The book talks about various psychological tactics used by compliance practitioners like salespeople, waiters, car dealers, and fundraisers to influence us into saying yes to something to which ideally we would have said no.
The author went and took sales jobs as a car salesman and waiter to see these tactics in action.
He referred to these tactics as six weapons of influence. Each of them forms the basis of a chapter in the book.
Weapons of influence
Weapons of influence consist of identifying fixed action patterns and exploiting them. Compliance practitioners use them as a basis for influence.
Fixed action patterns
Mother turkey looks for “cheep-cheep” sounds to recognize babies. Anything making that sound, including a stuffed look-alike of the enemy polecat, gets motherly treatment. A child look-alike not producing that sound will be treated with suspicion and sometimes even killed.
These automatic fixed-pattern actions work well most of the time. These actions usually work to our advantage and simplify our lives, but the same trigger features can be used for duping us. For example, with humans, just adding the word “because” to a request increases the chance of the request being accepted (source). These fixed-pattern actions are pretty prevalent in humans since, in many cases, they are the most efficient form of behavior, and in some cases, they are necessary. Such patterns reduce brain strain by allowing us to act without thinking in every situation.
More examples of fixed action patterns in action,
- Mailed out coupons providing no savings (due to printing errors) produced the same customer response as one containing the discounts.
- Photuris females mimic the mating signal of Photinus females to attract and eat their prey (Photinus males).
- Two brothers were running a tailor shop, one would say a higher price (42$) while the other would pretend to mishear it (22$), and the customer would rush to buy it for 24$ before the second brother would realize the apparent mistake.
Humans perceive things which are presented one after the other differently than those shown in isolation.
- The act of showing an inexpensive product before an expensive one causes the latter to look even more costly. Cloth sellers will try to make the buyer buy the most expensive item on their list first.
- Real estate companies have set up properties that are expensive or run-down properties. They lower customers’ expectations so that, later on, when they see an actual house, they like it.
- Automobile dealers negotiate a new car’s price first before suggesting add-ons.
Reciprocation (rule 1)
Rule – we should try to repay in kind, what another person has provided us.
There is a general distaste for those who make no effort to reciprocate. We will often go to great lengths to avoid being seen as one of them. This rule is so overpowering that even if we don’t like someone, we can end up complying with their request. Thus, we end up reciprocating their earlier favor, solicited or otherwise, to us.
- Hare Krishna society members would forcefully give a flower to a passerby before asking for donations.
- Lyndon Johnson was able to get a lot of bills passed by calling in on favors, which he had provided earlier to other elected representatives. Jimmy Carter failed because he had no such favors to call on.
- Even a free sample can engage a person in a reciprocity rule. Most people find it difficult to leave without buying anything after trying a free sample.
- Amway agents give BUG, a free collection of products to potential customers to try for a few days. Customers who have used the product find it difficult not to buy it later.
- In World War I, a German soldier crossed the no man’s land to capture an enemy soldier. He came across an unsuspecting enemy soldier eating, who offered his bread to him. This act forced the German soldier to return without capturing him.
The rule forces uninvited debt. We are expected to reciprocate for actions provided to us by others irrespective of whether we have asked for them or not.
- American Veterans society increased its response rate from 18% to 35% by adding an unsolicited gift.
- A woman allowing a man to buy her drinks (willingly or unwillingly) is judged sexually more available (by both men and women) to that man.
One way to increase the chances of a request being accepted is to make a larger one that will most likely be turned down first. After the refusal, make a second request as a concession. The first request mustn’t be extreme enough to be considered unreasonable.
- Watergate burglary looks like a ridiculous idea to outsiders. It happened because G. Gordon Liddy made three different proposals in succession. Each being a concession to the previous. His last one got accepted because the committee wanted to send him away with something.
- If there is an expensive and a cheap model of a product, it’s better to advertise the expensive one first — the act of selling down works better than selling up.
We feel more responsible and satisfied after agreeing to a concession. We think we have brought that change.
How to say no
It’s essential to identify that we are being pulled into reciprocation for commercial reasons. The act of mental redefinition, in that case, will tell us to avoid reciprocating when the original action had a commercial intent.
Commitment and consistency (rule 2)
After making a choice or taking a stand, personal and interpersonal pressures force us to behave consistently with it. Our culture values good personal consistency. Stubborn consistency also allows us to avoid thinking. Once we have made up our minds, we don’t have to think about it again.
- People soliciting charity over the phone first ask, “How are you doing?”. Once someone has publicly asserted that they are doing fine, it’s inconsistent and awkward to appear stingy later when asked for a donation.
- During the Korean War, Chinese communists would ask US PoWs for writing relatively innocent statements such as “US is not perfect” or “unemployment is not an issue in a communist country.” Once they had made remarks along those lines, they got asked for more. To stay consistent, many went to the extent of becoming a collaborator.
Agreeing to small requests may appear inconsequential in the beginning. But altering someone’s self-image makes them even more exploitable. Even when people knew that someone was required to write an article in favor of an issue, they assume that the writer is pro-issue. Fraternity houses exploit another extreme form of commitment. A person has to go through a lot of pain before attaining their membership. They end up valuing it more often than someone who achieves it with a small effort. We are more consistent in our commitment if we believe that we did it for our purpose rather than external pressure. Even an external reward counts as external pressure. Thus, it’s a bad idea to bribe children since they will never realize that their inner voice wants it.
How to say no
Ask yourself, “Would I make the same choice again?” (had it not been for what I have said or what has been extracted out of me by the compliance practitioner in the near past).
