The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 62

Robert Cialdini


Can preferences be shaped in the moment? Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the ground-breaking book Influence, has come out with a new title, Pre-suasion. It’s not just the message that’s important – it’s how you deliver it that can make all the difference. Discover the six psychological principles for greater influence and how you can use them ethically in your business.


Social Media

Book: Pre-suasion
Bio: Harvard Business Review lists Dr. Cialdini’s research in “Breakthrough Ideas for Today’s Business Agenda.” Influence has been listed on the “New York Times Business Best Seller List.” Fortune Magazine lists Influence in their “75 Smartest Business Books.” CEO Read lists Influence in their “100 Best Business Books of All Time.” Dr. Robert Cialdini has spent his entire career researching the science of influence earning him an international reputation as an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation. His books including, Influence, are the result of decades of peer-reviewed research on why people comply with requests. Influence has sold over 3 million copies, is a New York Times Bestseller and has been published in over 30 languages. His co-authored books include Yes! and The Small Big. His newest book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, is the result of many years of scientific research combined with Cialdini’s engaging style to make each chapter memorable and meaningful. It will be released on September 6th, 2016. Because of the world-wide recognition of Dr. Cialdini’s cutting edge scientific research and his ethical business and policy applications, he is frequently regarded as the “Godfather of influence.”



Peter Bregman: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.

With us today is Dr. Robert Cialdini. He wrote “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” It became the text book, not written at all like a text book, written like a very interesting story and book, but it became the text book – every piece of marketing that you probably receive today is based on the work and the research and the writing that Dr. Cialdini did and put in influence.

He has come out recently with a new book. It’s the first in effect official prequel to “Influence” called “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” We’re very fortunate to have him here with us today. He will give us a short overview of the two books and then we’ll get into a conversation about marketing based on it. Bob, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Dr. Robert C.: Well thank you Peter. I’m very glad to be with you and your followers.

Peter Bregman: Thanks and I should say also it’s nice that we share a literary agent, that’s who first told me that you were coming out with a new book, and it’s nice to put the face to the name and of course your first book has been on my bookshelf for at least a decade if not two.

When wrote “Influence,” your first book, did you have any idea that it would define an industry and be as big as it’s become? You’ve sold millions of copies. Did you have a sense when you wrote it that it had this kind of power?

Dr. Robert C.: None. None. It was a book that I thought I needed to write but I never expected that it would have the reach that it has. I couldn’t have sensibly imagined that it would sell as many copies as it has. Books by academics at that point just didn’t have that kind of impact.

Peter Bregman: In some ways, yours may have been the first book that created this idea that academics could write popular books.

Dr. Robert C.: I think that might be the case for a couple of reasons. One is that the book was seen as not something that was pandering, not something that was popularizing behavioral science but was offering it a valid picture of it to the larger community. The second reason is that I think we’ve finally come as a community of behavioral science to recognize what we owe to the larger community. In any meaningful sense they’ve paid for this research. They’re entitled to know what we found out with their money.

Some venues, some channels had to be visited that will allow us to speak beyond the academic journals in which we typically buried our work.

Peter Bregman: I love that. I love that perspective and it’s obviously caught on because there’s a lot of popular books, especially in the social behavioral sciences that have come out and continue to come out. Behavioral economics in and of itself is a whole reality-based, economic, academic perspective that is very popular and has helped a lot of people in terms of financial decisions they’re trying to make.

Dr. Robert C.: Right.

Peter Bregman: Bob why don’t you start with the 6 psychological principles for greater influence: reciprocation, liking, social proof, authenticity, scarcity, and consistency. Could you give us one or two sentences on each so that everybody who’s listening has a basic understanding of how you think of influence and what influence looks and sounds like and then we can talk about Pre-Suasion.

Dr. Robert C.: Certainly. The first is reciprocation, the idea that people want to give back to those who have first given to them. There was a study done in a candy shop. If visitors came in and received a small piece of chocolate from the manager as they entered, they were 47% more likely to buy the candy at the shop because they felt obligated to give back to someone who had given to them.

Liking is another principle, one that most of us understand, don’t need to hear from me about, that we prefer to say “yes” to those we like. But there’s interesting research that shows that a simple thing like pointing out a commonality or even demonstrating a similarity in verbal style increases the outcomes of the communicator in a negotiation. Even in a hostage negotiation, there’s research that shows if the hostage negotiator matches the verbal style of the hostage-taker you get a better outcome.

