Takeaways from Influence — The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Influence, the psychology of persuasion, explains the psychology of why people say yes — and how to apply these understandings.

Photo by Bannon Morrissy on Unsplash

As humans, every single day we are either trying to persuade others for something or are in turn getting persuaded for something.

The ability to persuade others to buy something from you or like you or agree with your point of view is an extremely desirable skill. The question is how do you develop that skill when humans are inherently unpredictable.

This books aims to demystify the psychology behind how humans are persuaded. There are six universal principles, the knowledge of which can help us persuade others.

1. Reciprocity

When someone does something for you, you are obliged to return that favor.


A person who accepts favors or help without attempting to return the good acts of others is actively disliked by social groups. He is often given unsavory labels.

Some additional things to remember

  • The rule is strong that it overwhelms the influence of another factor — our liking of the requestor. (Even if you dislike some person or organisation, they can increase their chances of compliance simply by providing a favour prior to their request).
  • Its not necessary that the favor was sought. An uninvited first favor has the ability to create the same obligation. (We can’t choose whom we are indebted to)
  • It can trigger unfair exchanges. A small favour can produce a sense of obligation to agree to a substantially large favour.
  • Reciprocal concession: Another consequence of the rule is an obligation to make concession to someone who has made a concession to us. (This can come in handy during sales process and negotiations).
  • It forms the basis of the reject-then-retreat technique. If you want to make someone agree to a request, make a larger request. Once that is refused, make the smaller request that you had been interested in all along.

Using it in Personal Life

  • Make a habit of doing small, unsolicited favors for friends, colleagues and family members. If you can use your time, position, network to do favors for others (ethically!), all the better.
  • Whenever someone asks for help, try your best to help them. Don’t think whether this person will be able to return that favor in the future or not.

Using it professionally

  • Organizations should care for their employees and go the extra mile to help them whenever they need it.
  • Always provide free trials and samples of your product to potential customers. (You can ask them to use it and pay only if they liked it)
  • While selling, pitch the more expensive model first. Then pitch the lower end model.
  • If you are in a position of power, don’t accept any gifts from your dealers/vendors.

2. Commitment and Consistency

Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to behave consistently with that commitment.


Not being consistent with our actions, make us appear indecisive, confused, two-faced and lazy. On the other hand, consistency is associated with personal and intellectual strength.

Using it in Personal Life

  • If you want to develop a habit, make a written or public commitment. Once you make a commitment, you try to do everything to stand true to it.
  • What those around us think is true of us is enormously important in determining what we ourselves think is true. (If you want people to think that you possess certain traits, actively start displaying those traits. Once people start praising you, it will act as further fuel)
  • Be careful about agreeing to trivial requests, as it increases our compliance with much larger requests. (If someone asks you do something which goes against your values or principles, don’t agree to it at any cost. Failure to do so is the root cause for all vices)

Using it professionally

  • If you want to people to be held accountable for something, get them to make a commitment or declaration.
  • Having values in a company which people commit to at the time of joining is very important. Once they believe in them, they will make efforts to stand true to it.
  • To make people display certain qualities, tell them how they already display signs of those qualities. (This is more effective than applying external pressure of threats, punishments or more money)
  • Foot-in-the-door technique: For the salesperson, the strategy is to obtain a larger purchase by starting with a smaller one. The purpose of a smaller transaction is to generate commitment.
  • Get your customers to write or record testimonials for your product or service. Since testimonials must praise the product, customers come to believe what they have said even more strongly.
  • You can use small commitments to manipulate a person’s self-image. This can be used to turn citizens into “public servants”, prospects into “customers”, prisoners into “collaborators”.

3. Social Proof

When you unsure how to behave, you see how others are behaving in order to guide your action. (We are more likely to do this when we view others as similar to ourselves)


When we are uncertain, we place our trust in the collective knowledge of the crowd.

