Mind Control: How to Influence and Persuade

Lessons from “Influence” by Robert Cialdini

Do you ever wish you could get what you want? How to convince investors that you have the right business ideas? Trying to get people to come to your event or party, but no one is RSVP-ing? Or, do you wonder how to prevent yourself from getting scammed by salespeople?

This blog post summarizes material from Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” and general psychological phenomena.

1. Give and You Shall Receive

Thank you, Costco, for being awesome. But also sneaky.

Reciprocity is a real thing, and it really works! Costco is infamous for their free samples — when you get a free sample, you feel a sense of obligation to return the favor by buying a product.

In fact, researchers in the famous “Coca-Cola experiment” showed that reciprocity can work without the recipient accepting the gift. Participants were told to evaluate art and purchase a self-selected number of raffle tickets. Participants who were offered a free Coca-Cola beverage bought twice the number of raffle tickets — even if they declined the offer of the beverage!

2. Door in the Face and Foot in the Door

Door in the Face. First, ask for a huge demand. Then, ask the request you had originally wanted. This method is particularly effective because it makes the other person feel bad for rejecting your first request. This is the technique that Calvin is using in the Calvin and Hobbes comic above.

Foot in the Door. Sort of the opposite of “Door in the Face” technique, this method involves asking for a small favor first, then increasing the favor. For example, ask if your friend will let you borrow their car for a day. After they agree, ask if they wouldn’t mind lending it to you for a couple more days, too. This method is effective because people don’t like breaking commitments.

3. Low-balling

This is the infamous method used by most car salespeople. You and the salesperson agree on a deal for $495. But then as you finish up the payment process, there’s some more fees and added prices, so the total increases to $1,000. You falter for a second. The salesperson incredulously inquires “But, are you going to change your mind on this deal we had?” Panicked about breaking your commitment, you assert “Of course not!” and pay for the car.

This tactic is effective because it makes you feel like you’re ending a deal that has already been made, even though the salesperson is sneakily altering the arrangement.

4. Social Proof

“If others are doing it, it must be right.” The power of social proof creates long lines for no reason as well as more sinister scenarios, like the bystander effect. In general, if something appears as though it is already popular, it will continue to become more influential.

Social proof is an extremely common force in the business world. Tip jars rarely get additional money if there’s no money in the jar already. A common trick? Put some of your own money in the tip jar before you engage with customers.

Or check out the video below, at a music festival where one man gets a whole crowd to dance.

5. Likability

This one is perhaps the most obvious: if people like you, they’ll do things for you. Some of the most common ways to become more likable:

  • Being attractive
  • Being similar to your target audience
  • Giving compliments
  • Frequent contact

Note that in the above picture, it’s actually not entirely clear which one is more likable. While Zac Efron on the left is obviously the more attractive, Seth Rogen is very relatable and likely more similar to the viewer, as opposed to the god-like body of Zac Efron.

6. Authority

In the famous Milgram experiment, participants (the “Teacher”) administered electric shocks to another person (the “Student”) who was performing a word pair exercise. The electric shocks were actually fake, and the student was in on the experiment, pretending that the electric shocks were causing him pain. An “Experimenter” played the authority figure in the room with the Teacher. Whenever the Teacher would be unsure about administering additional electric shocks, the Experimenter, wearing a lab coat, would urge the Teacher to continue.

The results were shocking: the vast majority of participants continued to administer electric shocks, to levels of fatality, when prompted by the lab-coated Experimenter.

The Milgram experiment is proof of the power of authority. In general, having an authority of any sort can really persuade people. Just take a look at the Lucky Strike ad below.

Even though doctors say the cigarettes are less irritating, doesn’t mean they’re any better for your lungs.

7. Scarcity

Making things seem more scarce makes them more desirable. People believe that they have a unique opportunity to get something, and they don’t want to miss out. This method is extremely common in the marketplace world. Some common examples:

  • Booking.com — “Limited Rooms left”
  • Amazon — “Today’s Deals”
  • Starbucks — Seasonal drinks
  • In-store — “Clearance Sales”
  • EBay auctions — “4 hours left to buy!”

Whether you’re using these tactics for your own benefit, to promote a company, or to plan events, remember to be respectful of people and not to brainwash or exploit. I personally study these methods mostly as a means of self-defense, to avoid being trapped in one of these “mind control” strategies. Check out “Influence” by Robert Cialdini for a more in-depth understanding of these tactics and how they work.

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