The Godfather of Influence
Welcome to Remarkable People.
Before I introduce this episode’s guest, I want to ask you a question: Do you have a growth mindset?
My guest Bob Cialdini is a professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He influences almost every marketing, evangelism, and sales decision that I make.
His book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is the guiding light for how I conduct business—and in many ways how I live my life.
In short, Cialdini is the “godfather of influence.” He is to changing people’s minds what Martha Stewart is to changing people’s lifestyle.
Have you ever wondered how to optimally respond when someone thanks you? Keep listening, and you’ll find out.
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Question: Have you ever had a moment of serendipity that changed your path like Dr. Cialdini?
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FULL TRANSCRIPT of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People Podcast
Dr. Robert Cialdini: The Godfather of Influence
Guy Kawasaki: Before I introduce this episode’s guest, I want to ask you a question. Do you have a growth mindset? My guest is Bob Cialdini. He is a professor emeritus at Arizona State University.
He influences almost every marketing, evangelism, and sales decision that I make. His book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is the guiding light for how I conduct business and in many ways, how I live my life. In short, Cialdini is the godfather of influence. He is to changing people’s minds, what Martha Stewart is to changing people’s lifestyles.
Have you ever wondered how to optimally respond when someone thanks you? Keep listening, and you’ll find out. I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. And now, here is Bob Cialdini.
Guy Kawasaki: One of my favorite lessons from your book is, of course, the optimal thing to say when someone says thank you. In your book, you say it’s more than you’re welcome, it’s also, I know you would do the same for me. Now, I read that years ago, so bring me up to speed. Is that still optimal?
Bob Cialdini: It is, and I liked especially the tense that you used there. It shouldn’t be, oh, I know you would have done the same for me. That’s somewhere in the past.
I know that you will do the same for me, in the future. You would do the same for me in the future, rather than if the situation had been reversed, you would have done the same for me. Don’t point them to the past that’s gone.
You want to say, “I know you would do the same for me if the situation were ever reversed.
Guy Kawasaki: Well, I have told that story with full credit, actually in many cases with your book cover on the screen when I tell that story. So, I have proselytized the word of Bob all over the world because I just love that story.
Bob Cialdini: Very heartening to hear.
Guy Kawasaki: Follow on to that, another piece of your advice in your book is that you should also tell people how they could repay you. Is that still a best practice?
Bob Cialdini: It turns out that the quality of the return you get after a favor declines with time. So, give them an opportunity to offer something in return close to the thanks that you deserved.
Guy Kawasaki: Can it be as close as the person says thank you, and I say, “I know you will do the same for me, and by the way, here’s how right now.”
Bob Cialdini: Well, wouldn’t be in those terms, but the timing. I mean, if you read the research is really quite clear. As soon as the act is done, the obligation to give back is there, but the amount you get back declines over time.
Guy Kawasaki: How did you become to be what I consider the de facto guru of influence and persuasion in the world?
Bob Cialdini: By accident.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay, how did the accident occur?
Bob Cialdini: When I was getting out of high school, I got an offer to play minor league baseball. I wanted to be Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, I was center-fielder.
There was a scout who was willing to sign me to play Class D baseball, little towns, and I was very excited. He brought a contract with him at my last game, and his pen didn’t work. So, we walked to the car where you had another pen, and he said, “Let me ask you something. Are you any good at school?” I said, “Yes.” “Enough to get through college?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you like school?” “Yes.” He took the pen and put it in his pocket, and he said, “Go to school, kid, go to school. Your chances of making the majors are slim. I’d recommend that you do something you like and that you’re really good at,” and so we’re talking here today because I didn’t go try to be a Major League Baseball player, which would’ve failed completely.
Bob Cialdini: I would’ve wound up in the Major Leagues, in the Minor League I’m sorry, in the Minor Leagues in some small town in Nebraska. My career would’ve ended there, and maybe by the time I figured out that I was not good enough, maybe I would’ve had a wife and maybe even a baby. I wouldn’t have been able to go to school at that point. I would’ve been the assistant manager of the Pizza Hut in Cozad, Nebraska. Instead, you and I are talking.
