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Methods of Persuasion Book Summary – Nick Kolenda

What you will learn from reading Methods of Persuasion

– Why familiarity is such a powerful force in persuasion.

– Why what we say before a message influences the way it is received.

– How to use rhetorical questions to influence and persuade.

Methods of Persuasion Book Summary

Methods of Persuasion Book Summary distills psychology research into actionable marketing and sales advice. Nick Kolenda provides cutting edge insights with easy to understand language, so you can take the key insights of psychology and apply them to your marketing. 

If you like psychology or this summary make sure to check out our Flow Book Summary and The Paradox of Choice Book Summary.


Persuasion Principles:

Schema influence:

First what is a Schema?

A schema (plural schemata or schemas) describes a pattern of thought or behaviour that organises or categories information and the relationships among them. It can also be described as a mental structure of preconceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, or a system of organising and perceiving new information.

Any idea that we associate with a particular schema—even if we don’t believe in that association—can still influence our perception and behaviour if that schema becomes activated.



Priming is the means by which you activate a schema or mindset.

Research shows that you can prime a schema by merely exposing people to certain words or ideas related to a particular schema.

Perhaps a few minutes before you present your message or make your request, you casually describe a story of someone who recently tried a new experience and enjoyed it.

The more detailed and elaborate the conversation, the stronger you activate someone’s schema for open-mindedness, which will then trigger a more favorable perception of your message.


Convey High Expectations:

Although I might be biased, I truly believe that this book is very informative, helpful, and interesting. I’d even go so far as to say that you’ll rate it a 10 out of 10.

  • Whenever we develop expectations for a certain event, our brain often molds our perception of that event to match our expectations. We see what we expect to see. We hear what we expect to hear. We feel what we expect to feel.

When our brains are healthy, high expectations can lead to more neural activity in the brain region associated with pleasantness.

Even something as innocent as the price of an energy drink can convey certain expectations, which can then influence our perception and behavior.

Nonetheless, research shows that conveying high (yet believable) expectations will usually lead someone to perceive an event to match those expectations.

First, that statement primed the idea of highlighting, which made you more likely to engage in that behavior.


Use Congruency:

The term “congruent” essentially means “consistent.” If your target is engaging in a certain behavior (e.g., highlighting), he will feel greater pressure to develop an attitude that is “congruent” with his behavior.

Writing down negative thoughts about yourself can lower your self-esteem, but only when you write those thoughts with your dominant hand (Briñol & Petty, 2008).


Rhetorical questions and congruency:

Why is that important? When people mentally answer that first rhetorical question with a “yes,” they start developing a congruent attitude that reflects someone who wants to learn the secret, and they start to feel pressure to act in a manner consistent with that attitude.

When they reach the next rhetorical question (“Want to learn how?”), most people would mentally answer that question with another affirmative response, which further reinforces their stance.

Informational Influence. First, we sometimes conform to the beliefs and behavior of others because we come to believe that our own beliefs are incorrect. If the crowd’s opinion contradicts our own opinion, then we start to question the accuracy of our own belief, a tendency that becomes even stronger when the correct answer is ambiguous.

Therefore, not only do we conform to other people due to an internal change in our belief (informational influence), but we can also conform to avoid appearing deviant, which can often lead to social rejection.


People look to others to decide how to act:

Realise that people are looking to you to determine how they should be acting, so if you don’t act, other people will be less likely to act.

If you’re in desperate need of help, you should: (1) directly point to someone so that you destroy her cloud of anonymity within the crowd, and (2) give her a specific and direct request, such as to call 911.


How to Influence the masses against an idea:

“Within the statement ‘Many people are doing this undesirable thing’ lurks the powerful and under-cutting normative message ‘Many people are doing this.’”

If you want to discourage alcohol abuse, demonstrate that most students drink safely. Always point the norm in the direction that you want your target to follow.

“I’ve had that meal before, and it’s delicious. Great choice!”

The researchers found that people matched the confederate’s portion size when she seemed thin, yet they took the opposite portion size when she seemed overweight.

When people appear overweight, they’re perceived to be part of a dissociative group, a group from which other people try to “dissociate.”


Come across as in their group:

When trying to persuade someone, how can you demonstrate that you belong to the same ingroup.

But you could also simply use words like “we” and “us” to reinforce that you belong to the same ingroup.

“Limit of 12 per customer” or “Limit of 12 per [Supermarket Name] customers.” That small wording change takes advantage of in-group favoritism by emphasising that people from the same in-group


We like the Familiar:

We prefer the picture of our mirrored reflection, and our friends prefer the actual picture because those are the perspectives that generate the most familiarity.

Mere exposure becomes stronger for exposures that occur outside of our conscious awareness because those exposures trigger an emotional response without triggering a cognitive response.

Whenever we consciously evaluate something, we attach other meanings and associations to that stimulus, thereby altering (and possibly degrading) our evaluation of it.

Like most people, you probably thought of a few instances very easily, but with each new example, you probably found it increasingly difficult to think of new instances. Surprisingly, that difficulty in retrieval influenced how you perceived your level of assertiveness.


