Ruminations on Influence

I recently finished reading Influence: Science and Practice (notes) by Robert Cialdini. I first read it in 2014, having seen it on the reading list of several business school class syllabi. This time I wanted to come at it from a more intentional point of view, namely: it's useless to know how something works if you don't have the skill to influence others to adopt your approach. It's a recipe for long term frustration. It makes sense to get better at the the other side—being able to transmit an idea or approach effectively—because if you don't, the time spent improving the idea itself is wasted.

That's just the work-related bit. Since starting this draft, we've been treated ("treated") to an internet-row seat to monsters storming the U.S. Capitol. The entire world isn't based on the best ideas and the best execution and the best moral judgment—but in the best case, it is. That world has to start—to originate from, to radiate from—somewhere. At some point it is a moral or ethical imperative to lead and influence. If you try to live a good, moral life, and you sit back or are unable to push the front in the right direction, then the side of treachery wins.

One more thought, and we'll get back to what was intended to be the point of the post:

There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.

—Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan (1959)

I wanted to ruminate a little bit about the book before moving on to the next one—to extract a little more information and try to use it somehow. Honestly I don't like thinking much about influence or persuasion because, for reasons I don't understand, those terms are on the same par as manipulation for me. It's silly, and I know it, but in the clinch that's the feeling that I have. (Cialdini, Robert, and Sarah Cliffe. "The uses (and abuses) of influence." Harvard business review 91.7-8 (2013): 76-81.)

Get over that feeling is something I'm working on this year. This book was one front. I've signed up for the OB 524 Negotiation class at Wash U this semester, and for the MGT 6540 Strategies for Influencing Others class at Wash U's continuing education center. I'll find some other books and things on the topic to read and I'll pass those along when I get to them (starting in February—going to finish up this PMI-ACP cert in January first).

The way I want to think about some of these common scenarios I encounter and methods for dealing with them—at least the ones relating to weaknesses—is in terms of frameworks. There are some things in the world worth thinking about in detail, appreciating all of their nuances as I craft an individual response as they arrive on my desk. But that's not most things. Most things have some sort of front-end heuristic associated with them—if this, then that—that filters the world down to a set of dealwithable decisions. You need a good toolbox of heuristics, else you'll be inundated with inputs, and decision quality will suffer.

The book gives six principles for persuasion, primarily in terms of "you need to recognize these when they happen to you so you can defend yourself", but with a perspective shift they can also be tools for performing:

  1. Reciprocation: people want to repay others who have given them something, even if the something given was unwanted or only a concession from an earlier offer
  2. Commitment and consistency: people tend to want to appear consistent with their prior words, beliefs, and actions
  3. Social proof: people tend to follow what other people are believing or doing, especially in situations that are ambiguous
  4. Liking: people tend to comply with other people then know and like or who they are similar to
  5. Authority: people tend to comply with authority
  6. Scarcity: people assign more value to opportunities when they become less available

So, that's roughly the plan—to try and bulk up the weak skill muscles.
In the meantime, here is a pile of references from the book that I've collected for future reading:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.