Art of Influence: Persuasion and Compliance

We all want to influence others and get influenced. In his national bestseller book INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion Rober B. Cialdini outlines what he names “weapons of influence” and describes each compliance principle with sub principles and backs with daily examples. (Kitabın Türkçe versiyonu)

Cialdini starts with a curious question:

I wondered why it is that a request stated in a certain way will be rejected, while a request that asks for the same favor in a slightly different fashion will be successful.”

This is where lies the main theme of the book. He introduces the term “compliance professionals” for those who we encounter in our daily lives; at work, at home, in supermarket, hospital, somewhere out at public. Those who know how to get people to say YES! As Cialdini says: “Those who do, Stay and Flourish.

Prof. Cialdini relates these weapons of influence to Japanese martial art Jujitsu. The idea of Jujitsu is to defend yourself by applying minimum of energy to get maximum of momentum force on opponent. I quite liked that resemblance.

Cialdini starts forming the basis for weapons of influence by introducing some fundamental concepts of human perception.

 “Click and Whirr” aka “Fixed Action Patterns”

“Fundamental characteristic of these patterns is that the behaviors that compose them occur in virtually the same fashion and in the same order every time.” Once the appropriate tape is activated (CLICK) and out rolls the standard sequence of behaviors (WHIRR)!

“Power of Request+Reason”

“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer demonstrated the effectiveness of this fact by asking a small favor of people waiting in line to use a library copying machine: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?. The effectiveness of this request-plus-reason was nearly total: Ninety-four percent of those asked let her skip ahead of them in line.  Compare this success rate to the results when she made the request only: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine? Under those circumstances, only 60 percent of those asked complied. 

As it seems the only difference between two phrases is adding of words BECAUSE I’M IN A RUSH. However it is not. A third type of request Langer used still included the word BECAUSE, and then adding nothing new: Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies? – doesn’t make sense right? But no, an astounding 93 percent agreed, though no new information, no legitimate excuse. This example clearly illustrates the power of Click-and-Whirr pattern and the mechanical working way of human behaviors (at times, not always!).

“Auto-responses & Stereotyped Behaviors”

We live in a demanding and extraordinarily complicated stimulus environment. Things/ideas are moving at a rapid pace and it is getting ever more difficult to deal with the burden of tasks and things daily life brings. We need shortcuts in our dealings, analysis etc. etc. For this we often resort to stereotypes, our shortcuts to classify things according to a few key features and then respond mindlessly when one or another of these trigger features is present.

“Automatic, stereotyped behavior is prevalent in much of human action, because in many cases it is the most efficient form of behaving, and in other cases it is simply necessary.”

“Contrast Principle”

“A principle in human perception that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is. “

To illustrate it with an example: Presenting an expensive product first and following it with an inexpensive one will cause the inexpensive item to seem even cheaper than normal as a result, though it may not be the case in many circumstances. But is the human perception that goes vulnerable at that specific point of exposure.

Fundamental psychological principles direct human behavior and Prof. Cialdini outlines 6 major categories (weapons of influence) compliance professionals employ to produce YESes, let’s have a deeper look at them:


Reciprocation rule says thats:

” We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. If a woman does us a favor, we should do her one in return: if a man sends us a birthday present, we should remember his birthday with a gift of our own…”

The virtue of Reciprocity rule is that we feel obligated to the future repayment of favors, requests, gifts etc. It creates an indebtedness inside us, a feeling that is coded by birth so hard to ignore or change. We don’t like owing to others, so we feel urged to pay it back, whatever we owe!

This rule is simply Overpowering!

“The rule possesses awesome strength, often producing a “yes” response to a request that, except for an existing feeling of indebtedness, would have surely been refused.”

 At this point pieces connected in my brain and it made sense how the famous marketing technique ‘Free Sample’  was derived:

“The beauty of free sample, however, is that it is also a gift, as such, can engage the reciprocity rule. In true jujitsu fashion, the promoter who gives free samples can release the natural indebting force inherent in a gift while innocently appearing to have only the intention to inform.”

Reciprocity rule is used by various corporations including AMWAY, famous American household products marketing company. By focusing mainly on women and forming house parties where company’s products are introduced and orders are taken, women feel obliged to attend these ‘parties’ whose close friends and neighbors attend. As they attend these tea parties, they feel obliged and indebted to write some orders of products AMWAY sell. It is a great sales tool that Avon, Amway and many other order-from-catalogue companies utilize nowadays.

The rule can Trigger Unfair Exchanges!

How? As Prof. Cialdini describes: “A small initial favor can produce a sense of obligation to agree to a substantially larger return favor.”

We encounter it all the time. First initial favors.. Seeming innocent and tiny at first… Leads to bigger concessions and favors. Again the feeling of indebtedness comes into play.

“The reality of internal discomfort and the possibility of external shame can produce a heavy psychological cost. When seen in light of this cost, it is not so puzzling that we will often give back more than we have received in the name of reciprocity.”

Rejection-then-Retreat Technique

This is a critical one and requires special attention.

“Suppose you want me to agree to a certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, you would make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along. Provided that you have structured your requests skillfully, I should view your second request as a concession to me and should feel inclined to respond with a concession of my own.”

