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The Power of Persuasion: The Dangers in The Way We Think

Rafi is a technologist and has a passion to write about not only technology but also what he likes doing outside of technology.

Six key takeaways from "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini.

Six key takeaways from "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini.


The world is too complicated, unpredictable and uncertain, so it is difficult to consider every detail of every decision we make.

Our Shortcuts in Judgment Can be Dangerous for us.

The pressure of making a decision can be daunting, and though we would like to make the right decision, we often rely on shortcuts in our judgement, especially when we need to make a decision quickly. For instance, you might involuntarily turn your attention towards the direction of a loud noise instead of being able to process all the details.

For many occasions, our psychological shortcuts work in our favour. However, the flip side of these shortcuts is that compliance experts, such as salespeople, scammers, promoters or unqualified advisors can take advantage of this by presenting their products, services, and ideas in a way that fits with our thinking. This way, they make us comply with their demands.

We try to keep the world as simple as possible by taking mental shortcuts. To avoid those who would take advantage of those shortcuts, we need to be mindful and identify them right away.


Humans have an overwhelming natural instinct to repay favours.


When we do not repay the favour, someone has done for us, we often feel a psychological burden and it can be difficult to free ourselves from that because we worry about what other people think of us. They may view this as unfair or gross and we want to avoid that stigma. We also fear that if we do not reciprocate our friends' favours, they will stop being so friendly to us. This would present dangers to our interests, should compliance experts decide to do so.

For example, free samples, often given to customers by representatives of companies in search of new clients, are typically the main cause of us feeling obligated to purchase products because we've started using them. Besides, people are so overwhelmed with debt that they will do much more to pay it off. One example is when someone hands you a free cold drink on a really hot day, and they ask for only $1 to help them continue their good work. You would likely comply in this instance.

It is important to recognise when someone is trying to manipulate you based on the rule of reciprocation and learn not to fall for it. The more you can resist reciprocating in response to overtures that are unworthy or abusive, the better.


In times of scarcity, humans have been found to seek out opportunities with greater intensity.


The idea of scarcity is an incredibly powerful human idea. A scarce opportunity appears more valuable than one that is plentiful which can subconsciously trigger us to take action or make hasty decisions. The use of phrases like "Hurry! while stock lasts!" or "Limited time only!" is no coincidence - people are sensitive to losing out on opportunities. This sort of emotional language is often used effortlessly by advertisers to get you to buy something.

People desire things more when it becomes harder to acquire or has just become unavailable. For example, if there were fewer trains travelling from London to Paris due to a strike, you could expect a lot more people to buy tickets because as the resource becomes less available, people want it more.

When we worry about losing a bid to a rival, we often become more energized and dedicated to succeeding. For example, a wily estate agent might mention to clients that other (fake) bidders are also interested in your property, perhaps to make it more competitive. The buyers expect that they will be getting a scarce and desirable property and they will be willing to pay extra as well as increasing the urgency of their offer.

We value limited information, and it is not necessary to suppress information for us to make it more valuable. One way to increase the persuasiveness of information is to make it scarce. The scarcity principle suggests that if people think they will not be able to get specific information anywhere else, then that piece of information will become more persuasive.

Sometimes people want an item because it is only obtainable with difficulty (a scarce good), but it may not be necessary or make sense to obtain that item. We should separate our emotional response from the rational use of the item, then we will be better able to make a decision that is best for all parties involved. If scarcity is being used against us, the answer will often be to wait it out.


Once we have committed to something, we want to be consistent with it.

Commitment and Consistency

It is just our natural tendency to want to be consistent with what we have already said or done. We cannot simply say we're going to do something or take a stance one day and then commit anything else the next day. Commitments have a strong impact on our decisions and if someone has publicly stated an opinion about something, they are unlikely to change it.

Once we have made a choice, we may feel the pressure to behave in a way that upholds our commitment. It can cause us to push back on the decision and defend it. For example, if a person who thinks of himself as a “fit and healthy” person, then he is more likely to take actions and adopt habits that he considers to be “fit and healthy”.

“Ask for something small. Then ask for something big. Get a small yes, then get a big yes. Begin little; go big.”

The foot-in-the-door technique assumes that agreeing to a smaller request increases the likelihood of agreeing to a larger request. It is a strategy that can be useful in sales or negotiations.

Imagine your friend asking to borrow your notes. This seems like a reasonable request to you, so you lend your notes to your friend. A few days later, he asks for all your biology notes. This is a large request. You will mostly be likely to comply with his demand.

