For those who’ve read “The Social Animal,” by Elliot Aronson, much of the research in “Influence” will be very familiar. What Cialdini does is take the research in social psychology and show how it is applied against you in the real world. He informs the reader how sales people and businesses use the knowledge of how people behave as social animals to get us to react in predictable ways most of the time.
Most of the time, Cialdini uses simple scenarios to illustrate his points. These are the best parts of the book. He also includes letters from people who’ve experienced his work with explanations about how he has helped them. The weakest parts of the book are the occasional deep-dive into specific experiments. For example, he covers a widely known experiment by Phillip Zimbardo, commonly known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. While certainly relevant, the inordinate amount of coverage it received was disproportionate to other research in the book. Not a big deal, though. If you know that one, just skip those four or five pages.
Most of what we learn from “Influence” is how those who want to manipulate us use subtle cues to get us to open up. They slowly get us to be on their side with techniques such as contrasting the items they want us to buy with someone extremely expensive so that it looks like a bargain. Or, mailing us a donation request with a pen inside the mailer so that we feel like we are obligated to return a favor.
Essentially, we need to understand that our brains make shortcuts as we go through the world. We don’t have time to examine every encounter we have from every perspective. What Cialdini teaches us is how others try to take advantage of these shortcuts so that our decisions seem reasonable. Marketers and con artists alike, (or friends and family) may be adept at pushing our buttons to gain compliance. Having this knowledge is vital in this society with messages coming at us from every direction. If you haven’t picked up this book, you’re likely being maneuvered in ways completely outside your awareness. If that’s the case, do yourself a favor and read this book.