Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

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In his seminal book on the psychological techniques of persuasion, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, psychologist Robert Cialdini’s lists 6 types of persuasion.

Reciprocity: The idea is if you receive a gratuity — even a tatty flower you didn’t want, pressed on you by a glassy-eyed hippy when you least needed a free fricking flower, struggling through arrivals with three suitcases and a rolled-up Turkish carpet your spouse bought on impulse — you still feel morally obliged to reciprocate somehow. If you are in the middle of a sales pitch, the obvious way of doing that is buy buying the product.
Commitment and consistency: Early in the sales pitch, commit your counterpart to an uncontroversial factual statement — especially one that by ego, she is disposed to agree with — and which is consistent with the outcome you are trying to achieve. Later, the countepart will have difficulty arriving at an inconsistent conclusion. For example: “do you like fine arts and classical music?” Now, what self-respecting culture vulture would not agree with that? Who would want to come across to that nice young lady (see — “liking”) as some kind of Philistine? “Why I do.” Your eyes twinkle. “A particular fan of the pointillistes.” But then comes the sucker punch: “Great — so a person of such exquisite taste can hardly refuse the chance acquire some vouchers to buy half-price entry to galleries and classical concerts...”. Your play here is to either climb down and admit to that nice young lady that you are a Philistine and not only that you were bluffing about it — or you could suck it up and buy the stupid coupon book...
Authority: We are more susceptible to following instructions from people in a putative position of authority. As to this see the Milgram experiments etc.
Social proof: We are instinctive joiner-inners. Well, OK, you, my darling contrarians — obviously you’re not, but all the other sheeplethey are. They will tend to behave in the same way that people in their social group and of their social status behave. Therefore if you can be persuaded that that is what your peers are doing you are likely to be persuaded to do it yourself.
Liking: It is no accident that handsome young people are good salespeople. The will is weak. if you like the person selling to you you're more likely to buy from them. Therefore, Physical Attraction, agreeableness and so on are very disarming.
Scarcity: On sale now for a limited time only. There are only five left. When they’re gone, they’re gone. A simple strategy, well-understood but nonetheless effective strategy. People can be persuaded to buy products that they would not buy were they not in scarce supply. Hence: never buy in an auction.

See also

  • The dog in the night time for thoughts on how prevalent these factors are in the great frauds and popular delusions of our time.