There is no doubt that Robert B. Cialdini is an authority on the subject of persuasion—in fact, he’s been studying it for the entirety of his professional life. Since completing his PhD in 1970, Cialdini has gone on to write a number of books on the subject of persuasion. The most popular of these is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
New and Expanded
Influence was first published in 1984, intended to be accessible to ordinary readers. Because of this, Cialdini felt that he risked facing judgement from academic peers, but to his surprise the book received great acclaim and went on to be renewed for many further editions. The 2021 edition, discussed here, includes new and expanded material. In the ‘New and Expanded’ version of Influence, Cialdini’s famous 6 principles (Reciprocation, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity) are joined by Unity, a new 7th principle which adds a valuable perspective to his work.
The phrase ‘click, run’ is perhaps the most frequently-recurring feature of this book—and the concept on which everything else is pinned. It refers to the automations that are hard-wired into human brains, causing us to react to certain stimuli without thinking. Some examples of ‘click, run’ automations might be: we think things are of a higher quality if they are more expensive, we want things more when they are unavailable to us, and we mimic the actions of those around us without even realising why.
Essentially, Cialdini’s goal is to help the reader understand these automations, so that they can apply critical thinking and (hopefully) exert some level of control over their actions. In turn, the reader will be equipped with the ability to utilise these ‘click, run’ rules in everyday life situations.
Cialdini’s principles are continually backed up by real-world examples, including the addition of ‘Reader’s Reports’, where readers of previous editions have submitted their own anecdotes of the principles in action. Examples range from mundane shopping interactions and corporate marketing campaigns to cults, suicides, and even the Holocaust—which is frequently discussed in the book.
In fact, Cialdini never strays from uncomfortable topics. In Chapter 8, he addresses the issue of racial and ethnic inequality in depth, and equips the reader with the knowledge of how to do better, and take further action towards dismantling harmful divides. This ties in with Cialdini’s final principle—Unity—and his feelings about how the 7 principles should be used.
All for one, and one for all
Speaking of Chapter 8 (dedicated to the newly added principle ‘Unity’), it’s worth highlighting the value that this adds to the book. This chapter ties the other 6 principles together to distil a clear message: Cialdini’s principles are intended to be used for good—to promote unity. The author advocates for aggressively calling out abuse of the principles, and equally, praising good practise.
Despite Cialdini’s advice, it’s clear that the power of persuasion is great—and the examples in the book prove the extent to which we are vulnerable to the influences of others. The examples throughout Influence range from entertaining and amusing to chilling and downright gruesome, but it’s impossible not to learn something from this book. It is a must-read for anybody who works with, lives with, or wants to know more about, humans.
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