Guy Kawasaki: Today, you are basically the Willie Mays or Reggie Jackson of social psychology, so there you go.
Bob Cialdini: Yeah, well, thank you for that. I recognized that it was a fork in the road and that sometimes luck and serendipity have a big role in where we go and how far we go.
Guy Kawasaki: That is a great story, but you then had to get a bachelor’s and a PhD and even beyond that, you had to establish your reputation as a teacher and write these books. I mean, it wasn’t just back.
Bob Cialdini: No, I won’t say that I’m not suited for the professorial role and the researcher. I loved it, and I was pretty good at it. Those things had to be there too. All that could’ve been true, but the assistant manager of the Pizza Hut wouldn’t have been able to display those skills if the road had gone differently, that’s all. That’s all, yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay. Influence is one of my favorite books. It was a huge influence on me throughout my career, and I would just like to revisit that a little bit. The six principles of reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking, and consensus. Any hindsight on that? The six are still good to go? You have any thoughts?
Bob Cialdini: You know, I do, two kinds of thoughts. One is that the internet has changed the availabilities of those various principles in our culture.
By far one of those principles, consensus or social proof as we call it in the book, the extent to which we are likely to change to the extent that we see other people around us performing a different action or having a different belief or opinion that we currently have. Now the internet has given us access to the behaviors, and the choices, and the opinions, and the beliefs, and the experiences of peers all over the place that we wouldn’t have had a chance to get access to. That’s certainly one thing.
Bob Cialdini: It’s not that the six principles have changed in their power as human tendencies, it’s just that we have access to information about what others around us like us are doing, are choosing, our believing and so on, and we’re much more likely as a result of those sorts of information to use them in ways that didn’t exist when I first wrote that book.
Guy Kawasaki: Now, is this good news, bad news? Because, I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy also. But for every benefit that you just mentioned, there’s also the ability to create fake consensus today, right?
Bob Cialdini: Yes, there is. The review sites, for example, that have numbers of stars and ratings and so on, are in constant combat with the fakers. The people who are trying to provide phony reviews or sometimes they pay for reviews of other people to do it. Those review sites have algorithms now designed to identify and weed out those fake reviews, but of course, the fabricators are going to find other ways to get around that, so they’re in a constant battle with it. Nonetheless, there’s research to show that of people who buy products and services over the internet, over 90% look to product reviews first before they choose, and are greatly influenced by them.
Guy Kawasaki: You and I are both authors, and I would say, if somebody said to me, “Guy, you could either have the New York Times review your book, or you could have a four and a half or five-star rating on Amazon, which would you pick?” I would pick the Amazon rating over a review by the New York Times Book Review.
Bob Cialdini: I agree. If your interest is not getting some elite acknowledgement, but to get your message out and get people interested in buying your book because peers have recognized the quality of it. We even have a term for this. I’m going to call it peer-suasion, instead of persuasion. It’s very powerful. Peer-suasion is all the rage right now.
Guy Kawasaki: Bob, you are a master of coinage of phrases. I love peer-suasion, that’s fantastic. Is that the next book?
Bob Cialdini: Well, it’s certainly a candidate, yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay, you’d better trademark that before I grab it. How’s that? Well, speaking on the P words, we started with persuasion and one of your latest books, or perhaps the latest book is Pre-Suasion. So, can you explain the difference between persuasion and pre-suasion?
Bob Cialdini: Yes. Persuasion is the, it refers to what you do as a communicator to put into your message to arrange for people to move in your direction. You can describe scarcity, you can describe credibility, you can describe social proof, authority, all these kinds of things that you can put into your message that inclines people to say yes to it. Pre-suasion is not about what you put into your message, it’s about what you put into the moment before you send your message to make people more sympathetic to it before they encounter it.
Bob Cialdini: Now, that sounds like some kind of magic, right? How do you get people to agree with a message when they don’t know what’s in it? Well, as a communicator, you know what’s in it. So, if it’s possible to focus people on an idea or a concept that is related to the core element of your message before they receive the message, when they then encounter it, that concept, they will be more favorable to it. Let me give you an example.
