Book Review: Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion

When I pulled together my reading list for 2010 (side note: two months down, four books read. Rawk!), there were a few different types of books on the list:

  • New books I wanted to check out
  • Fictional books to lighten the load
  • Older books highly recommended by others

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini certainly fits into the last of those categories. Person after person recommended this book, so it was a shoe-in on the list.

Having now read it, I’ll add my voice to that chorus. This is a book that, if you work in any form of communications, is a must-read.

As the title suggests, Influence… is based around the psychology behind the tools used by what Cialdini describes as “compliance professionals” (from salesmen to fundraisers to advertising folks). Despite the potentially dense subject matter, Cialdini approaches it in easy-to-understand terms which you don’t need a Ph.D. to absorb.

The book covers six “weapons of influence” in turn, doing a deep dive on the variations and nuances within each before examining how to avoid their effects:

  1. Reciprocation – giving a little in order to take more
  2. Commitment and consistency – playing off our internal need to be consistent with ourselves
  3. Social proof – the power of what other people are doing
  4. Liking – positive associations
  5. Authority – amazing what we’ll do for someone who appears to be in authority
  6. Scarcity – we want things more when they are few

One of my biggest complaints about many books I read nowadays is their tendency to make broad, sweeping claims about complex principles with no supporting materials. Thankfully, this is one area in which Influence… is a clear winner. From start to finish, the book is jam packed with case study after case study to both make Cialdini’s case for each “weapon” and support it many times over. To data-focused people (like me), this was a god-send and added great credibility to the book’s contents.

One of the great points about this book is that, even after just the first few pages, you become very aware of people using these psychological tools around you. From store salespeople to advertisements in the media, I’ve found myself constantly thinking “ah yes, they’re using the rejection-then-retreat principle” or the like. By demonstrating how people use the tools, Cialdini better prepares you to deal with them.

Of course, the flip side to this is that, for communications professionals, learning about these principles helps us to use them more effectively. Many are common nowadays (social media often leans heavily on social proof, for example… think “Facebook Connect fan boxes“).

If there’s a down-side to this book it’s that Cialdini can be a little long-winded on occasion. Every so often some of the repetition feels a little redundant. Bizarrely, on the flip side there seems to be a bit of a tendency to over-generalize on some of the concepts, leading to “huh? really?” moments. However, these moments are certainly in the minority.

So, should you buy this book? If you work in any facet of communications, then yes! Even if you don’t, this book is a worthwhile read. Two thumbs up.

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.