Maximum Influence: Summary & Review

Maximum Influence teaches readers how to influence and persuade people through a series of science-backed techniques.

Full Summary

About the Author: Kurt Mortensen is an American trainer on influence and persuasion.

#1. The Rule Dissonance

The law of dissonance (Festinger, 1957) says that people will naturally tend to behave consistently with their beliefs, attitudes, and values -cognitive consistency-.

Conversely, when we behave in a manner that is inconsistent with our values and beliefs, we tend to adjust our behavior in accordance to our values and beliefs to regain cognitive consistency.

This is similar to the Commitment and Consistency principle in Influence by Cialdini.

This law has many interesting ramifications in our lives.
For example, after we have placed a bet on a horse we feel more sure the horse will win.
Or if we have made a lousy decision sometimes we will fight to prove it was right just to keep that internal cognitive consistency. Buyer’s remorse is also a form of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a powerful tool you can use by making people commit to something. The more they commit, the more likely it is they will later take action..
Cognitive dissonance is especially powerful when the commitment is:

  • Public
  • Written
  • Preceded by a smaller commitment
  • Effortful -the more effort needed, the more powerful it is-

Foot in The Door & Baith and Switch

The foot in the door and bait and switch are all (rather sneaky) techniques based on the law of dissonance.
For an effective FITD:

  1. the first request needs to be big enough that it counts as a commitment, but not so big that it can be refused;
  2. the prospect must not feel like he’s being taken advantage of (that’s why it’s best a different person follows up on the second request)
  3. there must not be external incentives to consent to the first request or the prospect won’t feel internal dissonance (similarly Daniel Pink in Drive explains how external incentives cancel internal motivation)

And the steps to use the Law of Dissonance are:

  1. Get the commitment
  2. Create Dissonance: show your prospect he’s not keeping the commitment
  3. Offer the solution

#2. The Rule of Obligation

The rule of obligation is what Cialdini calls the rule of reciprocity.

It states that when people do something for us, we feel the need to reciprocate.
It’s worth noticing that the rule also produces discomfort when we can’t repay the favor.

Mortensen cites an experiment that had two people sell raffle tickets.
One was friendly, the other purposefully rude. The rude one though gave people a free drink. And he sold twice more tickets in spite of his rudeness simply because he provided a small gift that leveraged the law of obligation.

The author says the rule of obligation also works pre-emptively.
By sending a check to physicians in exchange for filling a questionnaire 78% filled the questionnaire VS 66% of those who were promised the check after they would send the questionnaire backfilled.

Even more interesting to me was that of those who received the check but did not return the questionnaire, only 26% cashed the check against 95% of those who received the check after they filled out the questionnaire.

It’s been theorized this happened because the physicians didn’t feel like they deserved the check and didn’t want to feel the discomfort of taking it without giving it back.

Influence People With Mutual Concessions

When we show people we are willing to let them change our minds and opinion, they will also be more willing to do the same.

Basically, to influence people show them they are influencing you.

Mortensen says the same is true for secrets.
Sharing a secret with someone will make him feel more intimate with you and compel him to also share personal details.

#3. The Rule of Connectivity

The rule of connectivity says that the more we attract or connect with someone, the more we will be able to influence them.

Mortensen says there are four elements of connectivity:

  • attraction
  • similarity
  • people skills
  • rapport

Maximum influence then goes over how beautiful and physical attractiveness helps people in all situations and realms of life.

Mortensen also discusses the importance of people skills in getting ahead in life both in your relationships and in your career and that people skills account for most of your career success (80% is a commonly quoted statistic made famous by Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence).

Remembering names is a great way to establish a connection, says Mortensen -and if people forget your name, check out “when someone doesn’t remember you“-.

#4. The Rule of Social Validation

Mortensen says that we are social animals, and many of our decisions and behavior are influenced by the people around us, often unconsciously.

And as much as it would pain most of us to admit, most of us do what the crowd does (only 5-10% are rule breakers).
And the more we respect the people in the group, the more their opinion matter and the bigger the group’s effect will be.

Social validation can be used both in sneaky ways and in constructive ways.

For example, children scared of dogs who watch other children play with dogs learn through social validation that if the other children can do it, and there’s no danger, so can they -67% consented to sit with dogs after watching the videos-.

Similarly, watching a political debate where the crowd cheers for one candidate can easily sway the perception of that candidate in a favorable way (watch more about political debates in Trump’s debate power moves and How to Win a Debate).

The Bystander Effect

Mortensen then goes over the dark side of Social Validation with the famous case of Catherine Genovese and what came to be known as the bystander effect.
The bystander effect says that people are unlikely to provide help when there are many other people around and nobody is acting.

To enhance the effect of social validation:

  • Size: the bigger the group, the better
  • Familiarity: the more familiar and similar the people in the group are to us, the better
  • Clarity: the clearer the social validation aspect is, the better

The Dangers of De-Individualization

Mortensen goes into the de-individualization of the individual when being part of larger groups.

What happens is that we feel anonymous in bigger groups and we feel we can get away with things we would never do by ourselves. Anti-social behavior is then also more likely to rise.

