This is How Influence Works: 6 Secrets from Research

4 min read

I recently read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. As the title suggests, it’s a book that explores the psychology that allows one person to persuade and influence another person in a variety of situations. 

Specifically, this book shares six universal principals of influence that research has shown to be incredibly powerful in many settings.

Understanding these six principles has a direct impact on your finances and your personal life. Every day you encounter people who are trying to influence you to act in a certain way.

Your boss attempts to convince you to take on a new project.

A car salesperson tries to persuade you to buy from them.

A gym wants you to buy a yearly membership.

That guy from Craigslist tries to persuade you to buy his couch.

That Best Buy associate wants you to buy a warranty for those new headphones.

A utility provider tries to convince you to use their monthly services.

Your friends try to persuade you to go out this weekend.

You encounter tactics of persuasion and influence every day. The more you’re aware of these tactics, the better equipped you are to respond to them.

So, let’s dig into these six principles of influence:

1. Reciprocation

This principle states that when you do someone a favor, they feel obligated to return the favor.

Most people who work in sales are aware of this phenomenon and use it to their advantage.

Examples include:

  • At a supermarket or food court, “free” samples make you feel obligated to buy something from a vendor.
  • If your friend buys you lunch this week, you feel the need to buy them lunch next week.
  • If an organization gives you a small gift, you’re more likely to give them a donation.
  • A company that conducts a “free” home inspection for you is more likely to get you to buy one of their products or services.

2. Commitment & Consistency

This principle states that people have a desire to be consistent with their past actions. Once someone has made a declaration or commitment on an issue, they feel pressured to remain consistent with that commitment later on.

Examples include:

  • If you sign a petition to support “safe driving” one week, you’re more likely to let a nonprofit place a “Drive Safe” sign in your front yard the following week when they ask.
  • If you’ve announced publicly that you support a specific presidential candidate, you’re more likely to continue to support them whether or not you approve of their actions over time.
  • If you tell a salesperson that you love exercising (whether or not it’s true), you’re more likely to purchase a gym membership when offered one just to be consistent with your previous statement.

3. Social Proof

This principle states that people are more likely to follow a specific course of action if they see other people doing the same. 

Examples include:

  • “Laugh tracks” on comedy shows actually make people think the show is funnier because they hear other people laughing.
  • Companies use testimonials from ordinary people who look like us and act like us to convince us that products are effective.
  • Bars and restaurants fill up tip jars artificially high to make us think we should also tip since everyone else is doing it.
  • Night clubs stop letting people in to make the lines longer outside, which gives the impression that it’s a popular place to go.

4. Liking

This principle states that you’re more likely to say “yes” to the requests of people you know or like.

Various factors that cause us to like people include:

  • Similarity. We like people who seems similar to use either in background, clothing style, political view, appearance, or personality. Salespersons attempt to point out similarities between themselves and us to get us to like them and make us more susceptible to buy.
  • Cooperation. We like people that we have to cooperate with to achieve a common goal. This is why companies use slogans like “You can do it. We can help.”, “Yes WE can.”, “We’re in this together.”, etc. The more that a company can make it seem like they’re on the same team as us with similar goals, the more likely we are to like them and buy from them.
  • Association. We tend to associate two unrelated things that appear together. Including attractive women in car commercials has been shown to make men think more highly of the car itself. Seeing sports athletes endorsing clothing lines makes us think more highly of the clothing. Eating a delicious meal with a salesperson makes us more susceptible to buying from them as we associate the great food with the product they’re selling.

5. Authority

This principle states that people are more willing to follow the advice or recommendation of someone they consider to be an expert or a person of authority. 

Examples include:

  • We’re more likely to purchase a new drug if it’s advertised by a doctor (or someone dressed as a doctor) on a commercial.
  • We’re more likely to respond to an email from someone who has a title after their name (PhD, MBA, etc.)
  • We tend to associate clothing with authority. Someone who is dressed in fancy clothing has a much higher likelihood of convincing you to follow their advice.

6. Scarcity

This principle states that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. 

Examples include:

  • A sign says you have to buy TODAY or you will not get the discount price.
  • A company declares that only 5 spots are available (whether or not that’s true) for an upcoming orientation.
  • A company sets a deadline on purchasing something (Think of Black Friday or Cyber Monday) to encourage impulse buying.
  • Customers are told that only 100 models of a car/shoe/collectible are made to artificially increase the perceived rarity and value.
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2 Replies to “This is How Influence Works: 6 Secrets from Research”

  1. I am not sure if it’s because I am older, and more boring on what I want in life, these influences do not really affect me much. The only thing I look at the is the consumer reports that provide (so they say) unbiased opinions of what I “need” to function…be it appliances or equipment, or phones…even that, the bottomline is if it is not $$ friendly, I learn to do without.
    Guess it is part of being a “grownup”:-)

    1. There are a few that I don’t believe I’m influenced by either (i.e. being sold a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes because an athlete endorses it)

      But it is interesting to note that in the research there were multiples times where people were asked if they thought things like social proof, reciprocation, etc. influenced them and they said “no” but their actions said otherwise. Even though we might not think we’re influenced by these types of things, sometimes we actually are and we simply fool ourselves.

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