Yes!: 50 Secrets From the Science of Persuasion

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9781781251553: Yes!: 50 Secrets From the Science of Persuasion
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Small changes can make a big difference in your powers of persuasion

What one word can you start using today to increase your persuasiveness by more than fifty percent?

Which item of stationery can dramatically increase people's responses to your requests?

How can you win over your rivals by inconveniencing them?

Why does knowing that so many dentists are named Dennis improve your persuasive prowess?

Every day we face the challenge of persuading others to do what we want. But what makes people say yes to our requests? Persuasion is not only an art, it is also a science, and researchers who study it have uncovered a series of hidden rules for moving people in your direction. Based on more than sixty years of research into the psychology of persuasion, Yes! reveals fifty simple but remarkably effective strategies that will make you much more persuasive at work and in your personal life, too.

Co-written by the world's most quoted expert on influence, Professor Robert Cialdini, Yes! presents dozens of surprising discoveries from the science of persuasion in short, enjoyable, and insightful chapters that you can apply immediately to become a more effective persuader. Why did a sign pointing out the problem of vandalism in the Petrified Forest National Park actually increase the theft of pieces of petrified wood? Why did sales of jam multiply tenfold when consumers were offered many fewer flavors? Why did people prefer a Mercedes immediately after giving reasons why they prefer a BMW? What simple message on cards left in hotel rooms greatly increased the number of people who behaved in environmentally friendly ways?

Often counterintuitive, the findings presented in Yes! will steer you away from common pitfalls while empowering you with little known but proven wisdom.

Whether you are in advertising, marketing, management, on sales, or just curious about how to be more influential in everyday life, Yes! shows how making small, scientifically proven changes to your approach can have a dramatic effect on your persuasive powers.

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About the Author:

Noah Goldstein is a protege of Cialdini's.  He is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.  He earned a Ph.D. in psychology under Robert Cialdini at Arizona State University in 2007, and he has published research with Cialdini in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


There's an old joke told by the nightclub comic Henny Youngman, who referred to his accommodations from the previous night by saying, "What a hotel! The towels were so big and fluffy I could hardly close my suitcase."

Over the last few years, the moral dilemma facing hotel guests has changed. These days, the question of whether to remove the towels from their room has been replaced by the question of whether to reuse the towels during the course of their stay. With the increasing adoption of environmental programs by hotels, more and more travelers are being asked to reuse their towels to help conserve environmental resources, save energy, and reduce the amount of detergent-related pollutants released into the environment. In most cases, this request comes in the form of cards placed in guests' bathrooms -- cards that provide some surprising insights into the remarkable science of persuasion.

A survey of the persuasive messages conveyed by dozens of request cards from a wide variety of hotels around the globe reveals that these cards most commonly attempt to encourage towel recycling efforts by focusing guests almost exclusively on the importance of environmental protection. In other words, guests are almost invariably informed that reusing their towels will conserve natural resources and help spare the environment from further depletion, disruption, and corruption. To further draw guests' attention to the impact of towel recycling on the environment, this information is often accompanied by various eye-catching, environment-related pictures in the background, ranging from rainbows to raindrops to reindeer.

This persuasion strategy generally seems to be an effective one. For example, one of the largest manufacturers of these signs, whose messages focus entirely on the importance of environmental protection, reports that the majority of hotel guests who have the opportunity to participate in these programs do reuse their towels at least once during their stay. But could the results be improved?

Researchers are often on the lookout for ways to apply their scientific knowledge to make existing policies and practices even more effective. Much like a highway billboard that reads, "Place your ad here," these little towel recycling cards spoke to us, practically pleaded with us, to "Test your ideas here." So we did. And in doing so, we showed that just by making a small change to the way in which the request is made, hotel chains can do much, much better.

As this book will reveal, starting with our towel experiments, small, easy changes to our messages and to our requests can make them vastly more persuasive. In fact, we're going to claim that everyone's ability to persuade others can be improved by learning persuasion strategies that have been scientifically proven to be successful. We will report on dozens of studies, some conducted by us, some by other scientists, that demonstrate this point in many different settings. Along the way, we will discuss the principles behind these findings. The central purpose of this book is to provide the reader with a better understanding of the psychological processes underlying our efforts to influence others to shift their attitudes or behavior in a direction that results in positive outcomes for both parties. In addition to presenting a variety of effective and ethical persuasion strategies, we also discuss the types of things to watch out for to help you resist both subtle and overt influences on your decision-making.

