Levers of Influence

Robert B. Cialdini, Ph. D. Outlines the psychological process that happens when people say yes and dives deeper into how these insights can be ethically implemented in business and everyday life.

Here we will go through Cialdini's universal principles of influence which are based on research and practice. This will allow us to become more persuasive and allow us to identify and defend against unethical attempts of persuasion. Understanding the following principles will prevent us from ceding power to someone else:

  • reciprocation

  • commitment and consistency

  • social proof

  • liking

  • authority

  • scarcity

  • unity

Once reviewed, we will be able to influence others in our direction.

These levers were originally discovered by experimenting on college students, but this research has gone further by taking a peek into the professional world. Sales, marketing, and recruiting agencies are institutions designed to make us say yes. This evidence has proven that the pace and pressure of modern life has led to automatic influence. Therefore, it is important to understand these principles.

In order to implement these principles the following events need to occur: a positive relationship, reduction of uncertainty, and motivating action in that order.

Click, Run

The first lever of influence is referred to as "Click, Run" and to understand it we will first look to nature. A mother turkey will only take care of its young if they chirp and cry out. The silent ones will either be neglected or eaten by its mother. The mother's nurturing is triggered by the chirps and cries of the young. This behavior is automatic.

We can see how this "Click, Run" lever operates with humans with the word "because". Students were asked if a person could use the following reasons to use a Xerox machine with the additional percent yes:

  • only asked to use Xerox: 60% yes

  • because I'm in a rush: 94% yes

  • because I need to make copies: 93% yes

Here we observe that the last option does not fulfill the requirement of a reason, but the use of the word because triggers a yes response automatically. While, giving no specific reason without the trigger because experiences a significant reduction in the responses yes.

Simplifying by Betting the Shortcut Odds

It is a common cultural notion that "you get what you pay for" deems to be true. Although it is not always true, people have been taught that expensive = good.

Here we can look at an example of a jewelry store in a tourist town. The store was struggling to sell by pricing at market rate and sold out when the pieces were sold at twice the price. This even triggered the expensive = good lever that people have been taught by society. This lever allowed people to avoid the rational approach of breaking down the qualities and the prices of the jewelry. All they had to go off of was one thing - the price. In the long run, this is the most rational approach even for the consumer as it leads to the most enjoyment. Here we were able to avoid the decision fatigue caused by comparison shopping.

The Profiteers

We are vulnerable to the people that know these persuasive techniques. Going back to an example in nature. Fireflies females from one species have learned the mating call of another species. They use this knowledge and use the mating call to trigger the males to come and then the females from another species eat the males.

This is an issue because our "Click, Run" programs are taught by society and are perpetuated by stereotypes.

Here we can look at fake online reviews. We know that people judge something they don't know or understand based off of what they hear from other people. False reviews are an issue because they open the door different expectations as compared to reality.


A woman employing jujitsu uses her own strength minimally, but exploits gravity, leverage, momentum, and inertia. When it applies to persuasion, people that are capable to jujitsu are capable of manipulating without the appearance of manipulation. A person may realize it later on but blame themselves. That is where the issue lies.

The contrast principle highlights this. This is where due to our psychology we perceive a larger difference between two sequential things. We can observe this phenomenon using water and our hands. First, we place our left hand in cold water and our right hand in warm water. Next, we place both of our hands in the same bucket of room temperature water. Notice that you left hand will feel warm and your right hand will feel cool.

This is because our brains are highlighting the difference in temperature and not actual temperature. Realistically, our hands are the same temperature, but it does not feel that way.

Another example where we can look at this is when salespeople show us expensive items first when we are asked to browse. We will spend more money when shown less expensive items after expensive items because we see the price as not that bad regardless of the actual difference between the value of the item and its cost.


Human behavior occurs sometimes in fixed-action patterns where people act in mechanical sequences. Where "Click, Run" behavior is triggered automatically by a single event.

This shortcut is often effective in conjunction with the culture we're learned in society. This automation is due to the pace and pressure of modern life.

Issues due to this behavior can be silly and costly, because it often goes unrecognized. Therefore, it is important to educate ourselves on the levers of persuasion so that outcomes can be more in our favor in the future.

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