Bob Cialdini: A study was done in which marketers walked up to people on the street and gave them a flyer asking them if they wanted to try a brand new soft drink that’s not even on the market yet. But to do it, these people had to give their email address to this stranger so he could send them a message about how to get this case of new soft drink, and that produced about 29% a cent. 29% said, “Yes. Okay, I’ll give you my …” The other half got that same flyer, but before they received it, they saw at the top of the flyer the words, “do you consider yourself an adventurous person?” It focused people on their adventurousness, and now 75% gave their email address to get something new.
So, you put people in mind of a concept like adventurousness that is related to the idea of trying something new, and you get enormous leverage as a result.
Guy Kawasaki: The question I now have is, are you saying that pre-suasion and persuasion are both important, or pre-suasion is more important than persuasion? Is there a either/or? What is it?
Bob Cialdini: It’s the first thing you said. They’re both important, but one of them, persuasion, is where we have always focused our efforts as communicators, and we have been remiss in recognizing that there’s a moment before we deliver our message that can be just as powerful in moving people in our direction. I see it all around me now that I’ve thought about this idea but I … I know that other people have thought about this, but not in such a detailed and conceptual way as I tried to do in the book to explain why this works the way it does.
Bob Cialdini: For me, when we focus people’s attention on an idea, it becomes for a moment more important to us than any other idea, because we find ourselves focusing on it and we have a long history of assuming that if we’re focusing on an idea, it must be important to us. If we’re paying attention to it, it must be important to us, that usually works. But a communicator can get us to pay attention to an idea by drawing our focus to it, and we assume that because we’re paying attention to it, it must be important. That’s the effect.
Guy Kawasaki: I love when you bring up this example of what greater percentage of email addresses you got. Also in the book, you talk about going to a website, and you show clouds, and when you show clouds, people are more cognizant about the comfort factor of their sofas than the cost saving of their sofas, just by changing between showing clouds or showing pennies. I love these kinds of stories.
Guy Kawasaki: Now, I have a question for you as an author though. I went through Pre-Suasion, and I looked at the fact that you have roughly 90 pages of sources, and I’d say there are eight sources per page. So, you have roughly 700 citations in your book.
The question is, how the hell do you do that? Is it you subscribe to The Journal of Social Psychology and you’ve read 700 studies, and you said, “Wow, this is really interesting. I should put it in my book,” or was the order, “Well, I want to tell people about the power of pre-suasion, let me go find some studies that support my thesis.” Which came first?
Bob Cialdini: In the case of Persuasion, I went to the journals, I went to all the articles, and I saw what worked based on the research. In the case of Pre-Suasion, something happened to me that made me go into the literature to see if I could find confirmation of it.
One Saturday, there was a knock at my door. There was a man asking me to contribute to a good cause, after school programs for children in my district. But he didn’t show me any credentials that he was from my school district, I hadn’t seen any buzz in my neighborhood about these after school programs, but I gave him more money, about twice as much money as I normally give to people who come to my door.
Bob Cialdini: I remember closing the door and saying, “What just happened there?” This guy didn’t use any of the principles I claim, and I’ve built my reputation on claiming are the ones you need to elevate your success. This guy didn’t use any of them, and he got me to give twice as much as I normally do. What did he do? Here’s what he did.
Before he ever said a word, he brought his seven-year-old daughter with him, and he focused me on children. He focused me on children’s challenges and children’s needs and children’s benefits. Then when he gave me the argument about the value of afterschool programs for children, I was already pre-suaded to that argument. I was readied for it, and sure enough it worked on me.
I remember saying to myself, “Oh, this is different. This is different than the process of persuasion. Let’s go track it down in the existing literature,” and before long, I thought, there was a book here.
Guy Kawasaki: Obviously, I’ve read your books. Obviously I’m a believer. But what surprises me is that the conclusions and the information from the studies that you cite and from your own interpretation, your own body of collective thought, there’s so much great scientific data and stuff that marketers could use. Why does so much go unused? Why don’t people, why don’t companies have more pre-suasive setup and why don’t they have more persuasive qualities of their product and service? The scientific data is there. I mean, arguably you put them into two books. How hard could it be? Why don’t they use the damn thing?
