As an award winning author and professor, Robert Cialdini has come back to psychology writing after a long absence from when his first work Influence became a legendary bestseller. In Pre-Suasion, his newest work, Cialdini shows us that effective persuasion usually happens long before the message is even shared. Rather, the secret to success depends on how the message is set up and delivered. In the book, Cialdini utilizes case studies and research to show what separates the best communicators from the rest. By focusing on the ways that a message can be set up, he reveals how you can presuade others to agree with you before you ever even open your mouth.
Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade By Robert Cialdini
Here’s what you’ll learn about in this book review:
– The keys to “priming” someone to give you the response you want—even when they have no idea it’s happening.
– The six keys of achieving influence from Robert’s first book, and an additional one he’s learned about since.
– The best ways to direct someone’s attention and focus towards what’s important in order to persuade them to agree with you.
“What we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.”
“In deciding whether a possibility is correct, people typically look for hits rather than misses; for confirmations of the idea rather than for disconfirmations.”
”Trust is one of those qualities that leads to compliance with requests, provided that it has been planted before the request is made.”
Persuasion is the act of influencing people. Pre-Suasion is the act of preparing people to be influenced.
Part 1: Pre-Suasion: The Front-loading of Attention
1) The Art of Pre-Suasion Through Trust
“The answer involves an essential but poorly appreciated tenet of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.”
“Jim” the smoke alarm salesman had an innovative strategy that caused him to consistently be the best salesperson in his team. His technique was simple. When out on a pitch to sell smoke alarms to families, he would give them part of his standard speech and then slap his head, apologize and tell his audience that he had forgotten a crucial piece of his equipment in his car. Apologetically, he would ask permission to go out to his car, grab the missing equipment and then come back in.
Though “forgetting” his equipment was always intentional, Jim had a clever strategy behind the illusion. Few people willingly allow complete strangers to walk through their home; this level of trust is reserved only for friends and family members. Therefore, when Jim was granted permission to do the same, he was intentionally associating himself with these trustworthy types of people in his customer’s brains. Upon doing so, they unintentionally viewed him as more trustworthy in their brains and began to intuitively believe he truly had their best safety interests at heart, making them far more likely to buy smoke alarms from him than any other salesman.
Jim’s technique for success was built entirely from the idea of creating an association of trust. He wasn’t claiming the status necessary to be treated like a close friend or family member; he simply created situations that caused him to be treated like one. This framing technique primed his customers to put him in a specific (trustworthy) category and thus become more receptive to his sales pitch.
Jim’s technique may seem a little underhanded, but there is an important lesson there for all of us. Trust is a primary human instinct, and finding ways to increase it will greatly affect the influence that you can have on a person. A key lesson is that creating an association of trust (deserved or not) can be just as beneficial as earning trust.
2) The Importance of Privileged Moments
“Frequently the factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is not the one that counsels most wisely there; it is one that has been elevated in attention.”
Back in his early days, Robert made his reputation at parties by being a mind reader. His talent for pinpointing each person’s personality accurately surprised everyone (including himself) — until he gave one woman two opposite readings within hours of each other and had her enthusiastically agree with both interpretations. Something was amiss.
As it turns out, palm reading is a perfect example of an exercise that creates privileged moments, or times when an individual becomes highly receptive to the message they are being told. The process is simple. When a palm reader tells you that your lifeline shows you are stubborn, you think back through your recent experiences, and focus your attention to each one where you showed stubbornness… And so, naturally, stubbornness is what comes to mind, making you nod in agreement.
Crucially, you are far less likely to think of situations that prove that you aren’t stubborn, because it’s harder to think of situations that disprove a statement than it is to simply think of situations that prove it. This is called the “positive test strategy”.
Survey users and product testers are often guilty of abusing this principle. By asking a potential customer if they consider themselves adventurous before giving them a new product to try, the customer will be more likely to both try it and buy it. This is because their brain has been primed to think of every way they are adventurous, and purchasing a new product fits this view of themselves. Likewise, a survey that asks if someone is ‘happy with their experience’ will draw out their happy feelings to the forefront of their minds. For fairness, it’s far better to ask survey responders to rate their experience or to be asked more open-ended questions without a leading answer. (For example: instead of asking “How happy are you with your experience?”, you might ask, “How happy or unhappy are you with your experience?”)
3) What is Focal is Causal
Several years ago, when packages of Tylenol were recalled because they were tampered with deadly levels of cyanide, an inordinate number of people played the recalled Tylenol product label numbers, 2880 and 1910 in the lottery. Why on earth would they do this? Most people would never associate poison with luck, but so many people played those numbers back then that the lottery commission had to close them down due to unsafe risk for the lottery company itself.