Mental repetitions and familiarity:

How does that relate to repetitions? Repetitions are powerful because they increase processing fluency; each time that we view a repeated stimulus, we’re able to process that stimulus more quickly the next time we encounter it.

You disliked the writing initially because your processing fluency was low; it was still foreign to you. But the more you worked on it, the more familiar it became, and the easier it became to process.

If we’re deciding between two possible brands to purchase, we’re likely to base our decision on how easily each brand comes to mind.

Your target will then misattribute that ease of processing with a desire to comply with your request.


Influencing by familiarity:

In this situation, don’t rush and hastily make your request now; instead, periodically bring up the idea of concerts in general for the next few days. With repeated exposure to that general topic, your friend will gradually develop a more positive attitude toward concerts in general, and he will be less resistant when you make your actual request.

Each time that you begin a new chapter and become exposed to that repeated wording style, your ease of processing that title can put you in a better mood, which can lead you to perceive the contents of that chapter more favourably.


Small Changes are hard to detect:

First, it’s very difficult to detect changes that occur in small increments. There’s a concept known as the just noticeable difference (or the difference threshold), which refers to the minimum amount of change that’s needed in a stimulus in order for people to detect that change.

When people can perform a side-by-side comparison, any change will become much more readily noticed.

-No reference point to compare the new font.

Expectations. People in studies didn’t notice that they were talking to an entirely different person partly because they weren’t expecting a change to occur.


Heuristic processing is the norm:

When we use heuristic processing (also known as the peripheral route to persuasion), we’re more influenced by simple, irrelevant, and “peripheral” cues, such as: The sheer amount of information or support The aesthetics of a message The person presenting the message (e.g., his likability, attractiveness, perceived expertise, etc.)

When your target’s motivation is high, your message will be evaluated using systematic processing; when your target’s motivation is low, your message will be evaluated using heuristic processing.


Pre-frame your message as important to understand:

Perhaps the most important aspect is the perceived importance of your message. Your target will be more motivated to critically evaluate your message when they view that information as important to understand.

That motivation and ability to evaluate are the two factors that determine how people evaluate messages.

Alter your target’s motivation or ability to ensure that your message is evaluated in the most favorable manner, or you can… Use your knowledge of the previous factors to predict how your target will evaluate your message so that you can tweak your message accordingly.

If your target believes that your message will affect him—either positively or negatively—then he’ll be more motivated to pay attention to your message.


Use Suggestive Rhetorical Questions:

“Don’t you agree that… ,” “Isn’t it true that…”) because those questions subtly influenced students to relate the arguments to their own life

We look to our environment and circumstances to label that arousal.

You could help ease your anxiety by giving your arousal a different label, such as excitement.


Always admit small negatives:

When a message contains only positive support, people tend to believe that the message is purposely excluding information, which causes them to be skeptical toward that message.

You should position your most compelling arguments first and last in your sequence. Those arguments will carry more weight in those positions due to the primacy and recency effect.

Once we successfully resist an initial attempt at persuasion, we develop persuasion “antibodies” that help us resist future attacks more easily.


Use Authority / Perceived Authority:

Humans are psychologically compelled to obey authority figures to a very large and frightening extent.

Rather than try to convince you of my authority and knowledge, I tried to overcome that hurdle by heavily citing research to support my claims. – Leverage authority by name dropping and quoting.

Attractive people have a significant advantage because other people unknowingly act more favorably toward them.

You can enhance your perceived attractiveness by: (1) being in the general vicinity of someone more often and, (2) revealing any type of similarity that you might share with that person.


Aesthetics in persuasion:

Whether it occurs consciously or non-consciously, people evaluate information based on the aesthetics of a message.

First, people use aesthetics as a heuristic for quality; if your website is aesthetically pleasing, they’ll assume your content is above average, and vice versa.

Now that you’re starting to develop the expectation that your ritual helps you make foul shots, you’re more likely to trigger a placebo effect and actually make your shots more often when you perform that ritual.


Incentives in persuasion:

Perhaps the most direct reason why large incentives can be ineffective is that they sometimes increase anxiety levels.

When people are guided by large external rewards, they develop the congruent attitude that they are merely performing that action because of the reward. However, when an incentive is small or nonexistent, people develop the congruent attitude that they are performing that action because of a personal desire.

Smaller rewards can often be more effective because people develop a congruent attitude of intrinsic motivation to resolve their inconsistent behavior.

Change in your target’s attitude, you need “insufficient justification”—your incentive must be small or nonexistent so that your target attributes his compliance toward a genuine desire to comply, not toward a desire to receive the external reward.


Why you Shouldn’t Pay your friends:

Be careful about turning a social relationship into a market relationship.

E.g. To thank them for their efforts, you give each of them a reward: for one friend, you buy her a bottle of wine (a social incentive), and for the other friend, you pay her $50 in cash (a monetary incentive).

As Dan Ariely describes, “while gifts are financially inefficient, they are an important social lubricant [because] they help us make friends and create long-term relationships… Sometimes, it turns out, a waste of money can be worth a lot”

It essentially removed the guilt that parents would feel if they picked up their child late because it became a price that parents could pay for being tardy. – You can change meaning of things if you talk about it as a price, rather than emotional damage.

