This is the last post chronicling the reading of the book Influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini. The first was an introduction and question of influence vs. persuasion, and the next covered the first four “weapons of influence”: contrast, reciprocation, commitment plus consistency, and social proof. Continuing on, here we cover liking, authority, and scarcity.

Chapter 5: Liking

It is better to be liked than not liked. Surprise! But what types of liking are there? The book lists five: physical attractiveness, similarity, compliments, contact plus cooperation, and association. The various “liking” factors can produce a halo effect where one aspect of a person is noticed and prevents the observer from seeing a more holistic picture. The halo effect is one of the performance review biases covered in Gergely Orosz’s The Software Engineer’s Guidebook. I just received my copy last week! I need to finish up a couple of other in-progress books on my book list, and then I will read that one.

Working towards positive outcomes with teamwork leads to liking. As you can imagine, two cabins of boys at camp can develop a rivalry, especially if there are competitive games between the groups. Once this competitive spirit has grown, it can lead to negative connotations and attacks on the personal character of the other group. A research study let this feeling mount and then tested how effectively it could be reversed. To trigger the reversal, the researchers constructed scenarios where the two groups of boys needed to work together. These situations included the food transport truck being stuck and an issue with the water pipes. Both situations lead to the groups working together to come to a solution.

In the corporate world, related but separate teams can come together to accomplish something and build interpersonal bonds. Many times, different teams working on the same project are approaching it from different angles. This leads them to value different things on the way towards the common goal. Team-building activities can proactively strengthen relationships and lead to higher levels of empathy for counterpart team’s objectives and methods. When I was on the Cloud/Data Engineering team, the Data Engineering team and the Enterprise Data Management Office team volunteered together several times at the local food bank. Now I’m on the Strategic Customer Technology (Integrations) team. Just last week we did a full-day Habitat for Humanity house build with our business-side counterpart, the Customer Solutions team.

Chapter 6: Authority

The Milgram study showed surprising results of compliance with authority, even when obeying caused physical pain to another person. The subject of the experiment played the role of a “teacher” who would deliver increasingly strong shocks to the “learner” when an incorrect response was given. The most enlightening data point was the inaccuracy of estimation of at what point the “teacher” would stop following the researcher’s instructions. A group of “colleagues, graduate students, and psychology majors at Yale University (where the experiment was performed)” estimated that only 1-2 percent of people would continue on to the end. As it turned out, no one stopped before 2/3 of the way through the experiment. 65% continued all the way to the end, even when the “learner” stated he had a heart condition.

Methods for claiming authority include titles, clothes (security guard uniform, business suit), and other trappings like exotic cars. The book treated each of these individually, but one thing I wonder is how closely they are linked as a proxy for wealth and social status. What is the difference in the behavior of a subject in response to an authority figure with direct influence on the subject vs with respect to a “powerful” high social class figure where there is no direct line of authority?

James 2:2-4 calls out this dishonorable tendency to defer to wealthy people based on their clothing:

For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Chapter 7: Scarcity

All these principles of influence trace back to shortcuts our mind uses to make decision-making easier. Unless manipulated, they are usually a proxy of logical decision processes. We all are familiar with the relationship between supply and demand. Thus we associate scarcity (low supply) as driven by high demand. On a slightly different angle taking into account both supply and demand, if many others are buying the item, we assume it is priced correctly on the supply/demand curve (or is the efficient frontier in investing.)

This manipulation can cause someone to ignore the remainder of the value proposition and focus too much on the proxy of availability. During college, the author’s brother made money by selling cars. But the fascinating part was he bought and flipped them through the same newspaper’s classified section. How could he consistently sell the car for more than he had paid for it? The secret was scheduling all prospective buyers to come at the same time. This caused a heightened sense of scarcity which would not have been present with individual showings. When two or three people showed up, he would line them up by order of arrival and say they must wait until the person ahead of them in line had made his or her purchase decision. This added “now or never” pressure to the situation and would cause even partially interested buyers to pay the full asking price for fear the person behind them in line would take the deal if they walked away.

One signal indicative of whether one should completely disregard scarcity is the contrast between owning something rare vs using it. The latter does not change whether an item is rare or plentiful. We should step back and ask ourselves the purpose of buying a particular item, and if we should be influenced by scarcity. I’m an amateur radio operator, and some hams can border on collectors. For one person, having a first-ten serial number or a limited edition Morse code paddle means something. Another person may only be concerned about the performance of the item. Knowing that you fall into the second camp can help you attempt to distance yourself from scarcity influence.

This book has been an intriguing read. It put in words some subconscious patterns I had seen before and enlightened me to others I had not. Now I am more able to spot these influence tactics and also decide when to ethically employ them myself. These strategies do not have to be applied for purposes that are not in the best interest of the subject. If I built a new platform component I want other development teams to adopt, highlighting each time a team adopts it exhibits social proof that can snowball into more adoption. Be influential; be responsible!