As it turns out, the main reason that those numbers were played was simply that they were in the news. Thousands of people heard them listed off each night for a few weeks, and found they were fresh in their minds when they went to play the lottery. Few (if any) won by this play, but their behavior proves an excellent illustration of the principle that whatever is focal becomes causal.
When people see that some factor (in this case, the Tylenol product label numbers) is being given special attention, they will unintentionally assume that there is an important reason.
The same thought pattern can be seen in police interrogations that produce false confessions.
Because false confessions typically happen in interrogation sessions that average over 16 hours, mental and physical exhaustion can be a key reason. However, with some witnesses it can be hard to make a judgment call about whether a confession is honest or not. Previous studies have shown that viewers are biased towards whoever they can see most clearly in an argument. Therefore, video footage that shows the face of the police officer in the forefront is far more likely to seem in control of the situation because he will be the focal point. Having footage that shows both people equally removes this bias and makes it easier for outside viewers to come away with an accurate impression for whether the confession was coerced.
Bottom line? What is focal is causal. To put it another way: whatever you focus on (or lead someone else to focus on) will expand and become perceived as carrying the most weight in any given situation.
Part 2. Processes: The Role of Association
4) Linking Changes to Create Change
“If you want to change the world, change the metaphor.” —Joseph Campbell
Some of the top-performing organizations in the world have a peculiar way of talking within their business. For example, SSM Health has one of the highest success ratings for health care businesses in the United States, and a fundamental change in language is part of their reason. During meetings, employees refuse to say to “bullet points” and instead referred to them as “information points”. Likewise, they have business “goals” instead of business “targets” and they “outdistanced” the competition rather than “beat” them. These minor word changes might seem laughably subtle, but they have produced real-world results for SSM Health and other organizations that have taken on a positive word association approach to their businesses.
By intentionally choosing to focus on words that highlight health and renewal, SSM Health keeps this mentality in the forefront of their employee’s minds. This allows them to never get distracted from their overall mission, increasing the health and wellness of every patient they treat.
Scientific studies have revealed similar results. Test subjects that are exposed to aggressive words are more likely to give painful shocks to complete strangers, and employees given notes on a paper with a picture of an athlete winning a race are more likely to strive for ambitious results. By “priming” our minds with words and images that create the association we are striving for, we truly make it easier for our brains to make the jump from the metaphor to the desired achievement.
5) Looking at the Geography of Influence
When Robert first began writing this book, he wrote parts from his professional office and other parts from home. When he went over his work at a later time, he realized that what he had written from home was significantly better and more approachable for a general audience. The reason for this contrast is simple; while writing from his university office, he was facing intimidating academic buildings and was surrounded by his qualified and well-accomplished peers. His writing rose to match the high academic standard, and became dry and dull in the process. While writing at home he was surrounded by newspapers, books and more approachable forms of writing that caused him to approach his writing in a more casual manner, which is far better-suited for a general audience than the dry and boring style of academic writing.
This principle is called the “geography of influence,” and it reveals itself in many different ways in your life, too. Words, images, and places can all create certain associations in people that lead to predictable changes.
For example, women that are gently reminded to focus on the fact that they are women — by circling or writing down their gender before taking a math test — actually tend to perform less well than women that aren’t reminded of their sex prior to taking the test. Apparently, this is because of the odd and innacurate cultural stereotype that women are worse at math than men. But when women are put in a testing room with female math teachers, they aren’t as easily reminded of their gender stereotypes and the gap in math achievement disappears.
Cialdini tells us that this general principle of the “geography of influence” can manifest itself in many different ways—both positive and negative. From being better able to count your blessings as you approach old-age, to being more productive in work environments where you can see your coworkers. The geography of influence controls the way that our physical space and surrounding affects our overall behavior.
Part 3. Best Practices: The Optimization of Pre-Suasion
6) Six Steps for Change
In his first book Influence, Cialdini looked at six universal principles that affected the level of influence that a person or situation had. Here’s a quick overview of each:
– Reciprocity: As a general principle, people say yes to what they owe. If you can make someone feel
indebted to you (for example, by giving them a piece of chocolate when they walk in your store) they
will be more likely to give you something in return (like a chocolate purchase).
– Liking: Getting people to like you is one of the best ways to encourage them to do something beneficial for you. This is best accomplished by making yourself relatable to them, as we all tend to prefer people more similar to ourselves.
