Dr. Robert Cialdini has spent his entire career researching the science of influencing and earning him an international reputation as an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance and negotiation. His new book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade is now becoming a Wall Street Journal and New York Time’s Bestseller as well . He’s frequently regarded as “the godfather of influence”.
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Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade – Dr. Robert Cialdini
Welcome to The Successful Pitch. Today’s guest is Dr. Robert Cialdini who has spent his entire career researching the science of influencing and earning him an international reputation as an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance and negotiation. His books including Influence, Science and Practice are the result of decades of peer reviewed research on why people comply with request. Influence has sold an impressive three million plus copies. It’s a New York Time’s Bestseller and it’s been published in over, get this, 30 languages. His new book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade is now becoming a Wall Street Journal and New York Time’s Bestseller as well because of this worldwide recognition, his cutting edge scientific research and his ethical business and policy applications. He’s frequently regarded as “the godfather of influence”. Welcome to the show.
Thank you, John. I’m pleased to be with you and your followers.
It’s so fascinating to see your interesting and worldwide global influence, obviously, on people. One of the questions I always like to ask my guests is, you’ve been on Larry King, you have clients like Google and Microsoft and a wide variety of insurance companies and obviously, Harvard University, when you were first starting your career, did you ever imagine you would have this kind of influence in the world?
I never did, John. That expectation was confirmed for the first three or four years of my book, Influence, which pretty much did nothing when it first came out. Then all of a sudden, it started to sell, reaching bestseller levels where it stayed ever since. The best I can interpret that is in terms of something that happened in the society that we live in. Right around that time when it started to sell, the idea of evidence based decision making began to take over the major institutions of our society. Business, government, education, fundraising, even sports. People needed to make their decisions based on data, based on evidence. The book Influence at the time had provided a compendium of research based evidence on how to get people to say yes to a request or a proposal or a recommendation. It was all right there in this one place. I think that’s what accounts for the popularity of the book ever since.
Fascinating. It didn’t just start off as a bestseller. I think when someone sees your kind of influence and success, they just assume, “He’s never had to overcome any challenges or obstacles in your life,” but it sounds like it wasn’t a hit from the get go from what you just said.
That fits with the thesis of the new book, Pre-Suasion, is that it doesn’t matter how good a seed you have, if the ground hasn’t been prepared ahead of time, it’s not going to bear fruit until that cultivation is done. Something else has to happen first for the thing really to get leverage and traction.
[Tweet “Pre-Suasion: Plant seeds in fertile soil to get a yes.”]
You talk about that in your book Pre-Suasion where it says, “There’s a privileged moment for change that you need to have to get people to be receptive to your message.” Can you expound upon that? I love the analogy of the fruit of soil.
Privileged moments are those moments that occur just before a message is delivered so as to create a state of mind in recipients that’s consistent with the forthcoming message. It’s the moment in which we can arrange for others to be attuned to our message before they encounter it. That step is crucial for maximizing desired change. For example, in one study, when researchers approached individuals and asked for help with the marketing survey, only 29% agreed to participate. If the researchers approached a second sample and preceded that request with a simple presuasive question, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” Now, 77.3% volunteered to help with the survey. Why? When asked before the request if they were helpful, nearly everyone answered yes. Then when the request occurred, most agreed to participate in order to be consistent with the recently activated idea of themselves as helpful people.
I was listening to one of your talks that you gave on your website, the clip about how important it is to have somebody else edify or talk you up, introduce you before you get up and plant that seed. I think that’s so important. When people are pitching an investor, there’s a big need for a warm introduction. What I define as a warm introduction, I’d love your opinion on this, is not just meet so and so, but you need to really talk up why you like that person, why you think they’d be a good person to invest in so that that person doesn’t have to “start from ground zero”, that the soil is already fertile, to use your analogy.
Exactly. This goes all the way through your organization. We have an office in the UK. My colleague, Steven J. Martin there, did a little experiment with a realty firm that was having trouble converting callers into customers. They’re located in London. He took a look at what a receptionist said when she received a call. Typically, she would say, “Are you interested in commercial real estate or residential real estate? In what part of London, is it Knightsbridge, is it Bloomsbury?” Then she would say after getting that information, “Let me connect you to one of our realtors.” What Steve had her change was to say, “Let me connect you to Clive who’s our expert in commercial real estate in Knightsbridge. Or let me connect you to Sarah who’s had fifteen years of experience with residential real estate in Bloomsbury.” That produced a 16% increase in conversion from calls to customers. Here’s what I love about this. That receptionist was doing it anyway. She was sending the caller to the expert in that arena. She just didn’t say so.
