They say that to change the mind, the influencer must also change the ‘state of mind’. Pre-suasion may sound like a new term, but it could be the key to optimal persuasion. In this episode, Dr. Diane Hamilton sits down with Dr. Robert Cialdini, widely known as “The Godfather of Influence.” He is also the New York Times bestselling author ofPre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. As the founder of the Cialdini Institute, Dr. Cialdini has made a profound impact on the fields of sales, emotional intelligence, curiosity, and perception. Today, he discusses his book and the differences between influence, persuasion, and pre-suasion, unraveling the nuances that set them apart. Dr. Cialdini explores the concept of influence itself, reflecting on who actually possesses influence and how to acquire it. As the conversation continues, Dr. Cialdini investigates the evolving nature of social influence and its remarkable role in capturing people’s attention. He also discusses the powerful art of promising and delivering value. The discussion takes many intriguing turns, ending with Dr. Cialdini’s various research works and a challenge to ponder the future of education. Tune in now and learn how to influence and persuade!
I’m so glad you joined us because my guest is Dr. Robert Cialdini. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Influenceand Pre-Suasion. He’s a keynote speaker and the Founder of the Cialdini Institute. I am so excited to have you here. Welcome, Dr. Cialdini.
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Influencing Minds, Transforming Lives: The Power Of Pre-suasion With Dr. Robert Cialdini
Thank you, Diane. I’m looking forward to our interaction.
We talked a little before the show. Both my brother and sister had taken your class at ASU, and I’m so bummed I didn’t get to take that class. I took Meyers. I took all the other ones.
I’m sorry, too, because they were good students. I’m sure you would be as well.
My sister said you got her up on stage, and she was terrified, but you were really funny. She said everybody loved you in the class. My brother said you actually had him do an experiment on how much people would pick up trash at Legend City.
We did a study on what caused people to litter in public places and what we could do to prevent that. How could we reduce the likelihood that people would despoil the environment by littering into it? He was part of that.
That’s so interesting because I think that a lot of your work ties into a lot of things I’ve been interested in and studied. I’ve studied a lot to deal with sales, emotional intelligence, curiosity, and perception. A lot of what you deal with ties into that. I want to start out a little bit, going back to influence because that’s the big blockbuster that you got a lot of recognition for. What’s interesting to me is to define influence but also to compare. I’d like to know how it differs from persuasion and pre-suasion and how you define those.
Influence involves change. It means you can’t claim to have influenced anyone unless you can register a change. It could be in an attitude, a belief, or behavior. If you have arranged for people to move in a particular direction, and most likely your direction, you have influenced them. You can influence in a lot of different ways. You can order people to do something if you’re in charge of them. You can pay them to do it. If you have the resources, you can penalize them if they don’t do it. If you’re some regulatory agency, you can even trick people into doing something to cause them to change. For me, the key is persuasion, in which you don’t mobilize them into action by power. You do it by authority influence.
That shows them that what you have to offer is in their best interest. They believe you, they trust you, and that’s the case. You do that by being ethical about the process. Pre-suasion is the last thing that you mentioned. The book, Influence, was about what persuasive techniques you put into a message to move people in your direction to get them to agree with what you have to offer.
Pre-Suasion is what you do immediately before you send your message to put them in a state of mind that’s receptive to the core features of your message, the things that are most beneficial for them in that message. It’s a piece of persuasive real estate that exists before we make our case. Most people don’t see that as a destination for influencing people. I wrote a book on how to do it.
It’s interesting to define those words because persuasion sometimes is what we consider contranym, people see it as maybe cajoling or seducing, and then other people see it as positive. You’re obviously talking in the positive realm.
I’m talking about informing people about the ascent and educating them on the right choice to make.
It’s been a while since I’ve read some of your work. You have it all updated, and it’s fun to see the updates that you’ve included. How do you look at social influence now? Do you take credit for any of that of how people have utilized what you studied to be so successful at getting people’s attention?
I don’t take credit for the psychological principles that lead people to move in the direction of a communicator. We did categorize them and give them labels and meanings that allowed people to recognize when they were in the situation available for use or when they were being used on us in ways that we might want to deflect or reject. In that sense, there are names that we’ve associated with them and meanings that we’ve attributed that I can take some responsibility for.
You had written that your initial thought was not to write a book to help people sell and market and all that. It was more about telling if you were influenced.