Social Incentives. In terms of intrinsic motivation, social rewards (e.g., gifts, praise, positive feedback) can be more powerful than monetary incentives because they avoid the negative connotation associated with money.

Even rewards as small as verbal acknowledgement can help you nonconsciously guide someone’s attitude toward your desired goal.


Using Rewards and Competence:

Competence. How can you offer incentives that won’t make it seem like you distrust your target’s competence? Perhaps the best solution lies in the “contingency” of your incentive.

Engagement-contingent: an incentive that is given for engaging in an activity (e.g., parents rewarding their child if she studies for an exam) 

Performance-contingent: an incentive that is given only if some standard of performance is met (e.g., parents rewarding their child if she earns a high score on an exam)

According to researchers, engagement-contingent rewards result in worse performance because they devalue your target’s competence, whereas performance-contingent rewards result in higher performance because they promote competence.

Even simple phrasing, such as the word “should” (e.g., “you should do _____ for _____”), can trigger feelings of control and worsen performance.

Allowing people to choose their commission or incentive, in any situation, can lead to three powerful benefits: 

First, rather than trying to guess which incentive will spark the greatest motivation in your target, allowing your target to choose among multiple incentives will lead to an incentive that is more appealing to your target

Second, allowing your targets to choose will satisfy their need for autonomy, an outcome that will spark more intrinsic motivation and, as a result, higher job satisfaction and performance levels.

Third, their choice becomes a type of behaviour that reinforces a congruent attitude that they genuinely want the incentive.

Homework has failed to extract intrinsic motivation because it doesn’t promote autonomy; students feel like they’re required to do it.

To spur the most momentum from your target, you need to maintain people’s intrinsic motivation by promoting their competence and perceived sense of freedom, a task that can be accomplished through framing your incentive and allowing your target to choose a particular incentive or request.


Avoid Restricting People:

Your curiosity became aroused when I tried to stop you from reading further. I limited your autonomy and freedom, which caused you to actively fight that limitation.

It’s called psychological reactance (Brehm, 1966). When we perceive a particular freedom becoming restricted, we feel a natural tendency to maintain or recapture that freedom.

Due to these natural tradeoffs, any option that you choose must naturally forgo certain benefits that are offered only in other funds. Your dissatisfaction enters the equation once you recognize that, when you make your decision, you’re losing some benefits that are only offered in other funds.


Create Options:

The first reason is simply an extension of loss aversion: when facing a vast number of options, people recognize the potential loss that will result upon choosing only one option, and so they avoid that potential loss by postponing their decision.

Ugh. You failed. Oh well. You resolve your dissonance by reminding yourself that you already ate 4 slices and that you’re completely stuffed anyway.

The best strategy doesn’t change the number of options; it changes the number of perceived options.

But, Categorise the options into easily understandable groups:

Much like how adding chunks in the phone number reduced information overload, organizing the funds into three risk categories reduces cognitive strain because they combine the options into groups.

E.g. Low risk, medium risk, high risk.

Limit Time. The first technique is to limit the amount of time available to comply with your request, which can easily be accomplished by setting a deadline.

It’s quite magical. Setting a deadline is so powerful because it puts an end to that black magic by finally bringing “tomorrow” closer to the present.

Job applicants who indicate that they are considering other job opportunities (i.e., applicants who seem less available) are evaluated more favorably than candidates who don’t indicate whether they’re considering other job opportunities

People choose among categories of options (e.g., type, color, design, and price range). Research has confirmed that the mere presence of categories increases customer satisfaction because it serves as a cue for greater variety

People are making numerous choices, you promote their autonomy and give them a personal feeling of control.


Use Semantic Networks:

Every concept that we’ve learned over time (i.e., every node in our semantic network) has emerged through an association. 

Whenever we’re presented with a new concept, we can’t simply place that concept free-floating in our brain; in order to successfully integrate that new concept into our existing network of knowledge, we need to attach it to an already existing concept via some type of similarity or association.

Therefore, you can convey your message more effectively by comparing it to an already existing concept in your target’s semantic network.

However, if you knew the proper context of the information, you could then categorize that information under a relevant schema, and the passage would then become crystal clear.

Objects that are up or high are often considered to be good, whereas objects that are down or low are often considered to be bad.


Associating your product with a common item or behaviour:

Subtly imply a positive message about E*Trade (e.g., the service is so easy to use that a baby can use it), but it’s also a naturally occurring prime (I’d be willing to bet that you run into babies more frequently than you run into tigers and toucans).

But perhaps an even better strategy beyond mere trade characters can be found in attaching your message to a naturally occurring need state, such as hunger or thirst.

To keep your product or message at the top of someone’s mind, you should associate it with something that people encounter on a frequent basis. Each time someone is exposed to those “naturally occurring primes,” they will likely think of your product or message.

First, exposing people to the word “smile” activates the facial muscles used in smiling (Foroni & Semin, 2009), so that was my attempt to control your body language

Further, you’ll notice that I specifically said that you can smile knowing that “we” officially reached the end of the book. Using that first person pronoun helped emphasize that we belong to the same ingroup.