Book Review 5: Influence, by Robert Cialdini
I really enjoying mentoring younger people as they develop their principles and practice in work. Sometimes we must deal with technical issues, but mostly they are on top of the technology. Instead, we often focus on creativity and innovation, or the principles and processes of product management. But very often we talk about the personal side of their career: how things are going with their customers, teams and colleagues, managers and executives. In those discussions one question nearly always arises: how can my voice be heard?
There’s often a real struggle with frustration for young, smart people, especially in a large, well-established organization … I have insights, but no one listens. I can’t get ahead because I’m invisible outside of my team. Managers overlook me, team-mates work around me.
Of course, every situation is different and it’s a sensitive topic for everyone. There is no one answer. But in almost all cases, I recommend at least this deservedly well-known book: Influence by Robert Cialdini.
Cialdini is a renowned social psychologist and author, best known for research and writing on the psychology of influence and persuasion. His research focussed on the ways in which our behaviours are affected by the behaviour of others, and how these influences can be used to persuade people to take specific actions or make certain decisions.
Cialdini writes well with countless intriguing examples. From all of these he distills six principles of persuasion: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.
Reciprocity is the principle that people are more likely to comply with a request if they feel they owe something to the person making the request. Social proof suggests people are more likely to comply if they see others have already done so. Authority highlights the importance of being seen as a credible figure to influence others. Liking emphasizes the importance of building relationships and rapport to persuade others. Scarcity suggests that people value things perceived as rare or in limited supply, and consistency and commitment highlights the importance of getting people to make small commitments, increasing the likelihood of agreeing with later, larger requests.
My favorite summary of his work in action, certainly the most telling, is this short blog post by the interaction designer Dan Lockton: Cialdini on the Beach.
Influence or manipulation?
One of the reasons I suggest this book so often, is because I love to see the people I mentor develop into leaders in thought and practice. Cialdini explains exactly why this is achievable and how by living and working as an example of good practice, you can achieve it.
Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.
Robert Cialdini, Influence
Nevertheless, you may be concerned that the principles of influence outlined by Cialdini could be used to manipulate people. However, it is important to note that these principles are not inherently manipulative, but rather they describe common psychological factors that affect human behavior.
The danger of manipulation arises when these principles are used in a dishonest or unethical manner, such as by intentionally deceiving people or exploiting their vulnerabilities. For example, using social proof to manipulate people into buying a product that they do not need, or using artificial scarcity to create a false sense of urgency to make a sale.
Cialdini covers some of these dangers in his own work, but if you are interested in this problem, Cass Sunstein of Harvard wrote an excellent paper, Fifty Shades of Manipulation, which explores the danger in detail …
A statement or action can be said to be manipulative if it does not sufficiently engage or appeal to people’s capacity for reflective and deliberative choice. One problem with manipulation, thus understood, is that it fails to respect people’s autonomy and is an affront to their dignity. Another problem is that if they are products of manipulation, people’s choices might fail to promote their own welfare, and might instead promote the welfare of the manipulator.
Cass Sunstein, Fifty Degrees of Manipulation.
Cialdini’s principles are not a manipulator’s toolkit. Used sensitively in an organizational setting, even quite junior roles can find their impact and influence broadened well beyond their team, both outwards and upwards. For example, they can learn about the importance of building rapport and relationships with colleagues to increase their likability and influence, as well as the value of demonstrating expertise and credibility to gain authority and trust.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the principles of influence are not a guarantee of success. But by applying the guidelines outlined in the book, you can increase the chances of getting your voice heard in a large organisation and achieving your goals.
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Thanks Donald! Though, no longer young, I can help younger people with this advice from you and Cialdini. I enjoyed reading the blog you referred also.