It was for the consumer how to recognize, resist, deflect, and so on. Undo or unwelcome influence attempts. The interesting thing was that no consumer group ever called the publication of my book, but my phone hasn’t stopped ringing with requests from marketers, advertisers, salespeople, or managers saying, “How do we harness this set of powerful principles of human behavior?”
It is very powerful. You cannot get on a webinar seminar. This is what we offer. This is what you would get if you bought it all. By the time you get to the end, it’s really a different price. That’s a lot of what you were researching of promising a lot.
What I did was not stay located in the academic community and the journals of our profession of persuasion science. I actually infiltrated, undercover, as many of the training programs as I could get access to from the professions whose business it is to get others to say yes to them. I entered sales, marketing, fundraising, public relations, training programs, and so on to see what they were saying worked for them. It’s to see what was effective outside of the laboratories in which academics were studying the persuasion process, what really worked in the influence wars that are being fought all around us every day.
Did you have a sales or marketing background at all? I know you taught Marketing. I know you’re professor emeritus for both Psychology and Marketing at ASU. Did you have that background prior to all of this research, in sales or marketing, or did you gain it later?
Here is my background. I was a sucker in my life for the appeals of various salespeople or fundraisers who would come to my door. I remember standing in unwanted possession of magazine subscriptions or having given contributions to causes and charities I’d never heard of. Saying to myself that I didn’t want that thing that I had just purchased because of its features. It must have been the way that the features were presented to me, the psychological hooks that were incorporated into the presentation, into the delivery of the thing that got me to move in that direction. Isn’t that interesting? That would be worth studying what those psychological hooks are.
You’ve obviously broken it down in a way that people can learn so much about how to market better and how to sell better, even though it wasn’t your initial intention to go that direction. Everybody bought into how important this is to get their message out. It’s important to go back, who has influence, or how can we get it? Let’s go back to the beginning of the basics of your book.
I think we all have the potential to be influential, although some of us make much more use of it than others.
In my experience being in sales for decades, you’re raised a certain way. You’re around a certain style. You get a certain reward from doing certain things in your youth that you go, “That works.” I don’t see that other people had that same background experience. How much did you see or upbringing influencing their style and sales and all these training courses that you attended? Did you find out any more about your counterparts?
I’ll tell you what I learned about myself there. I was born into an entirely Italian family in a predominantly Polish neighborhood in a historically German city, Milwaukee, in an otherwise rural state. I realized that in each one of those settings, the rules were a little different about how you best communicate, how you best persuade, and how you make an argument that’s going to be successful. I realized that the proper way to approach every situation is not to have a favorite persuasive tactic or approach.
You have to take a look at the situation and what’s there available, honestly, for you to engage and then bring it to the surface, make it the core focus of your appeal based on what the people in that situation resonate to, historically or, perhaps as you say, because of some history that they have precedence that they might have had growing up.
I had Daniel Goleman on the show. We talked a lot about emotional intelligence and how it tied into curiosity since I studied curiosity. In a lot of my research, I found that your environment has a big influence on your curiosity. People with whom you’ve had contact as part of what I found of the four factors. It’s so fascinating in sales and when you’re marketing and all this because I think a lot of people want to do a canned approach of selling the way they would like to receive the message. That can be really problematic if you don’t get that empathy and that perspective. Don’t you think that emotional intelligence plays a big role?
That’s a great insight. People sometimes ask me. My clients will say, “What should I be looking for? What’s the one trait I should be looking for in a salesperson? My answer is empathy. Somebody who doesn’t judge what is the most appropriate or likely effective approach in this situation by self-reflection, looking inside themselves, but empathizing with the market. Who are the people that you’re speaking to? What are they likely to resonate with? What are they most likely to find congruent with the way they like to make their choices? It’s that ability to get out of yourself, put yourself into the shoes, into the head of the people that you’re trying to influence that makes you the superior persuasive communicator.
Does that require curiosity to build empathy so you know which questions to ask to get there?
It’s curiosity seasoned with self-interest. If you know the right questions to ask, you’re going to be more successful in that process.
How do you know the right questions to ask?
You know the right questions to ask by looking into the situation and seeing what’s available for you there in terms of the factors that are residing in that situation. I claim that there are seven universal principles of influence. One of them is authority. Another one is social proof. Another one is scarcity. When you look into the situation, are there true authorities whose opinion you can point to that support your position? Use that and bring that to prominence.
Is there true consensus or popularity associated with what it is that you are offering that’s essentially social proof? Bring that to the surface. Is there a genuine dwindling opportunity or uniqueness about that scarcity? Bring that to the surface. You never treat these people unethically. You are simply pointing to something in the situation that already exists.
