A review of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Last week we concluded our last #ICBookClub chat for 2018 and it was a fascinating chat led by Trish Macready and Jane Revell, two of our lovely committee members. Trish has very kindly pulled together a short review of the book that was being discussed: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini for anyone who couldn’t make it.  From this review, it’s definitely one to add to your list. Next #ICBookClub will be taking place on 4 February 2019 and the book chosen is Beyond The Babble.

Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a fascinating study into why and how we make decisions, causing us to behave in often predictable ways. According to Cialdini, it’s all down to six Weapons of Influence.

Cialdini defines and explains each ‘weapon’ in turn, using a variety of case studies (some perhaps now a little dated) to illustrate how they are used in our day to day lives – from relationships and politics to business and the workplace. He sets out how we often revert to automatic behaviour patterns, thus providing us with a kind of ‘psychological short-cut’. In turn, this short-cut gives our overloaded brains a break from receiving, analysing and processing the constant waves of information coming at us every day.

Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment and Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Reciprocity is about creating a sense of obligation. We’re hardwired to not like being indebted to another so, if someone does us a favour, we’re very likely to want to reciprocate it. This leads to the concept of concession. You make someone an offer. They may reject it. So, you make an amended offer. By doing this, the other person feels like you’ve made a fair concession and one they feel bound to agree to. Concession is an established technique popular in sales and bartering.

Commitment and Consistency: this taps into our deep-seated desire to be perceived as consistent in what we say and do. If we’ve said something publicly, then we’re much more likely to stick to our decision.

Social Proof is also an extremely powerful weapon of influence. Essentially, we see an action as more appropriate when others are already doing it. Cialdini cites the use of canned laughter used on a TV show as a basic example of social proof in action. It’s an indicator that tells or reassures us that something is funny because other people are already laughing. Therefore, we should do the same. Social proof again extends easily into the workplace.

Cialdini observes that the most influential leaders are those who know how to arrange or manipulate group conditions to get social proof to work for them. After all, individual leadership can have its limitations. People place an enormous amount of trust in the collective knowledge of the ‘crowd’ and who they can to relate to. In essence, social proof asks a simple, but powerful question. “Everyone’s doing it, why don’t you?”

Liking is an obvious weapon of influence. We prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. Cialdini lists the reasons that we might like another person such as physical attractiveness, similarities, contact, cooperation, conditioning and association.

Authority tells us that most of us have a strong sense of duty when it comes to those we see as ‘authority figures’. If someone is wearing a uniform or has a title such as Doctor or Professor, we are likely to acknowledge their credibility or accede control to that person.

Finally, scarcity, like reciprocity, is a classic sales or marketing technique – it’s all about the ‘rule of the few’. When something is scarce, we view it as valuable. Scarcity can also be used to foster a sense of urgency, particularly when it comes to sales. If we think there is a limited number of items or that time is running out to make a purchase, it can be a very powerful motivator. In fact, research has shown that people are often more motivated by what they might lose, compared to what they might save.

Weapons of influence in internal communications

So, how do the weapons influence translate to internal communications?

While reading Influence, I was able to identify how the weapons could be used to help promote internal initiatives or encourage small behaviour changes amongst employees. Take commitment and consistency. The use of trusted ‘champions’ in the workplace who are willing to publicly commit their time to an initiative or programme can have a powerfully persuasive effect on colleagues.

Equally, social proof can also be used to encourage others to complete a task, change behaviour or adopt a new way of working. For example, social proof can be used to tap into our innate ‘fear of missing out’ e.g. “60% of you have had your say…don’t miss out on your chance to do so too.”

Weapons of influence can also be used to help persuade senior stakeholders. In the past, I’ve relied on a combination of methods here. Authority: citing research and experts. Social proof: using examples of what other organisations are doing or insight that tells us what the majority of our employees like or don’t like.

Ethical influencing

Given the effectiveness of the weapons, how do we ensure that we use them ethically?

It’s important that, as internal communicators, we’re open and transparent with our communications – taking care to share all sides of the story, talking about what’s been a success, a challenge or not worked as well as we’d liked.

It’s also important that our internal communications reflect our organisation’s values. Is your language inclusive? Does the tone of your communications often sound directive or impersonal? If your organisation says it’s committed to listening to its people, how often do you provide the opportunity for two-way conversations or just ask people how they are feeling?

And of course, be fair when using statistics, insight or employee feedback – don’t pick and choose or present findings in a favourable light. Be open and honest about what you’ve been told, make a plan to improve things and keep your audience updated on what’s being done to make life better in your organisation.

So, having read and thoroughly enjoyed Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, how will the weapons of influence impact my future internal communications practice?

I’ll continue to give employees a voice through new and improved feedback channels. I also want to start an open discussion to find out what really matters to people and what would make their jobs easier.

I’m keen to use social proof in a positive way by commissioning more employee-generated content such as case studies, personal stories and blog posts that talk openly about people’s successes and challenges.

I want to harness the power of reciprocity to encourage more ‘thank you’ schemes and promote our reward and recognition programme. I also want to do more to celebrate people’s hard work, achievements and contributions on a more regular basis.

Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a thought-provoking and engaging read that lifts the lid on how we make decisions and the sheer power of influence.

Everyone’s reading it. Why don’t you?

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