A third principle is the one that I call social proof, the idea that people want to follow the lead of multiple comparable others. It’s a way to reduce their uncertainty about what they should do. There’s a lovely study in Beijing that shows that if a restaurant owner puts on the menu “These are our most popular items,” each one immediately becomes 13 to 20% more popular. Entirely ethical, entirely costless, and entirely effective.

Another is the principle of authority, the one that says we usually well advised to follow the lead of legitimate experts, authorities in the matter and there’s no surprise there. Here’s a nice little study: if you’re proposing a budget, let’s say it’s for $25,000. You’ve figured it all out and it comes out to $25,078. What we typically do is to round that off and say, “This’ll cost $25,000.” You’ve made a mistake. If you say it’s $25,078, you’re seen as more authoritative. You’ve done your homework and people are more willing to say yes to the larger number than the smaller one.

Okay. Another principle is the principle of scarcity. People want more of those things they can have less of. There was nifty little study done in a supermarket in which the researchers randomly put in front of certain brands on the store shelf “Only 3 items per customer:” doubled sales. People want what they can’t get and if we can honestly inform them of genuine limitations or scarcities or dwindling availabilities, we should do so. They want to know that and we would be benefited: both us would be benefited by that information.

Then finally there’s commitment and consistency, the idea that people want to be consistent with what they have committed themselves to, especially in writing form.

I have a colleague in the UK who was able to significantly reduce “no shows’ at doctors appointments there by doing something a little different. You know at the end of every appointment, we get a card from the receptionist with the date and time of our next appointment written on it? He, my colleague instead instituted the following change: you give the patient a blank card and a pen. They write the date and time of the next appointment and they’re 18% less likely to fail to show up for it.

Peter Bregman: Now why does that work? Because they’ve made a commitment-

Dr. Robert C.: They’ve made a connected public commitment to it.

Peter Bregman: Interesting. All of these are so familiar to us now because it’s the sales funnel on a marketing site, it’s the the testimonials, you know, social proof. “Look at these other people and what they’re saying about it.” It’s the sense that you have 3 hours left to take this offer. It’s all over the place.

You start “Pre-Suasion” talking about ethics. I’ve always wondered about this because on the one hand it seems like these are very valid methods of influencing people. On the other hand there’s a sense of manipulation, that we know something that the other person doesn’t know and we’re getting them to make a decision they may not otherwise make because they’re falling for these tactics and yet I know for you that ethics is very, very important so I’d love for you to speak about that for a minute.

Dr. Robert C.: I think that’s central point, Peter. It’s so important to think about that. People often ask me, “Now that you are familiar with these principles, you’re written about them, you’ve talked about them, are you less susceptible to them? Do you fend them off better?” The answer is I fend them off better when they’re employed dishonestly but I don’t want to fend them off when they’re employed honestly. If there’s genuine social proof like a manager in the Beijing restaurant who points to his most popular items, they’ve been beta tested for me. Of course I want that information.

If I know the genuine authorities have spoken in favor of a particular pain reliever, I want to know that information. The last time I bought a television set, I was in an appliance store and I was passing one particular model and it caught my eye because I had read some very positive reviews of it. It was on sale and the salesman came up and he said, “I see you’re interested in this. I can see why. It’s a great set at this price but I have to tell you, it’s our last one.” Ten minutes later I’m walking out of the store with this.

Here’s the thing. If he was blowing smoke, I’m exploited. If he was giving me information, if he was informing me into ascent, I feel aided.

Peter Bregman: This is what’s so interesting, right? Because you walk out of that store and you don’t know if he’s said that to the last ten customers of if he’s just said it to you. When I think about the Chinese restaurant, we don’t know whether those are the most popular items or the cheapest to make and therefore they want to sell those. I guess there’s this level of trust that you’re either going to be the type of person who’s suspicious of all of it or trusts or in that moment you have to say “Okay I do want this television and there is only one so I better nab this before someone else.” Let me just pause for a minute and say, “Is this the TV that I want?” Put that aside for a moment.

