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Influence Book Summary – Robert Cialdini

What you will learn from reading Influence:

– The mechanisms responsible for making us compliant.

– The six key principles of influence. 

– How to avoid being manipulated.

– How to use these principles of influence for good. 

Influence Book Summary

This book – often heralded as a classic in sales and persuasion books – explores the 6 principles that are often used to produce a distinct kind of automatic, mindless compliance from people, that is, a willingness to say yes without thinking first. This is a fantastic book that everyone should read, especially if they do not wish to be taken advantage of or in Cialdini’s words, influenced.



What are the factors that make people compliant?

They fall under 6 main categories: 

  • Reciprocation
  • Commitment Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Each principle is examined as to its ability to produce a distinct kind of automatic, mindless compliance from people, that is, a willingness to say yes without thinking first


Weapons of Influence

Fixed-action patterns: Intricate sequences of behaviour, such as entire courtship or mating rituals. A fundamental characteristic of these patterns is that the behaviours that compose them occur in virtually the same fashion and in the same order every time. It is almost as if the patterns were recorded on tapes within the animals 

  • Example: Turkey mothers only being able to recognise their offspring by their cheeps.

These fixed action patterns can be triggered by specific features that normally emerge in some form of interaction.

They usually work to our advantage, however, the trigger features that activate them can be used to dupe us into playing them at the wrong times.

We need shortcuts to deal with the extraordinarily complicated stimulus environment, however, we are left terribly vulnerable if we fail to understand how they work. 

The components shared between the 6 principles:

  1. A nearly mechanical process by which the power within these weapons can be activated.
  2. The consequent exploitability of this power by anyone who knows how to trigger them.
  3. A third ‘component involves the way that the weapons of automatic influence lend their force to those who use them.

Not much effort is required to take advantage of them, all that is required is for them to be activated and directed towards the intended target.

The little effort needed allows the exploiters the ability to manipulate without the appearance of manipulation, and the people who are exploited dont believe they have been duped.

Contrast Principle

The contrast principle – affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is.

  • Example: A man might baulk at the idea of spending $95 for a sweater, but if he has just bought a $495 suit, a $95 sweater does not seem excessive.


Reciprocity Principle

The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us

“We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honoured network of obligation,

Because there is a general distaste for those who take and make no effort to give in return, we will often go to great lengths to avoid being considered one of their numbers.

For example, if a person feels they owe someone something they are much more likely to concede to an offer from that person.

A person is still likely to abide by the reciprocity principle even if they didn’t like the other person or if the offer was uninvited.

There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.”

  • The obligation to receive reduces our ability to choose to whom we wish to be indebted to and puts that power in the hands of others.

Why does a small initial favour produce a sense of obligation to agree to a substantially larger return favour?

  • Reason 1: Most of us find it highly disagreeable to be in a state of obligation. It can cause a psychological burden of debt.
  • Reason 2: Those who violate the rule are disliked by the social group.

We also feel an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us, as if balancing out the number of concessions each individual has incurred. 

From an evolutionary stance, you don’t want an enemy. By forcing others to concede you essentially incur no cost, but with this comes the expectation from others to concede/ incur a different cost to balance out the losses. 

Rejection-then retreat technique

Suppose you want me to agree to a certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a larger request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have refused, you would make the smaller request that you were really interested in all along

The second request does not have to be small, it only has to be smaller than the initial one – the appearance of a concession.

The larger the initial request, the more effective the procedure, since the concession to the second offer appears much greater. However, if the first is too big it can backfire.

When a victim concedes to the second request, they believe they are getting the better deal. This causes a positive feeling towards the requestor which makes the victim more likely to engage in further agreements. When they do so, they feel more responsible as they end up driving the deal, and those who feel more strongly about a deal are more likely to live up to it. 

How to say No

Accept the desirable first offers of others but only accept them for what they fundamentally are, not for what they are represented to be.

Once we have determined that his initial offer was not a favour but a compliance tactic, we need only react to it accordingly to be free of its influence

Determine what the requestor retreats to. Define his second request.


Commitment and Consistency

Our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.

Example: Betting on horse races, you feel more hopeful after putting down a bet.

A highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests.

Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait. If a person’s beliefs, words, and deeds don’t match they may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill.

It is so automatic, that we can easily fall into the habit of conforming to what we have already done, even in situations where it is not the sensible way to be.

We may engage in this automatic behaviour when our cognitive resources are low, or if the consequences of engaging in rational thought/ reasoning are low. 

Rational decision-making requires cognitive energy which can cause psychological discomfort. For this reason, comfort can sometimes trump the pursuit of truth by being prioritised above rational thinking.

If, as it appears, automatic consistency functions as a shield against thought, it should not be surprising that such consistency can also be exploited by those who would prefer that we not think too much in response to their requests for our compliance.

Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand.

As soon as someone commits to a thought, idea, behaviour, feeling, etc. they are more likely to be consistent with it. 

When people commit to a behaviour that is contradictory to their beliefs, it is easier to change their beliefs than to correct their past behaviour. If you change how people view themselves, you change their behaviours.

When there is social pressure to act consistent, we are much more likely to change our beliefs.

People have a natural tendency to think that a statement reflects the true attitude of the person who made it. What is surprising is that they continue to think so even when they know that the person did not freely choose to make the statement.

Example: The Chinese during WWII read the essays of POW inmates on a speaker so everyone could hear them (public statement), thus forcing the inmates who wrote them to be consistent with the written beliefs.

From the inside, there is pressure to bring the self-image into line with action. From the outside, there is a sneakier pressure – a tendency to adjust this image according to the way others perceive us.

The more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it. People who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than people who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.”

Example: Fraternity initiations in American colleges.

It appears that commitments are most effective in changing a person’s self-image and future behaviour when they are active, public, and effortful. But there is another property of effective commitment that is more important than the other three combined – the behaviour should be internally fueled, and not under duress or incentivised.

Example: The Chinese during WWII wanted the POW inmates to own what they had done. No excuses, no ways out were allowed – they needed to take responsibility for what they had done

Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behaviour when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures.

Example: Milton Friedman conducted an experiment where he threatened one group of boys not to play with a toy, and in another told them it was just merely wrong (without a threat). He found the latter group were more likely to resist playing with the toy. 

What someone considers external pressure is somewhat subjective and differs with each individual. Some children respond differently to different levels of threat. 

Exploitative individuals can offer us an inducement for making such a choice, and after the decision has been made, can remove that inducement, knowing that our decision will probably stand on its own newly created legs because we will align our beliefs to match our past actions.

How to Say No

Two signals that tip us off when consistency is likely to lead to a poor choice:

  • In the pit of our stomachs when we realize we are trapped into complying with a request.
  • Listen to our heart/ internal gauge to inform us that something is not right.

Ask ourselves “Knowing what I now know, if I could go back in time, would I make the same choice?”


Social Proof

The principle of social proof – states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behaviour. We view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.

As a rule, we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accordance with social evidence than contrary to it. It provides a convenient shortcut for determining how to behave, but it is, however, exploitable. 


  • Canned laughter to make the audience laugh.
  • Bartenders put money in their tip jar to influence customers to do the same. 
  • Advertisers use “high demand” as a way to rope people in.
  • Clubs intentionally create long queues despite there being room inside.

A benefit of this principle is that It can be actively used to eliminate undesirable or maladaptive behaviour (phobias and fears). This principle is effective even when watching videos of others committing actions.

The principle of social proof works best when the proof is provided by the actions of a lot of other people. The principle of social proof says so: The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.

Conditions of the Social Proof Principle

1) Uncertainty or ambiguity – In times of such uncertainty, the natural tendency is to look around at the actions of others for clues. We look to others to gauge the correct behaviour.

Because we all prefer to appear poised and unflustered among others, we are likely to search for that evidence placidly, with brief, camouflaged glances at those around us.

However, we are likely to overlook the important fact that those people are probably examining the social evidence, too. This phenomenon is known as “pluralistic ignorance.”

Example: A woman was murdered in New York while 37 people watched.