Bob Cialdini: Here’s what they need. They need a CIO, a chief influencer office who knows the research and can say with regard to any new initiative, any a change, any problem, “Here’s what I know the evidence, the scientific evidence tells us to do here.” And, who should have a staff of people who are constantly up to date on the newest work, the newest documented, demonstrated scientifically grounded work, who can take that knowledge and spread it to every area within the organization. To sales, to marketing, to procurement, to recruitment, to management. Every one of those domains could benefit. Everybody needs to be more influential. Why shouldn’t we have a chief influence office?
Guy Kawasaki: Good point. Someplace in Pre-Suasion, you make the point that the major function of language is to influence people, which I never thought of language that way.
Bob Cialdini: Yeah, that’s the newest research. Language isn’t primarily to describe or convey an idea that the communicator has, it is to move people. It is to change people. That’s the primary goal of language.
Guy Kawasaki: I’m involved with a company called Cheeze, and it has a product called Privy. Privy is a private messaging service that’s double opt-in. It’s not like text messages because anybody with your phone number can text message you, it’s not like email because anybody with your email can email you. The use cases, I know exactly who I want in my group, and I have to invite them, and they have to accept, so it’s double opt-in. Anyway, that’s the gist of Privy. I’m on the board of this company.
The tagline for Privy was going to be private messaging for family and friends. Then I read in Pre-Suasion that you need to personalize this, and so last night, I told them, “Make the tagline private messaging for your family and friends.” Did I do that right?
Bob Cialdini: Brilliant.
Guy Kawasaki: Thank you. Well, if Bob Cialdini says it’s right, it’s right. So, let’s suppose that you are given the task of, we want to encourage people to vaccinate their children. Using pre-suasion, would you show a picture of healthy kids playing together safely on a playground, and do you pre-suade them by saying, “Do you want your kids to be healthy?” Or, do you show sick, measly kids and ask, “Do you want your kids to get sick?”
Bob Cialdini: I would show them pictures of partnerships and people together in common. Working together groups, because here’s the real motivator for individuals who are concerned about their kids, they don’t want to be shunned by their neighbors, the kids, fellow classmates, the parents of the kids who they are putting at risk by leaving their child unvaccinated. Now, everybody in the class is at risk, right? What you want to do is move them from a focus on health and safety, to a focus on togetherness and partnership. Working together and being part of the team, part of the group, and belonging so pre-suasively.
Bob Cialdini: Then persuasively what I would do is, I would get what we call a convert communicator to speak to the importance of vaccination. Somebody who can honestly say, “I used to be in the anti-vaccination camp just like you, but then I saw something happen that changed my belief.”
This isn’t about science now, this is about a peer, peer-suasion. Somebody just like me saw something to change his or her mind in personal experiences that they’ve had. That message, I think, is more powerful than the kind of message from scientific authorities who can be easily dismissed as part of the scientific Big Pharma coalition trying to fool us.
Guy Kawasaki: Couldn’t you make the case that the anti-vaxxers have used that very effectively when they show some mom saying, “The moment my kid got an MMR, he turned autistic.”
Bob Cialdini: Yeah, right. Yes, it’s a social process, it’s peer-suasion. You can get it to work in your favor by using this concept called a convert communicator.
Guy Kawasaki: As an expert in pre and persuasion, can you do without political bias? Because I know what your bias is and you know what my bias is, but what is an analysis of Donald Trump as a pre-suader, persuader, influencer?
Bob Cialdini: One of the things he does with a lot of persuasion is to use social proof. How many times have you heard him say, “Everybody’s saying,” or, “A lot of people think,” or “I’ve just heard that many people are now saying, ‘Wow, congratulations on that move into Syria.’” I just heard him saying that yesterday.
