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I have recently been reading Influence – Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini. So far, it seems to be one of those universal business books that could be considered a must read for people in all industries. This topic should be of particular interest to Product Managers, many of whom are tasked with exerting widespread influence while possessing only narrow authority. This book provides insights that you can use to make both business and personal decisions.

In this book, Cialdini describes what he calls the “6 Weapons of Influence”. His weapons are actually 6 categories of triggers that have a tendency to start “fixed-action patterns” in humans. Cialdini attempts to alert us to the ways in which “compliance professionals” try to trigger automatic responses from their audiences. The six categories these devices fall into are:

Reciprocation – How a free gift makes us vulnerable to undue influence.
• The sense of future obligation within this rule makes possible the development of various kinds of continuing relationships, transactions, and exchanges that are beneficial to the society.
• By starting with an extreme request that is sure to be rejected, a requester can then profitably retreat to a smaller request (the one that was desired all along), which is likely to be accepted because it appears to be a concession.

Commitment and Consistency
– Even a small commitment makes us act consistent with that commitment.
• In society, good personal consistency is highly valued and provides a beneficial approach to daily life.
• By being consistent with earlier decisions, one reduces the need to process all the relevant information in future similar situations; instead, one merely needs to recall the earlier decision to respond consistently with it.
• Within the realm of compliance, securing an initial commitment is key.

Social Proof
– How we look to others when we are uncertain.
• When people are unsure, when the situation is ambiguous, they are more likely to attend to the actions of others and to accept those actions as correct.
• People are more inclined to follow the lead of others that are similar to them.
• The principle of social proof can be used to stimulate a person’s compliance with a request by informing the person that many other individuals are or have been complying with it.

– People prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like.
• Recognizing this rule, compliance professionals commonly increase their effectiveness by emphasizing several factors that increase their overall attractiveness and likeability.
• Attractive people are more persuasive both in terms of getting what they request and in changing others’ attitudes.
• Increased familiarity through repeated contact with a person or thing normally facilitates liking.
• Upon recognizing that we like a requester inordinately well under the circumstances, we should step back from the social interaction, mentally separate the requester from his or her offer, and make any compliance decision based solely on the merits of the offer.

– How we tend to obey perceived authority.
• The strength of this tendency to obey legitimate authorities comes from systematic socialization practices designed to instill in members of society the perception that such obedience constitutes correct conduct.
• When reacting to authority in an automatic fashion, there is a tendency to do so in response to the mere symbols of authority rather that to its substance.
• It is possible to defend ourselves against the detrimental effects of authority by asking two questions: Is this authority truly an expert? How truthful can we expect this expert to be?

– People assign more value to opportunities when they are less available.
• When a message has been received, it is more effective if it is perceived as consisting of exclusive information.
• Scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly scarce and we are most attracted to scarce resources when we compete with others for them.
• In defense, we might try to be alert to a rush of arousal in situations involving scarcity. Once alerted, we can take steps to calm the arousal and assess the merits of the opportunity in terms of why we want it.

Part of Cialdini’s purpose is to alert readers to the ways in which unscrupulous people attempt to exploit these triggers for their own purposes.
There are of course also legitimate uses of these principles when attempting to persuade an audience. For example, many Product Managers would benefit from developing more extensive relationships amongst the developers in an effort to tap into Cialdini’s “liking” category.

This is one of the best researched books I’ve read in a while and I think that everyone could benefit from reading it, both professionally and personally.

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