You’re not counterfeiting it or manufacturing it in any way that is dishonest. Both sides benefit from knowing about true authority, knowing true popularity, seizing genuine, scarce opportunities, and so on. Who loses under those circumstances? I don’t think anybody loses. As a result, you have a long-term partner. Somebody’s likely to want to come back to you the next time they’re interested in some commercial exchange.
You mentioned the principles that you added the identity principle later.
It’s something we call unity.
What made you add that? Why wasn’t it there originally? I’m just curious about the background on that.
I always thought that it was an accelerant to the others. The unity principle is that people say yes to those. They see as one of them, those people who they would be able to use the term we to describe that they share a social identity. If you can honestly bring that to the surface that you are in that category, all influence and barriers come down. I always thought that if you could do that along with scarcity, you’d increase the effectiveness of each of the principles. I recognize that this one stands alone. It doesn’t need those other principles to work.
It can work by itself. I’ll give you an example. In a study that was done on a university campus where researchers asked a young woman who was of college age to dress like a college student, go on to a heavy traffic part of campus, and ask for donations to a good cause, the United Way. She was similar to them. One of the principles we talk about is liking.
You like people who are like you. She was getting some contributions, but if they asked her to add one sentence to her request to say before she made the request for a donation, “I’m a student here too.” Donations increased by 450%. It wasn’t just being similar to somebody. That person is of you and your group. She is one of you. That changes everything. It deserved a space in my new version of the book and a new chapter.
We’re seeing a lot less of people feeling like they can relate sometimes with social media and the news and all this. I remember talking to my sister a little. She said she loved when you got into cognitive dissonance in class. She was curious about your opinion on how it relates to politics and what we’re seeing. Have you done anything in that realm?
We’ve done some research on the idea of unity and the extent to which people feel unity within their political parties, for example. We see it happening. Those individuals who are of the same party as some prominent politician excuse that person’s various faults and violations, and it doesn’t matter. It’s that he or she is one of us that drives the decision for how to vote or how to contribute and so on both sides.
What you’re seeing is something very common tendency to favor and follow those who share a category, a sense of togetherness or we-ness. There’s a small thing, for example, that I talk about these days that is possible to get people to feel that sense of we-ness with us when we’re asking for their support. Let’s say you’re at work and you have an idea for a new initiative, and if it’s successful and you move it up the ladder, your reputation will be burnished and advanced inside your organization.
To do so, you need the support of your colleagues, who will agree with you and go to bathe for you on this new initiative. What we typically do is to show them a summary, a draft, or an outline of our idea and try to get their support by saying, “Can you give me your opinion on this? I would really appreciate it.” Getting their support is exactly the right thing to do so that you can move it up the ladder. Asking for that person’s opinion is a mistake because when you ask for an opinion, you get a critic.
You get somebody who does the opposite of coming together with you. They take a half step back from you psychologically. They separate, and they go inside themselves and evaluate the pros and cons. They give you a critique. If you change one word and instead of asking for their opinion, you ask for their advice, you get a partner. You get someone who is a collaborator with you now on this project, on this idea.
The research is very clear. Not only do you get more support for your idea, but you also get better recommendations for how to modify or improve your idea because they’re of you. They’re now of the project. They’re not just evaluating it from a distance. With that one word, you have created somebody who is a collaborator and a cooperator with you on the project.
That’s important. It’s interesting to get other people’s input in the right way. I think of a situation where even going back to Daniel Goleman talking about it for emotional intelligence. He was saying that he thought you needed 360 evaluation to get a really good idea of your emotional intelligence level. I’ve talked to certain people in the business setting where they’ve done 360 evaluations where people all chime in. They all look at everybody’s evaluations and talk about it in a public forum. That would be the absolute worst scenario, wouldn’t it?
If you get a lot of divisiveness in there, a lot of differences of opinion, but you can change that by not asking for their opinion. The newest research shows their feedback. Asking for their feedback produces the same inferior result. They step away from you rather than with you. I’m trying to remember who it was who said this quote. I’m blanking on his name now, but he said, “When we ask for advice, we’re usually looking for an accomplice.”
That’s great. I love that quote.
I love it too. Here’s what the research shows. If you get the advice, you get that accomplice. You’ve got a group of people who are with you on this because they’ve become part of the proposal themselves by contributing their advice to it.