– Authority: People tend to listen to and respect those that are considered experts in their field, so to gain influence it is helpful to present yourself as an authority figure. Multiple studies have shown that something as simple as donning a white medical coat made participants more trusting and compliant towards the testing instructors.
– Social Proof: What others are doing is a big motivator for long term change. For example, showing people that their neighbors are saving more electricity than them is the best way to influence them to reduce their own consumption.
– Scarcity: We all want more of what there is less of, so creating a sense of scarcity will increase customer’s motivation to buy a product. This is why many popular products undergo limited releases.
– Consistency: Most people like to seem consistent in their past and present behaviors, so an influencer that can get people to associate their present action with a previous behavior (“you seem very adventurous”) will be likely to influence their behavior.
These six principles together are important motivators for steering people in the direction you want them to go with a decision. But as we’ll discuss in the next Big Idea, Cialdini has decided to add a seventh principle of influence to the list…
7) Togetherness Through Unity
“Our ability to create change in others is often and importantly grounded in shared personal relationships, which create a pre-suasive context for assent.”
As an addition from his first book, Cialdini has discovered a seventh universal principle of influence, which is unity. Unity often comes from a sense of being in a relationship with people that are similar to us, often through familial ties. These ties lead to higher levels of acceptance, cooperation, liking, help, trust and positive assent.
Some of the best ways to create unity is to highlight cues that show genetic commonality either through family, geographic location or life experience.
For example, the people most likely to take in Jews during the Holocaust were the types of people who came from families that openly welcomed diverse groups of people into their homes and treated them all equally—regardless of color or creed. This early life experience of taking others in expanded their concept of family and made them more open to letting Jews stay with them.
Unity can also be formed through people acting together for a common cause or with a common interest at heart. Studies have shown that when participants were required to tap rhythms in sync with each other, they were more likely to help each other out with math problems after the study. Commercial brands can take advantage of this innate loyalty by asking consumers for advice on how to make their products better. This will encourage their consumers to feel that they have a vested interest in the company and will consequently increase their loyalty to the brand.
8) The Ethics of Pre-suasion
“Do not seek dishonest gains; dishonest gains are losses.” —Hesiod
Knowing how to persuade people to do what you want and knowing when it is ethical to do so are two entirely different issues. The ethics of persuasion approaches have long troubled Cialdini about the morality of revealing the information to the general public.
For example, corporate companies often place profits far above ethics in their decision making process, regardless of how likely they are to get caught and punished severely for their transgressions.
However, those that choose to use pre-suasive techniques for unethical gain would be making a foolish decision, as there’s actually ample evidence that unscrupulous persuasion tactics cost businesses far more than they seek to gain through the methods. This happens in three main ways:
1. Poor employee performance: Working in a morally questionable environment has an exhausting effect on employees and actually causes them to be less efficient during their workday. This moral stress can be just as damaging for employee performance as dealing with budget cuts or difficult customers.
2. High employee turnover: Putting employees in a morally questionable environment causes a large number of them to quit, creating staggeringly high costs for the employer to try to recoup. Because it is usually the highest quality employees that leave in this situation, employers will need to work hard to replace the thousands of training hours invested in them.
3. Prevalent employee fraud and wrongdoing: Because the employees that are comfortable with trickery are the ones that will stay, businesses with severe corruption will experience corruption within their employees as well. As employees watch standards being lowered, they will take advantage of the situation as much as they can and work to increase the overall problem.
My Best Take Aways From This Book:
In most cases, when you try to persuade someone, their decision is made long before you make your closing argument. More often than not, people will base their decision on how well they’ve been “primed” to accept the information you’re presenting. Therefore, the way you set the stage makes all the difference in what conclusion the buyer—or whoever you’re influencing—reaches. By learning the art and ethics of pre-suasion, you’ll learn how to get more of the responses you are looking for, whether it’s a raise from your boss or greater participation in your grocery store survey.
Actionable Checklist From This Book:
– Because of the geography of influence, your work environment will have a big impact on the
results you achieve. Be sure to setup an environment for yourself that’s conducive to success. And if
you’re trying to influence others, be sure to consider whether your environment is going to help you
or hurt you when it comes to successfully influencing others.
– Remember: What is focal is causal, so be sure to place key information in the forefront of
people’s minds by repeatedly saying it or showing it so that you can convince them to choose the
result you are seeking.
– When you are talking to someone you’d like to influence, focus first on creating an immediate bond, or sense of unity, between yourself and the person you are talking to. A simple
way to do this, is to find something you have in common with the other person through casual
conversation. Establishing a sense of unity or bond—however big or small— will make you far more
successful in persuading them to your side than neglecting to do so.