Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini is called the “Godzilla” of the persuasion world by Scott Adams (the creator of the comic Dilbert and a trained hypnotist).

And it’s true. There is almost no greater expert in the areas of influence, negotiation and social psychology than Dr. Cialdini. If you’re interested in becoming a master of marketing or sales, then you should study his work as if it was your Bible.

Cialdini is the Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and runs a consulting firm Influence at Work. That means he’s really smart and Fortune 500 companies regularly write him six figure checks.

He is best known for his 1984 book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” This book is a timeless classic that outlines the 6 laws of influence. They are: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking and consensus.

Here is an animated video created by Robert Cialdini and his co-author Steve Martin that explains the six weapons of influence clearly:

Jeremy Smith wrote a great article about how to apply Cialdini’s six principles to your website here.

Let’s take a closer look at my favorite law of influence: reciprocity.

The Reciprocity Principle

Cialdini noticed that people tend to return favors. If someone does you a favor, then you feel obligated to return them the same favor. For example, if someone invites you to a party, then you feel committed to inviting them to a party in the future.

This is a behavior that is trained into humans in every culture around the world. The rule of give and take. People are taught never to take without giving something in return.

Here’s an example of reciprocity…

One of the most famous studies of the principle of reciprocity is known as the “Coca Cola Experiment.” Here’s what that study was all about…

A person volunteers for a study, thinking it’s about rating paintings. For half of the volunteers, the lab assistant leaves and comes back with two Cokes, one for him and one for the volunteer.

After the study seems to be over, the lab assistant asked the volunteer to buy some raffle tickets. And guess what happens….

The volunteers who had been given a free Coke bought twice as many raffle tickets! Why? Because some part of them felt obligated to give the lab assistant something in return for the free gift. It’s important to note the cost of these tickets was often more than the Coke.

Another study by David Strohmetz found that when waiters in a restaurant gave a couple of free candies with the bill, their tips increased by 23%!

So beware when the used car salesman offers you a free Coke or the charity employee tries to give you a “free” gift like a flower or booklet. You will feel obligated to them without even realizing it!

On the other hand, think of some ways you can use this principle effectively in your own business. Perhaps by offering a free sample that brings people into your store. Or maybe you could create a great piece of content like an amazing blog post or video… and your customers will feel grateful that you’ve helped them for free, opening the door to a future sale.

Cialdini’s “Door In The Face” Technique

Here’s another way to apply this principle of reciprocity. It’s called the “door in the face” technique because first you ask for a HUGE request from someone, something you expect them to deny. And when they say no, you ask for a relatively smaller request (the request you originally wanted).

Cialdini found people are far more likely to say yes to the second request when you first made a big unrealistic request. Why? Maybe it feels to them like you have made a compromise already, so they feel obligated to give you something in return.

In one of Cialdini’s studies, college students were stopped while walking and asked if they would volunteer to work with little kids as a “big brother” or “big sister” for one year. This would require dozens of hours every month.

When the students said no, they were then asked to volunteer for two hours. And 50% of students said yes to this second, smaller request.

But guess what? Only 16.7% of students said yes to that second request when they hadn’t first been asked the first big request. So 50% vs 16.7%… That is a huge difference!

I hope this page has given you a short introduction to Cialdini and how useful his techniques can be in business. Knowing how people work gives you the power to influence them. To learn more of Cialdini’s ideas in-depth, see my summary of his book Pre-Suasion.

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