Hidden Influence

I picked up Pre-Suasion while at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder meeting and was able to get a signed copy from Robert Cialdini. I had never heard of the book before but found it to be a good blend of psychology and business. The book is written to show how framing or things that happen to us before we are directly asked a question or presented a message affects how we interpret that message. The book exposes the mostly overlooked layer of how circumstances and framing influence people’s decision making mostly unknowingly. There are a few key takeaways around how you can help orchestrate a better customer experience in business and how as a consumer you can ensure you are not fooled by these tactics.

There are obvious situations in which we may choose not to ask for a favor because we know the likelihood of a yes is slim. For instance, if someone has hurt their leg, asking them to help you to move a large sofa is likely going to be denied. This is an obvious example of situational awareness and Pre-Suasion goes even deeper to look at the less obvious psychological factors. A study done shows that people have a much higher likelihood of agreeing to help with a favor if they have had hot coffee vs. iced coffee. The simple connection of warmth opens you up to be more receptive to helping others. This small difference can have a really big impact on the outcomes in situations and can also lead us as people to be more likely to be manipulated through these tactics. I will pause to say that having a hot coffee before being asked a ridiculous favor such as donate all of your savings to charity is very unlikely to work, but it does leave us vulnerable to less extreme asks.

Financial Glass - Influence
Photo by Elijah Macleod

Cialdini addresses the main criticism of his book is that people with bad intentions could use his tactics to manipulate people. While this is a fair point the author points out that marketers and bad actors are already using tactics of pre-suasion and psychology to influence our decisions. The way in which to ensure you aren’t being unduly influenced is to be aware of these inherent psychological traits that we have to ensure that you are not fooled. Weather is shown to influence our mood so if it is sunny vs. rainy each state puts us naturally in different states of mind. Yet, if you reference the weather before making an ask that bias disappears and we go back to a level state. Retailers who try and influence your purchasing decisions through pumping sweet scents and play ambiance music are attempting to put you in a state where you are more likely to make a purchase. Real estate agents are known to bake something sweet or place sweet scented candles in a home they are selling. These tactics increase our likelihood of making a purchase or finding a potential home purchase more favorable, yet if we are aware what is being done to us this effect is counteracted.

Financial Glass - Perspective
Photo by Redd Angelo

For anyone in business who is in marketing, advertising or sales, Pre-suasion provides insights into how we act as a species and how we can be influenced prior to an ask or presentation. These either known or unknown influences just before can have a profound impact on the results you are trying to drive. Second, as a consumer, it is important that I recognize when these types of tactics are being conducted in order to frame a specific outcome. To a degree, there is no way to completely rid your life of these implicit influences, yet awareness provides a sort of freedom or liberation. Next time you walk into your favorite store or restaurant, take a look around and notice if the lights are dimmed, the smells, and sounds that are created. You may recognize that one of the reasons this is your favorite place is because of these unseen factors.

More posts…

Rags to Riches

Woodstock for Capitalists – Berkshire Hathaway

There is No Finish Line – Shoe Dog

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck


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