An experiment showed how children left alone were almost three times more likely to steal when in a group than when alone, and more likely to steal when they hadn’t given their name, thus making them feel even more anonymous.
Think for example of the hooligan phenomenon, or cat calls, which happen most frequently in a group of guys.

Social Validation in Marketing

Calling products “best selling” and “most popular” is an easy way of using Social Validation.

Allowing queues to form at the entrance of a club is another way of showing social validation.

#5. The Rule of Scarcity

People are more likely to act and want something when it is scarce.

This is a known phenomenon and is already well-detailed in Cialdini.

I particularly liked though when Mortensen talks about the principle of scarcity applied to auctions: we often end up bidding above the value of the product simply because someone else is trying to outbid us, making the item appear scarcer and more in demand.

To effectively use the rule of scarcity:

  • Deadlines
  • Limited number
  • Possible loss: “you may already be a winner” compels more people to check the sweepstake than “you can be a winner”
  • Restrict freedom

Threat of Potential Loss: When an item or a liberty is threatened to be restricted it usually becomes even more important to us. The mental trigger of potential loss can make us fight to defend something that we might have never even used otherwise.

Scarcity in Marketing

Some examples of the principle of scarcity in marketing are:

  • Exclusive membership requirements
  • Airlines informing they can only reserve your seat for a limited time
  • Online hotel booking informs you only one room is left
  • Sales “by invitation”
  • Offers not available in stores, or not available online

#6. The Rule of Verbal Packaging

As Tony Robbins often repeats, language directs thoughts and emotions, so the way you speak will influence both yourself and the people you communicate with.

Need I say more than what I already wrote? Language directs thoughts and emotions and can make people act in ways they wouldn’t.

#7. The Rule of Contrast:

The rule of contrast is all about human perception.

If I told you my legal fee was 3.000 you could be shocked.
But if I told you that you risk going to jail and having to pay 300.000 in reparations and a few days later I tell you I’ve just saved you from all of that and give you 3.000 bills you’ll be delighted.

Mortensen says that timing is important: the two alternatives should be one after the other -or, as in my example above, still be fresh and relevant in the prospect’s mind-.

Usually, negative information is more powerful than positive ones, and unluckily negative information tends to command more real estate in our minds.

Some ways the rule of contrast is utilized:

  • Sweeteners: adding bonus items
  • Reduce it to smaller units: instead of the yearly or monthly payments, break the costs daily and show how small they are
  • Shift focus: your product is 3% fat? Say it’s 97% lean instead
  • Door in the face: start with a huge request and your smaller follow-up request will seem small
  • Comparison: similar to door in the face but you present an undesirable alternative

#8. The Rule of Expectation:

Expectations influence reality.

Mortensen says that what is expected usually gets done.
People often rise to meet your expectations of them, and they also lower themselves to meet your low expectations (also see “How to Win Friends“).

Assuming the sales is a typical way that expectations can influence reality, and the place effect is probably an even more surprising one.
Setting goals is also a way to tap into the law of expectations.

First Meeting Expectations: Mortensen notices how often people turn out to be just as we expect them to be as soon as we meet or sometimes even before we meet them. He says this is because we send unconscious signals treating exactly how we expect them to be, and they rise to those expectations.

#9. The Rule of Involvement

Involvement means having the person you want to influence participate more actively. Mortensen says that you can increase participation with:

  • Role-Playing: let them make arguments against their own resistances and objections
  • Asking for Advice
  • Visualization
  • Physical movement
  • Increased Interactions: studies in retail showed that talking longer to a prospect increases the chances of sales
  • Increased Contact: trying something on makes us more likely to buy
  • Questions
  • Riveting Stories
  • Repeat and Repackage: the more we hear something, the more it grows on us. Mortensen says to repeat 3 times, with different words
  • Building Suspense

#10. The Rule of Esteem

Mortensen says that acceptance and craving are some of our deepest cravings.

He then goes on to say that pride is the opposite of self-esteem and is usually a red flag for low self-esteem.

My Note:
I disagree here. Pride can be a roadblock in your personal development, but it’s not a negative thing. You should be proud of yourself -just proud of the right things, of course-.

#11. The Rule of Association

Mortensen says that link objects with our inner states and feelings.

Anchoring (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974) uses the principle of association to create a specific gesture that we will associate with a feeling.
Once we want to recreate that feeling we will just have to repeat that gesture then.

Endorsements of famous people and endorsements also work with the law of association: we associate the positive qualities of the famous person or event with the product.

How where you are, who you’re with, and how you associate, can affect the perspective of others.

#12. The Rule of Balance

Mortensen says that to persuade you have to focus on emotions but still maintain a balance between emotions and logic.

In most persuasions indeed people act on emotions and afterward justify their actions with logic.
A message only of emotions will set off alarm bells, while only logic will not compel enough to take action.

How to work both the logical mind and emotional heart of a person.

maximum influence book cover


Maximum Influence is a great book on persuasion, I enjoyed it all the way and absolutely recommended it.

As a matter of fact, I will tell you that “Maximum Influence” is a vastly underrated book.

Read more summaries or Get Maximum Influence on Amazon.

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