A lot of the time in my position as Product Manager is invested in convincing people (mainly developers, but also managers, and sometimes even customers) of my ideas. So being persuasive is an trait that I need to master to do my job well (at least from my point of view). Because of this, Influence was a must-read for me, which I did a couple of years ago, and I decided to re-read it recently after Scott Adams referenced him so much in his blogs. Good decision.
As many previous books about behavior show, we (a.k.a humans) are easy to manipulate. Way too easy. And in his book, Cialdini gives a number simple and straightforward of techniques to use in our everyday life, both to convince others of our ideas, and to identify when others are using these techniques to make us do things we should (probably) not be doing. And don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to manipulate my co-workers to do my bidding so I can do whatever I want. But if you can convince someone of something in 15 minutes instead of an hour, time is saved. And when I’m wrong I don’t try to convince others that I’m right. So disclaimer over, let’s talk about the book :-).
One of the first and most impressive examples of persuasion is the use of a reason when asking for something. For example “I need to do X because Y”. The word “because” is very powerful because “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we give a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do[my emphasys]”. Take the example in the book, where an experimenter wants to cut in line to use a Xerox machine. In the control group, the experimenter asked the person in the machine “Excuse me, I have five pages, May I use the Xerox machine?” In this case, only 60% of people complied. After this, the experimenter asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” A startling 94% of those asked complied. But it doesn’t stop here, you don’t need a real reason, you just need to have a reason. The sentence “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” An impressive 93% of those asked complied (!!!). Incredible.
So why do all of these “cheat sheets” work? As the author writes in the book’s epilogue: “Very often in making a decision… we don’t use all the relevant available information; we use, instead, only a single, highly representative piece of the total. [and] Despite the susceptibility to stupid decisions that accompanies a reliance on a single feature of the available data, the pace of modern life demands that we frequently use this shortcut”. But thanks to him, we now know better.