Book review: Influence by Robert Cialdini

January 7, 2014

Title: Influence: The psychology of persuasion
Author: Robert Cialdini
Pages: 336

Have you ever been approached by a door-to-door salesman who claimed that Mr. Gaitonde down the road had just bought two copies of the encyclopaedia, one for himself and one to gift to someone else? We were able to see right through the salesman’s foolish ruse and turned him away with a knowing smile on our faces.

It turns out that just because we were able to see through that clumsy salesman’s ruse it doesn’t mean that we are immune to being influenced and manipulated in other, much more subtle and powerful ways. Consider this:

  • Websites that only accept a certain number of members initially (Gmail did this when it first started) are trying to make you want to be a member more by making it scarce.
  • My company’s corporate social responsibility department gives out small bookmarks and calendars because they are trying to get us to see ourselves as more helpful and socially responsible – resulting in more volunteers.

These are just two ways in which I realized that I was being influenced after reading Influence. I stumbled across this book while searching for books on management and leadership. I thought this book would teach me how to influence people using psychological tricks. However, the book is geared towards explaining how we can defend ourselves against people whom Cialdini calls compliance professionals – those who subtly manipulate and influence us into doing things we wouldn’t otherwise (think of unscrupulous advertising executives or insistent salesmen).

Although the book didn’t teach me how to influence others I enjoyed myself immensely while reading it and learned a lot. It is divided into different chapters based on principles like scarcity(we want things that are in short supply or harder to maintain) and social proof. Each chapter ends with a section titled, “How to say no”; which teaches how we can defend ourselves against the influence tactics.

Influence was a surprisingly light read. It quotes dozens of interesting and amusing research studies that read like anecdotes. I also gained a new respect for the field of psychology.

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