Two Reasons why a bystander would not help in an emergency:

  1. With several potential helpers around, the personal responsibility of each individual is reduced. So with everyone thinking that someone else will help or has helped, no one does.
  2. Very often an emergency is not obviously an emergency – ambiguity

Pluralistic ignorance effect is strongest among strangers.

The best solution to pluralistic ignorance is to reduce the uncertainties of those around you concerning your condition and their responsibilities. Stare, speak, and point directly at that person and no one else.

2) Similarity – the principle is most powerful when we are observing the behaviour of people just like us. The social proof principle is stronger when we see others who are similar to us commit an action

Example: People who are ambivalent about committing suicide are more likely to do so after reading a story in a newspaper about someone has committed suicide, especially if they are similar – The Werther Effect

How to Say No

The evidence it offers about how we should act is usually valid and valuable. 

Identify the size of the error if you were to follow the actions of others. 

Example: Mass cult suicide

We need to become sensitivie to situations where the social-proof automatic pilot is working with inaccurate information, so that we can calibrate it.

The two types of situations:

  1. When the social evidence has been purposely falsified.
  2. An innocent natural error will produce snowballing social proof that pushes us to the incorrect decision. 

We need only make a conscious decision to be alert to counterfeit social evidence.

In the same way, we need to look up and around periodically whenever we are locked onto the evidence of the crowd.



Levers of Liking:

  • Attractiveness
  • Similarity
  • Compliments
  • Contact and cooperation
  • Conditioning and association

The liking principle refers to the pressure to say yes to someone we know and like.

This can be incredibly effective if a friend is present, although often just the mention of the friend’s name is enough.

The factors that cause one person to like another person?

Physical Attractiveness

The Halo Effect –  when one positive characteristic of a person dominates the way that person is viewed by others.

We automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence.

Example: Judges sentences towards attractive people


We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or lifestyle.

People can exploit this by appearing or claiming to be similar to us in any of a wide variety of ways.

Example: A lot of salesman are instructed to “mirror and match” the customer’s body posture, mood, and verbal style.


We tend, as a rule, to believe praise and to like those who provide it, oftentimes when it is clearly false.

Pure praise does not have to be accurate to work. Positive comments produce just as much liking for the flatterer when they are untrue as when they are true.

Contact/ Familiarity

Coming into contact with something and familiarising ourselves with it can influence our attitude towards it. Often we don’t realise how often we are exposed to something

Repeated contact doesn’t necessarily cause greater liking. In fact, continued exposure to a person or object under unpleasant conditions such as frustration, conflict, or competition leads to less liking.

The principle of association states that an innocent association with either bad things or good things will influence how people feel about us.


  • There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news.
  • Coke adverts that display attractive models drinking coke on a beach. 
  • Professional athletes and endorsement deals (rolex and roger federer).

Because the association principle works so well and so unconsciously, manufacturers regularly rush to connect their products with the current cultural rage.

The important thing for the advertiser is to establish the connection; it doesn’t have to be a logical one, just a positive one.

We like to be associated to positive things. According to the association principle, if we can surround ourselves with success, even in a superficial way, our public prestige will rise.

We purposefully manipulate the visibility of our connections with winners and losers in order to make ourselves look good to anyone who could view these connections. We also use different terminology, We = winning/ positive, They = losing / negative.

Example: Associating ourselves with sport teams when they win and distancing ourselves when they lose.

When we have a strong feeling of recognised personal accomplishment, we seek to bask in reflected glory. Instead, it will be when prestige (both public and private) is low that we will be intent upon using the successes of associated others to help restore image.

People who tend to do this tend to be individuals with a hidden personality flaw-a poor self-concept. Deep inside is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others of attainment.

Example: The “stage mother,” obsessed with securing stardom for her child.


Cooperative learning is capable of removing hostility towards someone else, and improving liability.

Making everyone invaluable to each other forces people to cooperate, even if they are on different teams. If you both have the same goal, or competition would cause harm to everyone’s interests, then cooperation is key.

Competition has its place, too. It can serve as a valuable motivator of desirable action and an important builder of self-concept. 

In a classroom setting, academic competition should not be eliminated, but its monopoly should be broken by introducing regular cooperative successes that include members of all ethnic groups.