Dr. Robert C.: You’re exactly right. You have to step back and decide on the merits of the thing, not the scarcity of it. Do you want this thing? But there’s also a way to check and often it’s not in them moment. It’s later. If I was steered to a set of items on the menu that were the cheapest to produce, not the best, I would have to say to myself, “This is the best?” I’d be less likely to come back and with that television set, I went back the next day to see if there was that space on the shelf or they filled it with another one from the back room. There was a space on the shelf. They had done this for me and so I’m now able to recommend this place in a way that I wouldn’t have. In fact I would have done the opposite if I had found them to be lying. I would have said, “Don’t go here. They’re cheaters.”

Peter Bregman: That’s where trust plays in, which is the “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” In effect we could do a little bit of work to say, “Is this a trustworthy source and if so then I can go back to them.” As influencers ourselves we have to recognize that we’re never just making one sale, that we’re never just making one pitch, that we’re never just trying to influence one person in one way; we have a reputation. If the Web has made influence and selling the science that it is, it’s done the same thing for reputations so if you end up getting this reputation of being someone who influences unethically then I’m sure it would be easy to do the research to show that your sales go down.

Dr. Robert C.: Precisely. This is one of the things that we’ve been able to benefit from from technology, the Internet. There’s the ability to check on the reputation of the various kinds of sellers, people who are offering their services of one sort or another. We can check on that in ways that weren’t available to us before.

Peter Bregman: The answer is that ethics and marketing are two separate questions in some ways. One is a tool and one is how you use the tool and it’s no longer a question of whether or not to use the tool. We do. There’s this quote you have where you say, “No longer should we think of language as primarily a mechanism of conveyance, as a means for delivering a communicators perception of reality. Instead we should think of language as primarily a mechanism of influence, as a means of inducing recipients to share that conception or at least to act in accord with it.” That, in effect, “every time we speak it’s to move something somewhere in some direction in some way and when we see that we could be particularly thoughtful about how we speak in what way and what tools we’re using.”

Dr. Robert C.: Correct. I couldn’t say it better.

Peter Bregman: You couldn’t say it better because you did say it. That’s the advantage of quoting you.

Dr. Robert C.: But your characterization of it was right on.

Peter Bregman: Thank you. Talk to us a little bit about Pre-Suasion. You call it the prequel to Influence.

Dr. Robert C.: Yes. In the following sense: whereas “Influence” had to do with what you put into a message, what you load into it to move people in your direction, “Pre-Suasion” is about what you put into the moment before you deliver your message to make your audience attuned to what they are about to experience.

Peter Bregman: It’s almost like the warm-up act for a comedy that by the time the comedy gets onto the stage, everyone’s already laughing.

Dr. Robert C.: Yes, but the comedian wants to be sure that it’s a particular kind of warm up act that sets up the audience to be attuned to or sensitized to the kind of information that will be the strength of the main event.

Peter Bregman: It makes a tremendous amount of sense. What can you share with us? When you think about the essential advice of “Pre-Suasion,” it leverages these other six. What’s the big idea in it?

Dr. Robert C.: The big idea is that where we draw people’s attention in the moment before we deliver a message changes their view of what’s important about the next moment, about the information that will be in the next moment because when we focus someone’s attention on an idea or an image, that concept becomes overvalued in the recipient’s mind for a brief time.

Peter Bregman: So as an example, I run what we call The Leadership Intensive and it’s intensive. It’s a four-day experiential workshop. If I were to say to you, “Hey this workshop is scary to some people because it goes really deep.” That’s going to predispose you to maybe being a little afraid and being uncertain about it. If I were to say to you: “Do you like adventure? Are you an adventurous kind of guy because this Leadership Intensive very much takes you on an adventure of discovering your own leadership.” Am I thinking about this correctly?

Dr. Robert C.: You are and what that does is to then cause an individual to prioritize a search in the next set of material he or she receives for information that is consistent with this conception of adventurousness. Here’s the problem with a lot of modern day life: we are bombarded by all kinds of information and stimuli have multiple facets. Your job as a pre-suader for you program is to identify the strength of it, the essence of it, the thing that makes it most wise for individuals to say “I want to be part of this.”

Maybe it’s the concept of the search or the adventure or the exploration that is associated with that. You provide an image of an explorer or you provide an image of a downhill race or something that’s associated with adventurousness and exploration. That will cause your audience to search your material for that one thing and if that one thing is your strength, both sides win.