I love it. This really goes to what you talked about in Pre-Suasion, which is, “It’s not just what to say, but when to say it.” We’re going to tweet that out. That’s such a great line. Because when you’re pitching an investor, you need to decide, “When do I say this really impressive thing about myself? Do I say it at the beginning or do I wait until the team slide comes up?” All that strategy, just trying to figure out what to say or when to say it is really the key.
[Tweet “Pre-Suasion: To be influential, it’s not just what to say, but when to say it.”]
Let me give you something as an example that Warren Buffett does every year in his annual reports to shareholders. I happen to be a shareholder. I’ve been getting the letters to shareholders for fifteen years now. Here’s what he does on the first page, first or second page. He mentions a weakness, he mentions something that went wrong the previous year. That establishes him as honest about everything he says, and then he describes the strengths.
I love what you just said there because so many investors tell me time and again, we have to trust this person before we can even like them. You have to be completely candid and transparent because if you’re not in the pitch, it’ll come out in due diligence and the deal will fall through. Being a little vulnerable and being upfront that you may not have all the answers or may you have had a problem or you had to pivot or whatever the issue is is so important to build trust that you don’t come across as a know it all or arrogant.
Buffett’s brilliance in this is that he puts it first so that it colors everything he says next. Typically, the weakness is the things that went wrong or buried in a footnote at the end of the report. No, Buffett says, “Look, I’m honest. I need people to recognize that before they go through the material, all of the material that I have to present.” Because now, they’re experiencing that information as coming from a credible source, a trustworthy source.
You also write about, in Pre-Suasion, the importance of channeling people’s attention. I love the story of you being a palm reader at a party. What you get people to focus on really influences what they think is important.
That’s right. I learned that if I said to somebody after bending back their thumb, “I can see you’re a stubborn person,” they will go through a memory exercise and they will find a time when they were stubborn. They’ll say, “That’s right.” But if I said instead, “I can tell you’re a flexible person.” They’ll go through a different direction. It’ll be another memory exercise but an opposite one, to find times when they were flexible. They’d hit one. We’re all flexible and we’re all stubborn. They’d say, “You’re right.” I’ve put them in a place where they believe what I’m about to say now about their flexibility. If I were to say something that required them to be flexible, because I’ve got a brand new idea or initiative where they’ve got to get out of their old habit and into this new way of thinking, what I have to do is ask them about their flexibleness first.
It goes full circle to what you just said at the beginning of the podcast episode, which is, do you consider yourself a helpful before asking someone to fill out a survey. It’s such a great example.
There was another example of where they simply walked up to people and gave them a flyer that allowed them to get a brand new product, a new soft drink. If at the top of the flyer it said, “Do you consider yourself an adventurous person?” Now, people were almost two and a half times more likely to go ahead and provide the information that would allow them to access this new product. You put people in mind of a particular concept, it becomes focal in consciousness. It’s top of mind. What’s top of mind drives behavior.
You talk about that there’s all kinds of ways to command attention. Boy, if you’re given just ten minutes to pitch, you have to grab that attention in the first 90 seconds. There’s different types of attention grabber techniques. One you said is the attractor and then there’s something you wrote about called, am I pronouncing this right, the magnetizers?
Yes, those that hold attention. The one that I like these days, besides something like credibility, which of course, you want to listen to people who are knowledgeable and trustworthy, but I like the idea of beginning your pitch with a mystery story. “How could it be that our idea …” Let’s say you’ve got to write a project or a company and you want people to invest in it. How could it be that something that’s only five months old has gotten a better market share than various companies that have been around for a long time? What would it be? You know what, your listener needs to know the answer to that because people need to know the answers to mysteries. We all have a need for closure.
That open loop. Can’t stay open, it causes us anxiety, doesn’t it?
Now, that you set this up as a mystery, they’re going to process the details of what you tell them because to sell the mystery, you have to understand the details. You’ve arranged for them to pay special attention to the complexities of your case because they need the details to solve the mystery for themselves.