The idea is, a lot of people are supporting this, which causes people to say, “Oh, If a lot of others like me think this is right, it’s likely to be right.” I thought he did a terrific job in his campaign when during his events, he would ask the media, the television cameras, he would say, “Turn around. Don’t just shoot the stage, show all the people who are here. Show the size of the crowd,” because it was the crowd that then convinced viewers that a lot of people believe what this man is saying, I should listen. He’s at least entitled to have me listen, given the kinds of crowds that he can draw.
Guy Kawasaki: To flip that, what should someone running against him do?
Bob Cialdini: I’m going to go back. This very under-employed strategy we just talked about, and that is the convert communicator, where you can say TV ads or other kinds of messaging. I was a Trump voter, right? I believed him, and then I found that my job went away, or then I found that he failed to pay my cousin who was working on a building project just because he could. Or, then, I heard that my father-in-law said he just cheated him and said, “Take me to court.” Well, my father-in-law didn’t have the money. So, you find somebody who was a supporter, and then you say, “But I’ve changed. I’ve changed because of something I didn’t know before.” And now, everybody knows it in the way that you message about it.
Guy Kawasaki: Apple kind of employed that at one point when they featured … I used to be a true believer in Windows and MS-DOS, and then I switched to Macintosh, and now I’m more creative and productive.
Bob Cialdini: Same concept where if you take somebody’s message who was one of you, it’s very difficult to disregard the validity of the message because this was somebody who believed what you believed. You can’t just say, “Oh, that’s some wide-eyed crazy man who jumps at the newest product,” you know, Apple. No, this is somebody who once believed what you believed, but there’s new information in the system. I should listen to the next thing this person says.
Guy Kawasaki: One of the important offshoots of that is, essentially you are not saying you are stupid. You are saying that I was just like you and then I got more information. Because we’re both smart, we should make a new decision based on the new information. It’s not that we’re dumb, we had the wrong information or incomplete information before. Is that the gist of it?
Bob Cialdini: That’s the bullseye. You get people to distance themselves from a previous commitment by saying, “You weren’t stupid, you weren’t wrong, you weren’t a dupe. At that time, the information that you had led to a reasonable choice, but we have new information now.” It allows that person to distance from that earlier choice in a way that they wouldn’t have without pointing to new information where we get to reset and make our choice again. That’s what good decision-makers do.
Guy Kawasaki: Brilliant. Because of the power and efficacy of your techniques, your findings, your thoughts here, do you ever lay awake at night thinking, “Oh my god, the wrong people are using what I have figured out?”
Bob Cialdini: Yes. I worry a lot about the ethics of this information. But here’s how I’ve resolved it, that we are entitled to, and we should as consumers pay attention to communicators who use these principles ethically or honestly. The only people we should be alarmed about knowing this is the people who use this information in a dishonest way.
Here’s my example. Last time I bought a big-screen TV. I was in an electronic shop. I wasn’t looking to buy a TV, but I saw one on the shelf that was very well priced. It was on sale, and it was very highly regarded in Consumer Reports. I remember reading about it.
Bob Cialdini: So, a salesman saw me standing there in front of the set, and he said, “I can see you’re interested in this. I see why it’s a great deal. But I have to tell you, it’s our last one.” Then he said, “And I just got a call from a woman from Scottsdale,” I live in the Scottsdale area, “Who said she might come by this afternoon to get it?” Guy, twenty minutes later, I’m wheeling out of the shop with this set in my cart, and I’m supposed to be the professor of influence.
Bob Cialdini: Now, here’s the key. If it was really the last one, if scarcity really applied and this salesperson didn’t tell me that it was the last one, and I went home to think about it, and I came back the next day, and it was gone, I would’ve shouted at this guy, “Why didn’t you tell me it was the last one? I needed that piece of information.” Under those circumstances, using these principles of influence ethically, those people are our partners in the exchange, they’re our allies in the exchange.
Bob Cialdini: If however, that was a tactic, that was just a technique that he used with everybody; he would say, “Oh yeah, this is the last one,” and then he’d go to the back room and put another model on the shelf. So, here’s what I did. I went back the next day to see if he was honest with me, and he had been. There was an empty spot on that shelf. So, I went back to my office and I wrote a very positive review of that shock, and that man. But if there had been another one there, I would’ve written a very negative review.
