As a social psychologist, for Robert Cialdini influence and persuasion were fascinating and he set out to study these ideas and initially did many experiments in his lab.
In order to understand how these ideas functioned in the real world, he studied compliance professionals - sales people, advertisers, fund raisers etc.
He reckoned that these people would know what worked, because their livelihoods depended on it.
What he came up with is a list of six, what he calls, weapons of influence. Each of the six basic tactics is organized around a fundamental psychological principle. Normally people are unaware of how these principles function to determine our behavior, which makes it incredibly powerful for the compliance professional. In any given situation, when the principal kicks in, we say yes without thinking first.
The benefit is that it makes life easy for us; we can quickly and easily make decisions in various situations based on past experience. The principles also allow society to run smoothly, and make for smoother interactions between the members of that society. Of interest, is that these principles seem to function in every society on the planet!
The disadvantage is that we don't think. We go into automatic pilot, we just respond, and this makes us susceptible to the influences and manipulations of others.
He discusses the effect each principle has on society and gives numerous examples of how the compliance professional uses each of the principles to get people to buy stuff, make donations, give of their time, their money and so on.
Finally, he makes some suggestions about how to notice when these principles are kicking in and what to do to protect yourself against the effects.
At the end of each chapter there are some questions for you to check that you understand the material, and some questions to stimulate your critical thinking about each principle.
He takes this as a given. That is, that people want to give the least to get the most. The phrase ' I can give you a good deal' is a very powerful motivator in most situations. He's not minimizing its importance by not talking about it, but says it is so universal he does not need to say much about it.
For Cialdini influence techniques such as these work in all spheres of life. While he does have examples from sects (surprise, surprise!), he does not mention cult leaders as compliance professionals. These particular unethical manipulators are certainly aware of, and take full advantage of, such powerful weapons of influence. Therefore there will be comments about how specifically dangerous cults can and do use Cialdini influence principles.
If you are a member, or ex-member, it is a very powerful and useful exercise to go through these Cialdini influence principles and look for examples of where you're leader or group takes advantage of them. Indeed, it is part of the psycho-education that is the basis for undoing destructive mind control.
Generally speaking, the idea is that if a person acts towards us in a particular way they are entitled to receive similar treatment from us. More specifically, if I do a favor for you, you will feel obliged to return the favor.
His example here does actually involve a cult. He points out the technique the Hare Krishnas used of giving somebody a flower. When the person had it in their hand, they then asked for money! It was actually very difficult for the person not to make a donation of some sort. (People later learned to avoid this weapon of influence by not actually accepting the flower in the first place.)
It's easy to understand how this benefits society. A person has no difficulty 'giving away' a favor, knowing that they can ask for something in return in the future. So it's okay to help your neighbor, knowing that your neighbor will help you when you need it.
For Cialdini influence of this type occurs in a more subtle form when somebody asks for something, you say no, then they request something smaller or of less significance. What they've done is they've given you a concession by asking for something smaller. Therefore there is a sense of obligation in returning the concession to them. It then becomes very difficult to say no to the second request!
So how is this idea used and abused by compliance professionals? One way is to do a favor first. That is they give something that is not requested or invited. The person receiving the favor then feels obliged or in debt to the giver.
Another way is to ask for a bigger favor than the one that was given. This might seem a bit much, but the power of the Cialdini influence principle of reciprocity is so strong that amazing things can happen. A cult leader gives a member of book, and in exchange expects the member to bring two or three people along to his expensive courses. Or a guru gives somebody a discount on a seminar, and expects sexual favors in return.
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