If the answer is no, then don’t confabulate the reason for saying yes, say no and move on.
Social proof (rule 3)
Rule – We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.
The more the number of people doing it, the more the rule works into making us believe that the behavior is correct.
We use behavior of people (like us) to determine proper behavior for ourselves.
- Canned laughter (laughing track) causes viewers to laugh longer and more often. It is more effective in poor jokes.
- Bartenders seed their tip jars with a few dollars to give the impression that tipping is the norm.
- The massacre of Jonestown – people, followed each other to drink poison and committed mass suicide. They were in a new place, and they just followed what fellow members (like them) did.
- Kids learn more about their capabilities from other children than from adults.
- Werther effect – a front-page suicide story leads to 58 more unusual suicides in the following month. Airline crashes are more deadly in that time frame as well.
The devastating version of this is “pluralistic ignorance effect”, wherein a group of strangers, no one reacts to the situation. If you fall in a situation where you need help, then to avoid this effect, pick out a person from the group and assign a task to that individual.
How to say no
Recognize when the social proof is deliberately faked (e.g., canned laughter). Recognize where social proof is a snowball. A snowball is when no one knows anything, and everyone believes that everyone else knows something which they don’t. In both of these cases, stop following the crowd. The social proof autopilot is good in most cases, but you should control it from time to time.
Liking (rule 4)
What causes liking?
- Physical attractiveness – a halo effect occurs when a particular positive characteristic of a person dominates how others view that person. Physical attractiveness is often such a characteristic. Further, we don’t even recognize that we are basing our decision on someone’s looks. Studies have shown that handsome men have received lighter prison sentences. Attractive people have an easier time persuading others. The only time it works against them is when others see them as a direct competitor. That usually happens in a romantic context. Adults view aggressive acts as naughty by attractive kids. Teachers think attractive kids are more intelligent than unattractive ones.
- Similarity – We like people who are like us. Car salesman looks for cues of things like golf to relate and show themselves similar to the customer. Since we grew up looking ourselves in the mirror, we prefer reverse image (left and right switched) of our face. Our friends prefer our actual image.
- Compliments – We are phenomenal suckers of flattery. Positive comments produce just as much liking for flatterer when they are untrue as when they are true.
- Contact and cooperation – Familiarity with someone (based on last name, appearance, etc.) plays a role in our decision making. Familiarity produced by being in contact with someone produces greater liking. The reverse happens if the experience is competitive or distasteful.
- Conditioning and association – Someone who is in a role to regularly provides negative news gets a negative connotation and vice-versa. People do assume that we have the same personality traits as our friends. Men who saw a car with an attractive young model rated it as better. They, even, later refused that the model had any effect on their judgment. Thus, an advertiser needs to establish a positive connection. The connection does not have to be logical. Luncheon technique works because while eating, people become fonder of the people and things that they experience. We purposefully manipulate the visibility of our connections with winners and losers. If our team wins then, “we won”, if our team loses, then, “they lost”. When our public image is damaged, we try to repair it by showing our ties to successful others and avoiding unsuccessful others. These traits are more visible in people with poor self-concept. Some people strive to inflate their connection to people who succeeded while some try to boost the success of their connections.
Some more examples,
- The strength of a social bond is twice as likely to produce a product sale then the preference for the product itself. That’s what works for Tupperware.
- Joe Girard used the liking rule to sell cars and became a Guinness record holder.
How to say no
Keep your feelings for the requestor and the request separate. If you like the requester, do not automatically like the request.
Authority (rule 5)
We obey authorities mindlessly in a lot of cases. We usually see an order from an authority in isolation instead of seeing the situation as a whole.
We are as vulnerable to symbols of authority as to its substance.
- Titles – someone being introduced as a professor is seen taller by students than someone being introduced as a graduate student.
- Clothes and other outward appearances – Motorists wait much longer before honking on a new luxury car than an old car. And people, when asked about it, underestimate that effect.
How to say no
Ask yourself, “is this authority truly an expert?”. Think about what does this expert stands to gain by my compliance. An expert has a higher chance of swaying us if we think he is impartial.
Scarcity (rule 6)
The thought of losing something motivates us more than the idea of gaining something of similar value. We believe that things that are difficult to own are usually better than things that are easy to hold. Thus, the scarcity of an item indicates that the item should be better. As opportunities become less available, we lose freedom. And we hate to lose the freedom we already have. Freedom, once granted, will not be relinquished without a fight. When KGB tried to take back freedoms granted to Soviet citizens by Gorbachev, people retaliated.
Some more examples:
- Young boys run for toys behind obstructions than the one lying in front of them.
- Parental interference in a romantic relation causes the partners to view each other more critically. They also report a greater number of negative behaviors. But it also leads to greater love and desire for marriage.
- We value banned information as more valuable. To popularize certain views, it’s better to get them censored and then publicize the censorship.
- Revolutions happen more often when there are periods of improvement in economic and social conditions followed by a sharp reversal of the same (“contrasting principle”)
- Parents who enforce discipline inconsistently produce rebellious children. They allow leeway on occasions and then take it back.
- The passion of an indifferent lover surges when a rival comes in.
- Scarcity and rivalry together are way stronger than scarcity. ABC lost $2 million by bidding $3.3 million for a single showing of The Poseidon Adventure. It happened because of scarcity created by bidding between rivals ABC, CBS, and NBC.
How to say no
The real enjoyment is in experiencing something than just possessing it. The scarcity pushes us into buying things just for the sake of owning them. Think about whether you are going after something because it is scarce or because it is useful.