It’s so good. Another thing that’s so important in influencing people, and you talk about this in Pre-Suasion, is we relationships. Not just being together but acting together. Can you tell us a little more about that?
People who act in cooperative togetherness kinds of ways on some task and can see that they have a common goal that they are moving towards as a unit then become much more cooperative with one another on other topics. One thing for example, here’s something that’s very hot right now in marketing. It’s called co-creation. I think it applies to investors who are making a pitch. Very often, if you’ve got a product or a service or an idea and you want to get support from someone else, you’ll give that person a blueprint or a draft of the plan that you have for it and you will ask for that person’s feedback. Instead of giving me your opinion of what you think of this, that’s typically what we say, “Can you give me your opinion?” That’s a mistake.
It turns out that when you ask for an opinion, people take a half step back psychologically and go inside themselves for the answer. They look inside themselves. They separate from you. Now, if instead you use one different presuasive word, instead of asking of their opinion first, ask for their advice on the plan. They take a half step towards you psychologically. They see themselves as part, in partnership with this idea. The research shows, now they will be more supportive of the idea because you’ve put this togetherness, partnership, unity state of mind installed in them. They will now be more supportive of the idea that you then present to them. I’ll just give you one more example of this togetherness idea, getting this unity thing in mind first.
[Tweet “Pre-Suasion: Don’t ask for someone’s opinion, ask for their advice.”]
There was a study done. This is the study of all of the research in the book Pre-Suasion. Rocked me back in my chair when I read it. It was a study done in Belgium. Researchers brought subjects into an experiment and they showed them photographs, for 1/3 of the subjects, of a single individual standing alone. For a 2/3 of the group, another third of the group, they saw photographs of two individuals standing apart, separate. Third group saw pictures of two individuals standing together, shoulder to shoulder, in a cooperative, unified kind of pose.
Then in all cases, the researcher got up from the table and pretended to drop an array of items onto the floor. The question was, who becomes helpful? Who now cooperates with the researcher by getting down off the chair, onto the floor, hands and knees and helps the researcher pick up these items? There wasn’t any question about it. Those in whom this togetherness idea had been installed first were three times as likely, tripled. Now, that’s not what made me rock back in my chair. It was when I read that the subjects in this experiment, all of them were eighteen months old.
What? That is shocking. Babies. Wow.
They were babies, John.
That’s so young to have that instinct to help.
Only when they were first exposed to the idea of unity. That’s how primitive … I don’t mean that in the negative sense.
No, it’s instinctual.
The elemental sense. That’s how primitive this process is in human functioning. We’d be fools if we didn’t employ it because everybody responds to it. I’ll give you an example that happened to me. A while ago I was working on a project, it had a deadline of the next morning. I got to the last section of the report I was supposed to write and I didn’t have the data I needed but I knew that a colleague of mine had done some research and he did have the data. I sent him an email and I said, “Tom, I need some data. I don’t have the data in my files, I know you do. I’m going to give you a call in a few minutes and ask you to get to your archives and give me that data.” I did call him.
This is a guy who is known for being kind of a disagreeable guy. He works in the psychology department where I am housed for a long time. We’ve known each other. He said, “Bob, I can’t help you on this. I know you need it tomorrow but I’m a busy man too. I can’t be responsible for your poor time management skills. Sorry, can’t help.” John, if I hadn’t read this research, here’s what I would’ve said to him. “Come on, I need this. I’ve got this deadline tomorrow.” Instead I said, “Tom, we’ve been in the same psychology department now for twelve years. I need this. I need it tomorrow.” I had it that afternoon.
There’s an example. There it is, everybody. When to say it. You planted that seed, you showed him that you’re in this together and, “We’ve been doing this for so long so you can’t isolate yourself from your needs versus my needs because we’re part of the same team.”
We’re part of the same, yes, the same membership.
The same identity. We share an identity here. He knew that at some level.
But it wasn’t focused.
That’s the bull’s eye insight, John.
Love it. That’s so valuable because now everybody, you can take these lessons and apply it to when you’re pitching your team, that you tell a story about how your team has worked together and why you’ve worked together so well and invite the investor to join that team and get them visualizing themselves, helping you make this disruptive new technology that’s going to change and improve everybody’s lives.