On the internet, you’ll see many examples of marketers are asking for a person’s email address and following up with a larger request. Getting someone’s email is in compliance with a small request. Later, they can pitch them for more information or offer an incentive.

People generally prefer to not contradict themselves. As long as the request is similar in nature to the original small request, this technique will work. However, we should always check our emotions and physical state during decision-making processes, at least for ones that don't reflect our genuine values. A feeling of unease is the main cue in those scenarios.


People are highly influenced by authority and symbols of power.


We are taught to obey the authority figures like doctors or police officers in this world, even when they are asked to do something that some might consider objectionable. This means many of their actions are taken without complaint.

For example, A judge can keep the case open and postpone it for as long as he pleases. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant will be questioning that decision either way. Similarly, dietitians can persuade more of their diabetic or obese patients to comply with recommended dietary plans if their qualifications and degrees are placed on their visiting cards.

Certain accessories, such as job titles (e.g., Professor) and uniforms (e.g., Police), make a person look more authoritative. This often makes it more likely that the average person will follow what that person says. But scammers or con artists can also wear the titles and clothes of authority to deceive you. They use this tactic to increase your trust, so they are able to persuade you.

If we are ever confronted by another person in authority, we can stop them abusing our trust in them if we could:

  • Make sure the person is really an authority or just faking as one.
  • Figure out if they have their own interests at heart.

If we like someone, we tend to be more likely to comply with them.


People are more likely to say yes to those they like, as this is how many of them were brought up. There are three important factors that influence someone’s likeability: -

  • Similarity- people who remind us of ourselves and get along well with us.
  • Commendation-People who appreciate who we are and what we do.
  • Cooperation- People who work with us to meet mutual goals.

Physical attractiveness- There is a consensus that attractive people have an advantage in social interactions as a so-called halo effect suggests we automatically assign favourable traits to attractive people. This may include characteristics like smartness, competence, and trustworthiness. People who are attractive have a much easier time getting help and changing opinions. This shows how persuasive they can be when they need it.

Similarity-We also tends to like people who are similar to us in views, traits, backgrounds, or lifestyles. For example, salesmen often compliment us and claim they have similar backgrounds and interests. They might say, "That is a nice green shirt, green is my favourite colour too!"

Cooperation- We like to work with people who are like us and feel more relevant when we're working towards a goal together. They might be family members, friends or even acquaintances. However, our relationship with them has to be positive and constructive in order for us to like them. The famous good cop/bad cop tactic has always been so effective because we tend to prefer the one that is “good” to the one that is “bad.”

Finally, we feel favourably towards things that share similar attributes or meanings with things we like. For example, we like looking at pretty women and often prefer cars with attractive lady drivers. If you see your favourite personality wearing a certain branded outfit, it is likely that you will want to buy the same for yourself too.

So, compliance experts might use the tactic to their advantage in a charming manner, when trying to convince us of certain actions.

Beware of negative associations that can also work such as:

  • If you react negatively to a product the first time you try it, you likely will not want to eat it again.
  • When someone delivers bad news to you, it's easy to become annoyed with them.

If you have noticed that the depth of your feelings for someone or something has increased rapidly in a short time, then it could be because somebody was trying to manipulate you.


When uncertain, people look to see what others are doing.

Consensus (social proof)

Humans are social by nature and will generally conform to the norms of a social group. This often means that decisions rely on observing what others are doing before making one's mind up.

For example, if one or more people on the sidewalk of a busy road start looking up into the sky, other passers-by would follow suit and look up in curiosity. In another example, if a mob riot breaks out in your neighbourhood, people will just peek out of their windows which seemed to indicate to others that do nothing was the right approach.

When people are uncertain, they look to see what others are doing. Considering this fact, If you find yourself in a crowd with an emergency, you should single out one individual from the group and ask for help. So, you will not have to ask for help from others and will almost surely prove to be a help.


People often take shortcuts in reaching or solving decision-making situations, but that leads to predictable outcomes for the ones who choose to do so. Scammers, advertisers, and salespeople are quick to exploit the six most common shortcuts within us, which are:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Consensus (social proof)
  4. Authority
  5. Liking
  6. Scarcity

We cannot stop the use of these shortcuts, people will still abuse them, and we need to know how to defend ourselves.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B Cialdini PhD

© 2021 Rafi Muqaddar

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