There are a lot of other aspects to what everybody’s trying to do in sales and reaching customers. I wrote a brand publishing course for Forbes many years ago. I remember the CMOs were all struggling with how to reach their customers with a personalized message at scale. That was the real challenge because it’s easy to do when it’s a small group. We have ChatGPT. We have all these new tools since your initial research on how we reach people.
I’m curious, how do you think this kind of technology is going to impact people? Can you use artificial intelligence to accomplish that at scale in any way, eventually? If not now, because you’ve got this artificial intelligence in there that can do different things based on if they recognize maybe it builds a false empathy or something. How does that relate to what you’ve seen, and what do you think of ChatGPT in that realm?
It’s already being done even before there was ChatGPT.
Is it any different now?
It’s going to be more efficient. It’s going to be easier to collect that information about any one individual. You can scrape the internet and get all kinds of information about people ahead of time to say what is likely to move that person in your direction. Craft a message that is aligned with that. It’s going to make that more efficient. It’s going to be able to do it quickly and with a press of a button sometimes. What worries me is the propensity for deception in there and the extent to which it’s possible to create fakes of one sort or another.
Deepfakes, for example. What we have to have online is a set of penalties for people who use that in the same way that we penalize deceptive advertising, for example. We should have a system that allows us to penalize fake misinformation that we receive so that those people are sanctioned for that. I don’t know what will happen to us. We’ll be without any moorings when we don’t know what’s true anymore. We have to have some guardrails in place to sting those people who would take advantage of this.
It’s really hard. Those deepfakes are so real. It’s amazing what they could do. My daughter used to work for FetchBack, so I saw a lot of retargeting and all that when that first came out. I’ve seen behind the curtain a little bit in some of these companies what they were able to do in the past, but what it’s turned into, to me, is hard to fathom how they can catch some of this. I agree.
They do need to have some warnings about this. It’s a big deal because in universities now, you can write your whole entire paper. It’s harder for the teachers to catch this sometimes. I went to ASU, and I remember we relied more on assessments than papers at that time. I see more reliance on papers than assessments. Do you think that that’s going to flip-flop? What do you see in the education realm?
There’s always going to be a push and a pull. It’s like what’s happening with fake reviews, where companies that will purchase fake reviewers have their employees generate these things and so on. There are algorithms that the review sites are developing to catch those, which then causes the fakers to find other ways. It’s always going to be this push and pull. It’s regrettable, but it’s what we have to do. We have to be as much on the offensive as on the defensive to reduce this. For example, there’s an interesting study. You know the number of stars that you get for any product, service, or book that you have produced. One of the most interesting things, I wrote a new version of Influence.
Our finding was that having a five-star review is not optimal. People assume that you’ve cheated to get there. The best review number in terms of getting a conversion from a visitor to your site to a convert is the range between 4.3 and 4.7 stars. Below 4.3, people say, “Maybe not so hot.” Above 4.7, with a large number of reviewers, people say, “This looks fishy to me.” Where everybody’s on guard for that problem associated with fakes, we have to be able to evolve, catch them, and penalize them constantly.
That’s interesting because we become numb to these reviews in a way because we’ve seen so much of this happening. I’ve had people contact me when you write books. They’re like, “Do you want us to make this look good or that look good?” I love that you focus on Ethics. I taught a lot of Ethics courses in my day and thousands of business courses. Most of them touch on some form of Ethics. I noticed that in your book, you wrote about the Tylenol case, which comes up a lot in my courses. The one thing I didn’t know, and I forgot until I reread your book, was that everybody was playing the lottery numbers. I love that statistic. Can you tell that story?
Somebody went in and put poison capsules into Tylenol bottles on the shelves of various drug stores. When it became public that this was going on, the news media sent out the bin numbers of those bottles that had these poisonous capsules inserted in them. There were particular kinds of places where this happened and certain bin numbers associated with the bottles that were despoiled. Those numbers people started playing those numbers on the lottery because they were at the top of consciousness.
This idea that what is top of mind is the thing that guides behavior is essentially the logic of my book Pre-Suasion, where if you can, before you send your message, put the concept that is central to your message into the intellectual environment of that person, that potential buyer before they encounter your message, it will be top of mind and what is top of mind guides behavior without any necessary logical reason for it, except that it is salient.
It’s fascinating how we do that without even recognizing that. I know you train people to learn some of these techniques and how we think. I wanted to get to what you’re doing at the Cialdini Institute because I don’t know if a lot of people are familiar with this. I found it fascinating because I know it’s about learning programs for companies and universities, and of course, that’s right up my alley to learn about this stuff. I want to know. Certification programs are the new education these days instead of maybe as more so than degree programs growing and growing in terms of popularity. I’ve written certain certification programs as well. What do you do at the Cialdini Institute? Please give me a little background about what that is.