There’s a lovely study that was done by an online furniture store. For half of the visitors to their site they sent them to a landing page that had fluffy clouds in the background. The other half were sent to a landing page that had coins, in fact, pennies, small money in the background. Those who encountered the fluffy clouds then rated softness and comfort as more important as factors in deciding on what kind of sofa to purchase and they searched the site for information related to comfort and softness and they ultimately decided to prefer for purchase, comfortable furniture.

Those who went to the site with coins rated price as a factor that was most important for them in deciding. They searched for cost related information and ultimately decided to prefer inexpensive furniture for purchase.

Here’s the thing about it: that’s a little, to be honest, scary. When they were asked afterwords if the pre-suasive information that they got, coins or clouds, made any difference, they laughed and said “Of course not. I’m my own person. I know what my preferences are and I follow my internal preferences.” They never recognized that those preferences were shaped in the moment by the first set of concepts they encountered.

Peter Bregman: What’s interesting is that, and I’ve seen this research, where if you ask me was I influenced by those things, I would say “Absolutely not.” If you ask me, “Was that guy over there influenced by those things?” I could look at it and say “Absolutely, yeah. The guy, for sure.” We see how other people can be tricked but we don’t see it in ourselves in that way.

Dr. Robert C.: Right. That’s exactly right. If I were going to put on my consumer protection hat here, it would be to say to consumers “Look, don’t just examine what a communicator tells you inside his or her message for evidence of tricks or deception or misdirection. You have to look at the moment before the message because there’s leverage there that’s going to constrain the way you see the message in important ways. If you’re not looking at what that person did or arranged or said before, you’ve missed an important component of the influence process.”

Peter Bregman: Are you writing to marketers or are you writing to consumers or are you writing to both?

Dr. Robert C.: I’m writing mostly to people who want to harness this to produce good outcomes, good persuasive outcomes, but I am trying to infuse the information with admonitions to do this only in ethical ways for long term consequences and also for some consequences inside the organization that I talk about in one whole chapter. In organizations that use these strategies unethically, some people will feel uncomfortable with that deception and will leave.

What will remain is a precipitant of people who are comfortable with cheating and they will cheat you. They’ve been selected for it. We present research to show that those individuals who are comfortable with cheating outside of the organizational envelope are much more likely to cheat inside. They’re the ones who are going to steal equipment. They’re the ones who are going to run under the table deals with vendors and suppliers and customers.

You’ve pulled the viper under your coat. This stuff could be used ethically or unethically but there’s a good bottom line reason to be scrupulously honest inside the organization so that the culture allows the people with the best ethics to be operating inside the organizational envelope.

Peter Bregman: You know as I’m listening to you, I have an insight around this which is that for any of us who are marketing and almost all of us are in one form or another, we’re selling something, that it’s worth that moment in the morning, the moment before the conversation, the self-association to the ethics, to associate ourselves and say “What do I care most deeply about?”

Dr. Robert C.: Yes.

Peter Bregman: When I’m talking to someone about The Leadership Intensive, what do I care most deeply about? Let me get in touch, or a consulting project or whatever it is, what do I care most deeply about? Then to use whatever influencing methods we can to further that ethical purpose but to use your own tool to influence yourself to associate yourself with the real ethics that you have inside you and then you end up influencing yourself in such a way that you act from that place and there’s a safety in that in terms of how you show up in the world.

Dr. Robert C.: Right. I agree. That’s a bullseye observation.

Peter Bregman: Dr. Robert Cialdini is who is with us today. The book is “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” My suggestion is buy both his books: “Influence,” and “Pre-Suasion.” They’re both excellent books. Bob you’re a terrific guest and it’s so fun for me to have this conversation with you and to have you put color to the ideas and also to really have this conversation around ethics which I feel is so important and I know you feel is so important. You’ve given us tools to be a magician so now we have to use the magician for the light side as opposed to the dark side.

Dr. Robert C.: Right, right.

Peter Bregman: Thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Dr. Robert C.: I have to say I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Peter Bregman: If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive, as well as access to my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit PeterBregman.Com. Thank you to Claire Marshall for producing this episode and to Brian Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.

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