“Influence” or Preying on Human Weakness?
I was recently reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. And I didn’t like it. At all. Dr. Cialdini bills the book as a study in understanding the many methods by which our decision-making can be influenced by the delivery of an idea. But what it felt like to me was an instruction manual for taking advantage of my fellow man.
I completely understand the importance of having an awareness of the methods that are being employed against me. But I dislike the notion of providing a psychological primer to those who would use it for personal gain to the detriment of others. A physicist could publish a book on how to dismantle an atomic bomb (the U2 album notwithstanding), but he couldn’t decry it as being unforeseeable when someone reads his book from back-to-front and assembles the same bomb.
For some context, these are some of the most popular passages in Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:
A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.
There is a principle in human perception, the contrast principle, that affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another. Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is.
The rule [for reciprocation] says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. … Another consequence of the [reciprocity] rule, however, is an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us. … The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of reciprocal concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start. 
Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures.
In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.
The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.
I’m not here to suggest there’s anything nefarious about the book or its author. I’m merely pointing out that there’s a common thread that runs through the most frequently highlighted paragraphs and sentences. And that thread is those portions of the book deal with exerting influence or power over others by manipulation. I was even caught up in trying to figure out how to use these tactics to my advantage in managing cases and negotiating settlement. It’s not really a train of thought I was comfortable with. And I’m even less comfortable knowing others may be trying to use similar tactics against me. But I guess now I at least know what to look for.
In spite of everything I’ve written here (or perhaps, because of it), if you’re interested in reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, you can find it at Amazon.
Other non-fiction books I’ve discussed:
 Cialdini , Robert B., Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Id. at 9.
 Id. at 13, 27, 30.
 Id. at 71.
 Id. at 98.
 Id. at 179.