie taste as good if there are 10 of them?). Plus, if you saw that the number went from 10 to 2, you want it even more. It can even lead to revolt…when something is given and then taken away, people get mad; if something is never given at all, they don’t know what they’re missing.
  •  “It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behavior when they are active, public, and effortful.”
  • “The most influential leaders are those who know how to arrange group conditions to allow the principle of social proof to work maximally in their favor.”
  • “Social proof is most powerful for those who feel unfamiliar or unsure in a specific situation and who, consequently, must look outside of themselves for evidence of how to best behave there.”
More on this book on goodreads!


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