How to Say No

Let our feelings for the requestor grow until we notice that they are uncalled for in the situation. 

Use our awareness that we have undue feeling for the requestor to remind us to keep separate our feelings about the requester and the request, focus on the merits of the deal.



The authority principle states that we have a deep-seated sense of duty to authority within us all.

Whenever we are faced with so potent a motivator of human action, it is natural to expect that good reasons exist for the motivation. In the case of obedience to authority, even a brief consideration of human social organization offers justification aplenty.

We are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong

Information from a recognized authority can provide us a valuable shortcut for deciding how to act in a situation. Our obedience frequently takes place in a click, whirr fashion, with little or no conscious deliberation. 

Taking advice from parents proves beneficial – partly because of their greater wisdom and partly because they control the rewards and punishments.

We are so used to following orders that we hardly ever question them. Because it is automatic, thinking is not involved, meaning in these instances, we don’t consider the situation as a whole but attend and respond to only one aspect of it.

The appearance of authority is enough, when we are in this mode we are often as vulnerable to the symbols of authority as to the substance.

There are three kinds of symbols that can reliably trigger our compliance in the absence of the genuine substance of authority.

  • Titles
    • Authority status affects perceptions of size.
      • Example: Nurses receiving a phone call from a doctor about a prescription.
  • Clothes
    • Uniforms, luxury clothing, etc.
  • Trapping 
    • Jewellery, cars, mansion houses, etc.

How to Say No

One protective tactic we can use against authority status is to remove its element of surprise.

This can be accomplished by posing two questions to ourselves: When we are confronted with what appears to be an authority figure’s attempt to influence us, ask:

  1. “Is this authority truly an expert?”
    • It focuses our attention on a pair of crucial pieces of information: the authority’s credentials and the relevance of those credentials to the topic at hand.
  2. “How truthful can we expect the expert to be here?
    • We need to consider their trustworthiness in the situation.

By wondering how an expert stands to benefit from our compliance, we give ourselves another safety net against undue and automatic influence.



The scarcity principle states that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited

The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value – this is known as ‘Loss Aversion.’

Imperfections that would otherwise be seen as rubbish make for prized possessions when they bring along an abiding scarcity.

Limited number technique: a customer is more likely to buy a product when it looks least available.

Deadline technique: when some official time limit is placed on the customer’s opportunity to get what the compliance professional is offering.

  • It carries the purest form of decision deadline: right now (reduces thinking).

Why are we attracted to scarcity? 

  1. Because we know that the things that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess, we can often use an item’s availability to help us quickly and correctly decide on its quality.
  2. As opportunities become less available, we lose freedoms; and we hate to lose the freedoms we already have.

The tendency to fight for every liberty and against every restriction might be best understood as a quest for information.

We rarely recognize that psychological reactance has caused us to want the item more; all we know is that we want it. Still, we need to make sense of our desire for the item, so we begin to assign it positive qualities to justify the desire.


  • The government imposing a ban on something, and so people go to other states to buy them.
  • When information is censored, people tend to demand and believe in that information more.

Information may not have to be censored for us to value it more; it need only be scarce. According to the scarcity principle, then, we will find a piece of information more persuasive if we think we can’t get it elsewhere.

The scarcity principle is more effective at some times than at other times:

  1. We value things more if they have recently become scarce compared to things that have always been scarce. 
  2. When something becomes scarce because of high demand, it is sort after even more

Example: A study was conducted whereby two groups were told the cookies available were either demanded after or had a lack of supply. They found that the group who was told the cookies were demanded after were more likely to buy a cookie. 

This finding highlights the importance of competition in the pursuit of limited resources. Not only do we want the same item more when it is scarce, we want it most when we are in competition for it.

Competition can evoke emotions that shift our attention away from the product and more to winning the competition.

How to Say No

Use the arousal of these emotions as a cue to prime us to pay attention.

The joy is not in experiencing a scarce commodity but in possessing it. It is important that we not confuse the two.

Ask ourselves whether we want the product for a genuine reason, or whether we just want to own/ possess/ use it.

We must remember that the item under consideration will function equally well whether scarce or plentiful.