Bob Cialdini: So, here’s the implication. We can’t just be passive consumers, we have to go on the attack. For people who use these principles, these practices unethically, who deceive us whether there’s real scarcity there, whether there’s real social proof, whether there’s real authority, and so on, if they lie to us, we have to fight back. We have to sting them for that so they can’t benefit in a regular way from that, and the internet now allows us to do that in ways that we just didn’t have before.
Guy Kawasaki: An example of that would be, here’s the picture the campaign showed. Look at all the people behind the candidate. And then a reporter says, “Well, here’s a picture with a wide-angle lens showing you that those are the only hundred people in the audience, the rest of the place was empty.”
Bob Cialdini: Right, or you see that with certain demographic groups. Look, there are six African-American people behind the candidate who was speaking, and then the reporter says, “Those were the only six in the 10,000 people who were there. They just recruited all of them to make it look like there was a general across ethnic group acceptance of this kid.”
Guy Kawasaki: As a podcaster, I need to introduce every podcast, so I want to ask you a real tactical question. One of the things that I learned reading your book was the power of introducing a mystery so that people have to listen or continue to get the end of the mystery. So when I position this podcast, should I begin it by saying something like, “You will learn what a presidential candidate should do to win from Bob.”
Bob Cialdini: Yes, you would say, “Of all the things that Bob thought a presidential candidate could use to win, he selected ones. We’ll find out what it is if you listen.”
Guy Kawasaki: I just love this. Going along those lines, when I introduce Jane Goodall, I should say, “I wondered what animal Jane Goodall would like to come back as. You will find out at the end of this podcast.” Something like that?
Bob Cialdini: Yes, or you might say, “I asked her which she would come back as and even more interestingly, why that one? We’ll find out from Jane in her words.”
Guy Kawasaki: Oh my God, Bob, you are the man. I’m going to let you go right now because my head is exploding with ideas about what I have to do and change. I wish we had this conversation a month ago.
Bob Cialdini: You’ll structure the introduction after the interview, so you’ll know which one to choose, right?
Guy Kawasaki: Yes, yes.
Bob Cialdini: That’s pre-suasion, man. That’s pre-suasion.
Guy Kawasaki: If I were to throw all your techniques into this, I would start off by asking a question like, are you interested in learning about, or are you interested in learning how to optimize your life from people?
Bob Cialdini: Right.
Guy Kawasaki: That’s the pre-suasion, sets people up for-
Bob Cialdini: Yes. Are you a lifetime learner? A lot of people are going to say … And especially for pieces of information that will benefit you personally and professionally? Well, I’ve got the podcast for you because that’s what we’re going to do. That’s what I’ve decided is the goal of this podcast, to provide that.
Guy Kawasaki: Now you know why in almost every one of my speeches, and I speak 50 to 75 times a year, there is one slide dedicated to you, because your information is just, it’s priceless, it’s timeless, it’s effective. It’s also very funny. I’ve never ever, ever gotten people who’ve said, well, I already knew that,” or it didn’t matter. Your stuff is so great, so I thank you, Bob, so much for doing this.
I definitely owe you one, and you know I would do the same for you. So, just let me know how I can pay you back, Bob.
Bob Cialdini: All right, man.
Guy Kawasaki: Thank you.
Bob Cialdini: Guy, this was great. You know, so many interviews the questions are just banal or vapid. They haven’t made themselves familiar with the material. This was an entirely different level of experience, so I appreciate it.
Guy Kawasaki: Now you know that the optimal response to thanks is, I know you would do the same for me. And, you understand why I asked the question, do you have a growth mindset, at the start of this podcast.
Like it or not, life is all about persuading or pre-suading people, and you’ve just learned about these two skills from the best person in the world.
I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. My thanks to the ever influential Jeff Sieh for his sound design, and the ever persuasive Peg Fitzpatrick for ensuring that you listen to this podcast.
This is Remarkable People