I wasn’t disappointed. The wait was worth it. Cialdini’s new book, Pre-suasion, is an absolute triumph and I am confident it endure in the way that his first book, Influence, has done. The new book still uses the six Cialdini principles: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity. However, Cialdini has delved much deeper into each principle (and added a seventh – more on that later) and given far more insight into how best to apply the principles.
The first new revelation is that timing is very important. It took over 30 years for Cialdini to write the follow up mainly because he did not feel he had a strong enough collection of ideas to justify but he was also defeated by his own ideas.
Cialdini planned to go to a university as a visiting professor with few responsibilities which would enable him to write the book. Prior to his arrival the Dean of the faculty he would be working in called Cialdini. The Dean regaled him with information about the wonderful office he had been assigned, the new computer they had procured just for him and detailed the fantastic administrative support he would receive from the university. The Dean then asked the Professor if he would be happy to teach a new class. Under the huge pressure of reciprocity Cialdini agreed to take the class even though it would eat up all the time he had set aside for book writing. Cialdini speculated that if the two conversations had been separate and he was asked the next day about teaching the class then he would have found it quite easy to say no. It turns out that timing is everything and preparing the groundwork for Influence (Pre-suasion) is essential.
So, if you want people to say yes, then you need to ask the question immediately after the favour has been done. The longer the request for action is left then the less value (and persuasive influence) the favour holds. This was proved by a study in The Netherlands where people were given payment in advance to complete a long survey. They were far more likely to complete the survey if they were given cash up front (with no obligation to complete it) rather than offer the same amount of cash but only given it when they handed back the completed survey. There is no such thing as free money as there was an overwhelming desire to comply with the request when the money had been handed over in advance. Without the money up front it was easy for people to decline to do the survey as they did not feel under any obligation.
So ultimately getting people to act in favourable way towards you is all about priming them to be receptive to your request. That priming can change depending on the circumstances. Cialdini cited some examples about how successful adverts were depending on the movie the people had just watched. If people had watched a scary movie then their mindset is pre-programmed to want to be within a group (safety in numbers). But if they had been watching a romantic movie their mindset was all about breaking away from the group and being unique (most people want to pursue a romantic liaison as a couple and stand out from the crowd – but we are a broad church at Dan Bradbury Ltd and do not judge if you prefer alternative lifestyles!)
On that basis the best advert to put in front of people after a horror film was those for a museum where the main focus was how a million people visited it each year. After a romantic comedy the same museum was advertised and film goers were far more receptive to an advert encouraging them to be different and stand out from the crowd by visiting the museum. The pre-frame based on the current state of mind of the recipient is critical. Again this needed to happen straight after the movie as time quickly killed this desire to either be in the group or trying to distance themselves from the pack. Yet more evidence that timing is key.
The new, seventh, principle in Unity. People have an overwhelming desire to belong. Family, club, country, location, company, even a product they own. Initially it could look like the original Liking principle at work but Cialdini argued that something work-fundamental was in play. He suggested that Unity is not as simple as “they are like me” but something far deeper in that they “are of me”. The proof of this idea was that survey responses from parents went from 20% to 97% when the student was awarded a single extra point on a single test if their parent completed the survey. That Unity feeling was so overwhelming that parents would go to some trouble just to get a relatively insignificant advantage for their child. (As an aside, he also speculated he would have got 100% compliance if he had asked grandparents rather than parents!)
Cialdini also showed how Warren Buffett used his infamous annual letter to shareholders to get Unity and ensure that they retained confidence in their investment in Berkshire Hathaway even when he and Charlie Munger depart the scene. He pre-framed this section of his letter by saying “I will tell you what I would say to my family today if they asked me about Berkshire’s future”. This is not what he would tell investors, fund managers or journalists, this is what he would tell his own family. That is a really compelling argument. Not only did Buffett give you that special advice he reserves for those closest to him but he effectively made you, a mere shareholder, part of his family.
I am only skimming the surface of the book here. There is far more to be learned from reading it yourself. One final point to make is that as an academic book, so you would expect a few notes to give the supporting evidence for the points made in the main body of the book. Pre-suasion devotes over a third of its space to notes! My advice is to read every one. They are extremely illuminating and full of anecdotes from Cialdini who is actually very amusing for an academic. Or is he just doing that Liking thing again?