Prof. Cialdini argues the by-products of this technique, namely: responsibility for and satisfaction with the arrangement. He calls these ‘sweet side effects’ that moves its victims to fulfill their agreements and deep hidden obligations.

HOW to say NO to Reciprocation Rule

Cialdini suggests that; “it is essential to recognize that the requester who invokes the reciprocation rule (or any other weapon of influence) to gain our compliance is not the real opponent. The real opponent is the rule. If we are not abused by it, we must take steps to defuse its energy.”

By identifying the rule from the onset, and refusing to accept its force can be the first step in deactivating reciprocation rule’s assertiveness. Important point is to identify the primary motive of requester. If the motive is to get you comply with the request, beware! As the rule says: “Favors are to be met with favors; it does not require that tricks be met with favors.”


“Like the other weapons of influence, this one lies deep within us, directing our actions with quiet power. It is, quiet simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decisions.”

The desire to appear and/or be consistent in front of public or others often leads us to inferior or to unwanted choices.

The power of consistency comes from a higher virtue, and most definitely from its opposite, inconsistency.

“Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait. The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill.”

“On the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. It is at the heart of logic, rationality, stability and honesty.”

Sometimes we all encounter situations where consistency alone is more favored than whether the act was right or wrong itself.

Automatic (Stubborn) Consistency

As Cialdini describes: “Once we have made up our minds about an issue, stubborn consistency allows us a very appealing luxury: We really don’t have to think hard about the issue anymore. We don’t have to sift through the blizzard of information we encounter every day to identify relevant facts; we don’t have to expend the mental energy to weigh pros and cons; we don’t have to make any further tough decisions. Indeed, all we have to do when confronted with the issue is to turn on our consistency tape, whirr, and we know just what to believe, say, or do.”

On the other hand, commitment may be regarded as partner of consistency. When we take a stand, we commit to that view, and there comes consistency as a result of that stand. We want to be consistent with our commitment made.

Foot-in-the-Door Technique

This technique implies that once a small commitment is made, larger ones will be followed. As the person committing to initial small request will naturally be inclined to accept bigger successive requests just to be consistent inside with his initial commitment made. Once the foot is inside door, you can get bigger favors from other side.


“We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”

It is often exploited by marketers to influence consumers. We all see ads written on consumer goods, “fastest selling”, “hot sale item” and etc. It resonates inside and calls for a social proof, what most others have chosen, and persuades you to choose same.

Pluralistic Ignorance

As Robert Cialdini puts it : “In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.”

In an ambiguous situation we look at others actions to decide what to do at this particular moment and situation. We can explain homicide of Catherine Genovese at a late night in Queens, New York City as she was killed suffering and publicly, with 38 people seen her laying and nobody tried to save or dared to approach her. People looked around, as nobody was reacting they simply went on, and Catherine was left to die slowly.

In addition to uncertainty, there is another element that leads us how we should act, similarity. We are more inclined to follow lead of a similar individual than a dissimilar one.

“We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.”


 Liking creates a halo effect difficult to describe. According to Cialdini there are few factors that can form liking between people:

  • Physical attractiveness
  • Similarity
  • Compliments
  • Contact and Cooperation

The roots for hooliganism or its milder form fanaticism of a sports team can be found in liking weapon of influence. A sports game for many are more than a game. It is a way of associating yourself with superiority and pride. A way of proving yourself to wider public, that your team won, that you won. It is equally meaningful when the contrary happens, that your team loses, it is them lost, not you anymore. This is called association principle. It says that; “If we can surround ourselves with success that we are connected with in even a superficial way, our public prestige will rise.”

What is wrong with these people?

“Deep inside them is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation of promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation of promotion of their associations with others of attainment.”


As the famous Milgram study reveals, we all have a deep-seated sense of duty (or obedience) to higher authorities. Our adrenalin levels rise seeing the police (this may vary from culture to culture), although no crime whatsoever is connected with us, or in general we feel consent or obedience to doctors, lawyers, government officials or even our elders; so deeply encoded within us that they hold concrete information in their fields that we feel a duty of consent and obedience in our contact with these people.

Obeying to authority has its pros and cons. Taking advice of teachers, parents and similar authorities may prove right as they accumulate bigger wisdom and information than us throughout their lives. By obeying we simply shortcut various bureaucracies or rules we otherwise would had to follow.

On the contrary sometimes people (or subordinates) don’t question legitimacy of authority and blindly obey their directives. Sometimes leading to catastrophic outcomes.


“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”

                                – G.K. CHESTERTON

Scarcity principle suggests that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.  So there is a direct proportion between scarcity and value.  The more scarce an item, idea or thing is; the more valuable it is.

As Cialdini writes, second point scarcity principle suggests is; “people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.

As is case with other influence tactics, scarcity is often employed by various people as a tool to agitate our psychological reactance.

 As a summary, Cialdini concludes: “Very often in making a decision about someone or something, we don’t use all the relevant available information; we use, instead, only a single, highly representative piece of the total.” And this piece often leads us to wrong choice. For that matter, it is crucial to understand and digest each of Cialdini’s compliance principles thoroughly to master the art of influence.


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