Guest Post: Puppets on a string? 60-seconds on the hidden forces of influence…

PREsuasion is a tricky read. Not because it’s a stiff book by a creaky academic; quite the opposite. It’s the simplicity of Robert Cialdini’s message that’s the challenge. It’s the force of the evidence that makes it hard to take.

I’m a rational person – the master of my own destiny. So I wouldn’t feel warm towards a stranger because we were meeting over a hot drink; I wouldn’t value one business proposal over another because it weighed more. And I absolutely wouldn’t shift my political views based on a throwaway metaphor or a well-placed Union Jack.

The problem is this – Cialdini’s research suggests otherwise. We’re vulnerable to all manner of irrelevant cues. And while it feels gratifyingly superior to accept this on everyone else’s behalf, it’s quite another thing to take personally. To kiss goodbye to the fallacy that my decisions are my own. To take the red pill and head to Zion…

But big gulp – I’m more honest when the lights are up and more creative when they’re down. I’m primed for ‘look-at-me’ products during the ad break of a Rom-Com, because I’m craving attention. But it was all about ‘fitting-in’ when last night’s Halloween Horror had me quivering behind the sofa. Because there’s safety in the crowd.

And ok, I’ll adopt a harsher stance on crime if a politician paints it as a raging beast, rampaging through the city. Put those savages behind bars! But if she changes the metaphor, my beliefs will dutifully follow behind. Oh, it’s a spreading disease now? Let’s work together to find a cure.

You won’t have missed the potential for manipulation – it keeps Cialdini up at night. But while he warns against unethical subterfuge, he argues persuasively for the flip-side. That while this armoury of implicit influence can be misused, it can also be aimed at small yet paradigm-shifting behaviours. Re-use that towel in your hotel room; turn off that light. And yes, speak up, share ideas and embrace progression in the workplace.

Those of us on a mission to inspire such norms might like to take a look.

(Read PREsuasion by Robert Cialdini. And remember – with great power comes great responsibility – Spiderman, 1962).


This guest post was kindly provided by James Elfer. He is a director at MoreThanNow, a people and change consultancy applying behavioural insights to the world of work. You can follow him on Twitter here.

As with all our guest posts, the views expressed above are those of the guest author and they do not necessarily represent the position of the Rational Think Tank.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay; the post first appeared on Linkedin)