The studies discussed in this book are scientifically rigorous, but they can also be fun. For example, we'll seek to provide insights about what single office supply can make your attempts to persuade others significantly more effective, what Luke Skywalker can teach us about being an influential leader, why people named Dennis are disproportionately more likely to become dentists, how slipping your audience the perfectly legal drug 1,3,7-trimethylxanthin can help you become more persuasive, how inconveniencing your rivals will make them more likely to do favors for you, and why people would be more likely to buy a BMW just after giving reasons for preferring a Mercedes.

We'll also seek to answer a number of other important questions. For example: What common mistake do communicators often make that causes their message to backfire? Which one word will strengthen your persuasion attempts? Is it better to start low or high when selling items on eBay? How can you turn your weaknesses into persuasive strengths? How can waiters increase their tips without changing the quality of their service? And why can sometimes seeing yourself -- or being seen by others -- as an expert result in one of the most dangerous situations in which you could ever be placed?

Persuasion as Science, Not Art

The scientific study of persuasion has been continuing for over half a century now. Yet, the research on persuasion is somewhat of a secret science, often lying dormant in the pages of academic journals. Considering the large body of research that's been produced on the subject, it might be useful to take a moment to think about why this research is so often overlooked. It's no surprise that people who are faced with choices about how to influence others, including important program or policy choices, will often base their decisions on thinking that's grounded in the established theories and practices of fields such as economics, finance, and public policy. However, what's puzzling is how frequently decision-makers fail to use established psychological theories and practices to guide them in their choices.

One potential explanation for this tendency is that, unlike the fields of economics, finance, and public policy, which tend to require learning from outsiders to achieve even a minimal level of competence, people believe they already possess an intuitive understanding of psychological principles simply by virtue of living life and interacting with others. As a consequence, they're less likely to learn and to consult the psychological research when making decisions, setting policies, or generating solutions to problems. This overconfidence inevitably leads people to miss golden opportunities for psychologically informed social influence -- or worse still, to misuse psychological principles to the detriment of themselves and others.

Besides being overly reliant on their personal experiences with others, people also rely too much on introspection. For example, why would the marketing practitioners charged with the task of designing the hotel towel reuse signs focus almost exclusively on the impact of these programs on the environment? They probably did what any of us would do -- they asked themselves, "What would motivate me to participate in one of these programs by recycling my towels?" And by examining their own motives, they would come to the conclusion that a sign that tapped into their values and identity as environmentally concerned people would be particularly motivating. But in doing so, they would also fail to realize how they could increase participation just by changing a few words in their request.

Persuasion has often been referred to as an art, but in a sense, this is a misclassification. Although talented artists can certainly be taught skills to harness their natural abilities, the truly remarkable artist seems to possess a certain level of talent and creativity that no instructor is capable of instilling in another person. Fortunately, this isn't the case with persuasion. Even people who consider themselves persuasion lightweights -- people who feel they couldn't convince a child to play with toys -- can learn to become persuasion heavyweights by understanding the psychology of persuasion and by using the specific persuasion strategies that have been scientifically proven to be effective.

Regardless of whether you're a salesperson, manager, marketer, negotiator, educator, policymaker, lawyer, health care worker, food server, eBayer, or parent, this book is designed to help you become a master persuader. We'll describe certain techniques that are based on what one of us (Robert Cialdini) explored in the book Influence: Science & Practice as the six universal principles of social influence: reciprocation (we feel obligated to return favors performed for us), authority (we look to experts to show us the way), commitment/consistency (we want to act consistently with our commitments and values), scarcity (the less available the resource, the more we want it), liking (the more we like people, the more we want to say yes to them), and social proof (we look to what others do to guide our behavior).1 We'll discuss what these principles mean and how they operate in some detail throughout the book, but we won't limit ourselves to them. Although the six principles act as the foundation for the majority of successful social influence strategies, there are also many persuasion techniques that are based on other psychological factors, which we'll cover.

We'll also place a special emphasis on how these strategies operate in a number of different contexts -- both within and outside the workplace -- and provide practical and action-oriented advice for how to maximize your persuasive prowess in those settings and beyond. The advice we'll provide will be ethical and easy to follow, will require very little additional effort or cost on your part, and should pay big dividends.

With apologies to Henny Youngman, we fully expect that by the time you finish this book, your persuasion toolbox will be packed with so many scientifically proven social influence strategies you'll hardly be able to close it.


How can inconveniencing your audience increase your persuasiveness?

Colleen Szot is one of the most successful writers in the paid programming industry. And for good reason: In addition to penning several well-known "infomercials" for the famed and fast-selling NordicTrac exercise machine, she recently authored a program that shattered a...

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Noah J. Goldstein
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