Be sure to ask them for their advice in the process. Now, you’ve got all kinds of stuff going.
Collaboration. One of your talks about reciprocity, you said this great line that I want to tweet out, which is, “You need to invest in people that you want to invest in you.” That is just one of my favorite lines ever.
[Tweet “Pre-Suasion: You need to invest in people that you want to invest in you.”]
We have to figure out, if we want people to benefit us, we have to figure out how can we benefit them first?
Doing some research on them too. You really talk about the importance of that, figure out something that you have in common with them because that really gets your rapport building skills up fast.
Exactly right. Another thing that you do first, establish a sense of some parallel or some commonality. As a result, you establish rapport. People are more likely to say yes to those who are like them because we like people who are like us.
You have to figure out a way to do that. Another one of your talks about this sleuth of influence, you talk about find a reason to smile when you give a talk. I love that because it’s so valuable to people who are nervous pitching for money, you need to smile when you get up there, and not a fake smile but find some reason to smile that’s authentic.
Exactly. I once was advised by a consultant who advises speakers how I could sharpen my platform presentation. We spent about three hours together. I don’t remember anything except one thing he said and that is what you just said. He said, “Before you go on, find a reason to smile at your audience.” He didn’t say, “Before you go on, be sure you remember to smile at your audience in some sort of counterfeit way.” No, find a genuine reason. They will see the authenticity of a genuine smile and now you’ve got a rapport that you wouldn’t have had before.
One of the reasons I love that so much is the investors tell me a lot, “We really want people to be human when they’re pitching. We don’t want to hear a performance, we want to have a conversation, a collaborative conversation.” That little tip you just gave is a huge tip of just starting off with a smile and figuring out a reason to smile that makes you a human and connects them to go like, “She or he likes me and I like him. Now, I trust them and now I’m willing to listen.” I think the importance of liking and trusting people before you’re open to hearing what they have to say can never be overemphasize. You’re the master of that.
What I love about this particular example is we now make it ethical. It’s not something we fabricate, it’s something we locate. What is it in this situation or these people that would make me smile? Because I know somebody out there or because I feel confident at my material, whatever it is. Locate that thing that causes a genuine smile. Now, the newest research shows, people can detect the difference between a genuine smile and a fake smile.
I’m sure. We can feel it too. You can not only see it, but I think you can literally feel it. This whole concept of ethical is so important when people are deciding who they’re going to fund. They’re all deciding between this deal and that deal, they both seem to have the same amount of traction. I’m interested in both. They both seem qualified to execute this idea. It’s going to come down to who do I trust and like, but more importantly, who do I feel is the most ethical use of my money that I’m going to give them. I’d love to have you just talk a little bit about that.
I think we come back again to the Buffett strategy of every case has strengths and weaknesses. What Buffett recognized is you make lemonade out of the lemons by mentioning them in a way that they establish your honesty for the strengths of your case that go next. You wind up being ethical and effective at the same time.
[Tweet “Pre-Suasion: Be ethical and effective at the same time.”]
I love that. Be ethical and effective at the same time. There’s another tweet. This has just been an incredible amount of huge takeaways. I can’t thank you enough. The book again is Pre-Suasion: Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. We’re going to put it in the show notes. It’s available wherever books are sold and online of course. Is there any last bit of tips that you want to give our listeners on what they can find in Pre-Suasion that will persuade them to not only buy the book but make a difference when they’re pitching for funding?
I guess the summing up that I would say is that we’ve always thought that the way to move people optimally in our direction is to operate on the message itself, to go inside the boundaries of the message, make sure that we’ve got it logical, we’ve got it clear, we’ve got it favorable to the best things that we have to offer. That’s true. But there’s new research that says, “If you really want to optimize, if you want to maximize your success, you also have to go to the moment before you deliver your message.” Operate on that and it will give your message special traction.
Love it. What’s the best way for people to follow you on social media? What’s your Twitter handle, all that good stuff?
I think the best way is just to go to our website, which is www.InfluenceAtWork.com. All that information is there.
Fantastic. I can’t thank you enough for all this. Thanks for writing another great book. I know that I’m going to be one of the millions of people who get a great deal out of implementing all the things I’ve read.
Thank you, John. You asked great questions, I have to say.
I appreciate that. That’s a wrap. Thanks again.
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