We have an online, on-demand program for employing ethical influence for business success. You can purchase that program and become a Cialdini Ethical Influence Practitioner at the end of that, with the knowledge of what the research says are the best ways to elevate your success while elevating the outcomes of the people who you convince to come in your direction. As a result, you can take that forward. We also have the ability to get involved in a coaching program. After you’ve taken the Practitioner’s Program, you can become a coach or engage a coach to help you every day or every week with the implementation and the application of what you learned in an ongoing way.
I saw some great reviews. I’m thinking the McDonald’s, you increased sales by 55%. I was looking at all the big company names of the percentage increases that you’ve helped. I love that Warren Buffett said, “Influence is one of the best books of all time.” You have some great reviews on your site, about your work and the site and all the things that you offer there. Is this where you spend most of your time, the institute, or what else do you have going on at the same time? Are you still writing books? Are you not teaching at ASU anymore?
I’m retired to do writing. I wrote the scripts for all of the recordings within that program. We’re doing that. I also engage in research with my fellow former graduate students who are on the faculty of other universities. We collaborate and continue to do research because I love it. You study curiosity. That’s one of my weaknesses. I’m a curious man to a fault. I’m still cranking the research machine.
Warren Buffett’s quote on research on curiosity was, “You need a lot of curiosity for a long time.” Everybody quotes Einstein and everybody else, but what I found interesting about curiosity is the lack of great research that you can get to tie it into engagement and innovation. I mean, the actual numbers, like you’re going to save X, Y, Z numbers. If you ask ChatGPT or any of those sites, they’ll say, “It’s intuitive.” A lot of companies want to see data. Have you ever done anything in that realm and studied data like that?
It’s not about curiosity but about each of the seven principles of influence. One of our pillars is that we only present recommendations that are based on scientifically grounded, properly controlled research. If those numbers aren’t there, we don’t make a claim for them. We don’t go on the basis of punches, speculations, or anecdotes. It’s got to be based on Science and grounded in proper research.
It’s fun that you went in and did all that research as far as taking the courses at the sales reps. I bet that must have been fascinating and exhausting at the same time.
The most interesting research project of my life was being essentially a spy of sorts and going undercover into all of these training programs where people were telling me what worked for them. I’ll have to say there was an interesting feature of it because I was in all kinds of domains. If I was in, let’s say, a marketing program, they would say, “Marketing is not the same as sales.” If I went to an advertising training program, they say, “Advertising isn’t the same as marketing.”
If I went to public relations, they would say, “Public relations isn’t the same as advertising,” and for charities and solicitations, that’s not the same as these others. They were right. They were each different, but they were missing something crucial in focusing on the differences between them and their sister disciplines. They weren’t asking, “What’s the same?” That’s what I looked for. It turned out there were seven things that were the same that everybody was using whose business it is to get people to say yes to.
That’s so important. I worked for AstraZeneca for nearly twenty years. In the training programs, one thing I found interesting was that they had me do as a sales rep. They had me work with the marketing department to look at their visuals and take them out into the field and see it from a salesperson’s perspective. They were ahead of their time. In fact, they would rate us. This is 1980. At one point, they were rating us on our concern for the impact of how much we cared and how we came across to others. You didn’t see that back then.
All the stuff that has come out since then has been so fascinating. You were obviously behind so much of what everybody has come to learn of how to reach people the way they want to be reached and then to get the impact that we want to have and to have this great influence. I was very excited to have you on the show. I wanted to know if there’s anything that you want to talk about before we go. I know you’ve got a big webinar with the Cialdini Institute. I’m going to put this up on YouTube in case anybody wants to join that. Anything else that you want to share, any websites or anything?
Cialdini.com is the link to the website for the launch webinar, where they’ll be able to get access to what we have to offer and the rationale for why that might be in their interests. We’re excited about this. I don’t like to say we’re excited about this. Have you heard anybody who doesn’t say, “We’re very excited about this? This is something great.” Here’s what I’ll say, I’m enthusiastic about it.
This will be ongoing, but they can go anytime, right?
Dr. Robert Cialdini is the New York Times Bestselling Author of Influence and Pre-Suasion, a Keynote Speaker, and the Founder of the Cialdini Institute. He is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.
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