Pre-Suasion: A book review by Bob Morris

pre-suasionPre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
Robert Cialdini
Simon & Schuster (September 2016)

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln

I am among those who have waited more than three decades since Robert Cialdini’s classic, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, was first published in 1984 but updated since. It remains the definitive source for what is now referred to as “the psychology of persuasion.”

When he was asked why it took him so long to write another, he replied, “I never had an idea big enough. I didn’t want to plant a set of bushes around the tree that is Influence. I wanted to plant another tree.” Indeed he has. Most of the best works of non-fiction are evidence-driven and that is certainly true of this one: 91 pages are devoted to Cialdini’s references and another 67 pages are devoted to his notes.

The Lincoln comment about sharpening an axe helps to explain why Cialdini wrote Pre-Suasion. Obviously, Lincoln stresses the importance of preparation as does Sun Tzu in Art of War when asserting that every battle is won or lost before it is fought. Cialdini focuses on the preparation for what he characterizes as “privileged moments.” That is, “identifiable points in time when an individual is particularly receptive to a communicator’s message.”

With all due respect to mastering the skills when acting on the six principles that Cialdini discusses in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, it is nonetheless imperative to apply then when they will be most effective: during a “privileged moment,” when channeled attention can lead to pre-suasion. All this is thoroughly explained in Chapter 3.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Cialdini’s coverage:

o Pre-suasion (Pages 3-18)
o Privileged moments (14-15 and 19-30)
o Magnetizers (15-16 and 89-92)
o Attention (31-50)
o Causality (51-66)
o Attractions (67-81)
o Violence (70-71 and 74-75)
o Lack of closure (86-89)
o Associations (99-115)
o Geographies of influence (116-131)
o Work environments (118-119)
o Stereotypes of women (129-131)
o Correction against influence (141-145)
o Authority (152-153)
o Reciprocation (153-157)
o Liking (158-160)
o Acknowledging weaknesses (165-167 and 180-181)
o Warren Buffett (178-191)
o Holocaust (182-191)
o Strong commitments (224-227)
o Geographies and post-suasion (224-233)

In the final chapter, Cialdini suggests that — when members of an audience favor the given action or idea proposed, when they have become temporarily convinced — there’s a very important question to be confronted: “When rival communicators or even every day events divert their attention to some other concept, what can be done to prevent the favorability from evaporating?” As the Brothers Heath (Chip and Dan) would phrase it, “How to prepare and then deliver a message that will stick?”

Cialdini’s response to the question is to provide follow-up reminders or “cues.” He cites several examples of how this has been done, how commitments have been obtained, usually in the form of related behavior. Details are best revealed in the narrative, in context. However, it would not be providing a “spoiler” to say that a presentation can be temporarily persuasive — as is usually the case, for example, when presidential candidates accept their party’s nomination — but only follow-up initiatives can sustain its appeal.

In this book and in its predecessor, Influence, Robert Cialdini thoroughly explains HOW.

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