Using it personally

  • Our default state is to subconsciously follow the behaviour of others. This is referred to as ‘herd mentality’. Avoid this by regularly questioning the basis of actions and things that you have come to accept as routine.
  • If you are ever in an emergency situation, don’t wait for others to notice your situation and come to your rescue. (Because greater the number of people present, the less likely they are to help a person in distress. This is referred to as bystander phenomenon). Instead, you should make a clear call for help to a specific person in the crowd.

Using it professionally

  • Testimonials/Case studies are extremely important to convince customers into buying your product.
  • To get someone to do a desired action, show a few others who did that action. (For example: during a donation drive, the volunteers always show you the names of people from your neighborhood who donated)

4. Liking

We prefer to say yes to requests of someone we know and like.

Characteristics on the basis of which we might like someone:

  • Physical attractiveness: Attractive people are generally better liked, more persuasive, more frequently helped and seen as possessing better personality traits and intellectual capabilities.
  • Similarity: We like people who are similar to us in the area of opinions, personality traits, background or life-style.
  • Compliments: The fact that someone fancies us can be an effective device for producing return liking and willing compliance.
  • Familiarity: Our attitude to something is influenced by the times we have been exposed to it in the past. (Your past experiences determine whether you will like or dislike that ‘something’)

Using it in life

  • To get people to agree to you, try to identify the commonalities and similarities between you.
  • Be generous in praising and complimenting people. (Your words need to be genuine and sincere though)
  • An association with bad things or good things will influence how people feel about you. (Thus, people make an effort to link themselves to positive events and separate themselves from negative events).

How it is used professionally

  • To manipulate similarity to increase liking and compliance, people claim to have backgrounds and interests similar to ours.
  • Celebrities are signed up as brand ambassadors in order to establish a positive connection between the product and the celebrity. (When something is linked with successful/rich people, it increases its aspirational value)
  • Desirable things tend to lend their likeable qualities to the ideas, products and people artificially linked to them. (Examples: good-looking models in ads, radio station playing their jingle before a hit song, politicians linking themselves to successful projects even though they had nothing to do with it)

5. Authority

We are more likely to be persuaded about something when we consider it to be coming from a trusted source.

Several authority symbols that can trigger our compliance include: Titles, clothes and trappings (such as jewelry or cars).


There is a deep rooted sense of duty to authority within us all.

How it is used professionally

  • During ads of FMCG products such as toothpaste, shampoo there is often an ‘expert’ who is recommending the product. He has Dr. or PHD. next to his name and is wearing a lab coat.
  • Celebrities who have played roles of a certain kind are roped in as brand ambassadors for certain products. For eg. health or food products may be endorsed by celebrities who have played the roles of doctors or are known for being fit.

To avoid being fooled into agreeing to something because its coming from authority, ask yourself these questions.

  • Is this authority truly an expert?
  • How truthful can the expert be here? Is there an incentive for him to not be truthful?

6. Scarcity

When we find something to be available in a limited quantity, we are more likely to develop the desire to possess it.

How it is used professionally

  • You must be familiar with the following slogans: Offer valid till stock lasts, Limited period offer etc. Both the “deadline” tactic and “limited number” tactic are tricks to make the offer more desirable. (When an item becomes less available we experience an increased desire to it)
  • People are more motivated by the thought of losing something than gaining something. (So, its better to allow people to have a free trial of all your paid features rather than asking them to pay upfront.)
  • We value “Limited or exclusive information” more than freely available information. (If some site or content is banned, people are more likely to try accessing it.)
  • Importance of competition in the pursuit of limited resources: We want a scarce item most when we are in competition for it. Salesperson use this trick with indecisive customers. (when you go house-hunting, the broker forces you to decide quickly by making you feel that you are vying for one house with multiple other people)

In personal life, you might have noticed this. When somebody restricts you from doing something, you are more likely to try doing it. No wonder, teenagers love being rebels because of the restrictions imposed on them.


This is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in becoming more adept at the art of persuasion. The author goes into great detail to explain each of the principles mentioned above with clear examples.

It will really force you to rethink the way you approach your dealings with people, both personally and professionally.

Currently PM@Airmeet — building a kick-ass product for conducting remote events and conferences.