Methods of Persuasion (2013) covers the persuasion process from pre-delivery to post-delivery to (dramatically) increase the likelihood of compliance.
Please Note: I file this review into “persuasion and manipulation” category as persuasion technics can be used for manipulation as well. However, Nick Kolenda, the author, does not endorse manipulation.
Honestly, I was NOT looking forward to summarizing “Methods of Persuasion”.
I like -and pride myself- of doing a great job with my summaries. But there is so much great stuff here that I couldn’t do a proper summary of Methods of Persuasion without using too much of the author’s material -and my summaries are NOT a replacement of the full product-.
But anyway, here is me trying to give you a taste.
Methods of Persuasion presents a series of 7 steps, which the author says “conveniently” adds to the acronym “METHODS”.
- Mold Their Perception
- Elicit Congruent Attitudes
- Trigger Social Pressure
- Habituate Your Message
- Optimize Your Message
- Drive Their Momentum
- Sustain Their Compliance
The first four steps are delivered before the request.
Step 4 and 5 during the request.
And the last steps after the request.
Before The Request
Let’s start with before the request:
Prime Their Mindset
You can make people think about a certain topic by simply mentioning topics that remind them of a certain subject.
For example, if you remind women of their gender, you activate the stereotype of being bad at math and you can lower their math performance.
If you want your target to be more open-minded then a much better way than telling them to be open-minded -albeit that might work too if you know how to do it-, you might talk about something which related to open-mindedness.
For example, a story of someone doing something crazy and having a blast while learning and growing from it.
There are some limitations to this technique. Since schemas are very personal and dependant on the background and personal life experiences, you can never be sure what will activate what.
In the example in the book, he wanted to prime the readers for a carrot. But since I am Italian, the first vegetable that sprung to my mind was tomato :).
Anchor Their Perception
Anchoring (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974) is so powerful that we fall for it even when know we are being anchored.
And when we are in a new situation with no anchor, we try to come up with our own anchor (“self-generated anchor”).
An anchor is powerful because we tend to move from the anchor to the outer reaches of our range for whatever phenomenon (or price) we are considering.
When dealing with semantic categories, depending on the situation, we can also adjust away from the anchor (for example if you ask me to assess the calories of a big mac after mentioning lettuce).
In negotiations, you should start with the highest number you can get away with.
When presenting options, you should use a decoy to make your favorite option seem better.
Elicit Congruent Attitudes
If you can make the person act, stand, or think in a way that is congruent with the action or message you want them to espouse, chances are they will follow through.
What happens is that they see themselves acting a certain way and they adjust their own beliefs and attitudes to match their actions.
To take advantage of our need to present congruent behavior, Kolenda describes the “foot in the door technique”, the “lowball technique“, the elicitation of an attitude (which can be as simple as asking “how are you”).
Trigger Social Pressure
Remind people that your desired behavior is the norm, reveal similarities with your target, make it seem like you belong to the same group (use words such as “we” and “us”).
Once you can position yourself as “like the target”, you can display the behavior you want the target to assume and chances are higher they will follow you.
Use social norms, group pressure, and rapport to influence your target.
Habituate Your Message
The more you can repeat your message and familiarize your target with it, the more he will naturally come to like it and accept it.
There are several reasons why this is the case. One of them is that as the message becomes more familiar with your target, he is able to recall it and understand it more easily and quickly.
And “ease” and “speed” become signs for “truth” and “liking”.
To habituate your target you can mention the topic, or something similar to the topic, right before you make your request.
If you know is likely to perceive your message unfavorably, you can habituate them in small incremental steps.
During the Request
All of what we said before is about pre-suasion (also read Pre-Suasion by Cialdini).
Optimize Your Message
People judge messages based on cautious and rational analysis (systematic processing) or quickly and more haphazardly (heuristic processing).
This is what Kahneman refers to as “fast and slow”.
Nick Kolenda then says that if you know that your target is likely to glance quickly at your message, you should prioritize “peripheral” cues such as the aesthetics, the marketing, the look, and feel.
If you know they are going to analyze it deeply, put more thought into arguments, logic and numbers.
To elicit heuristic processing three strategies are: increase the complexity of your message, enhance their mood, or spark their arousal.
Smaller font on good-looking products is also more likely to persuade as people are more likely to believe you without checking.
The difficulty in processing the information is also misattributed to the uniqueness of the product.
But if it’s a run-of-the-mill product the font should be bigger because ease of processing generates familiarity.
- To optimize your message, use “you” and ask rhetorical questions (ie.: “don’t you agree that… “, “isn’t it true that.. “)
- Position your best arguments first an last
- Enhance your attractiveness
Drive The Momentum
In these chapters, Kolenda describes how you should not give monetary or big incentives if you want to keep their goodwill because that will crowd out intrinsic motivation (also read Drive).
For one-off actions though large incentives are fine -just pay attention it’s not so large that they “choke” under pressure-.
- Don’t make your target feel like you’re trying to control them (avoid the word “should”)
- Promote autonomy to let your target choose the reward
- Use scarcity (limit time and availability)
- Think twice before giving too many options (The Paradox of Choice)
- If you have many options it’s good, but categorize them and chunk them up
Feature and feelings from one stimulus transfer to another.
So you should always strive to create a positive association with the action you want your target to perform (or belief you want them to adopt).
Nick Kolenda here goes over the famous Pavlov dog, Skinner and operant conditioning.
I loved Kolenda’s explanation here:
Whenever we’re presented with a new concept, we can’t simply place that concept free-floating in our brain; in order to successfully integrate that new concept into our existing network of knowledge, we need to attach it to an already existing concept via some type of similarity or association.
Classical conditioning is effective because it essentially forms a new connection in that network.
- Metaphors (relate to the familiar and to basic survival like food)
- Leverage good / up positive associations
- Associate with naturally occuring primes (ie.: Apple brand with apple)
- Enhance your attractiveness
This was a wonderful “aha moment” for me that connected the dots of several similar studies and researches I had already read.
I quote Nick Kolenda:
We think we possess a solid grasp of our own emotions and we believe that all types of emotions—sadness, excitement, fear, etc.—produce different sensations and feelings within us. What’s surprising is that many of those emotions produce the same exact physiological response.
The emotions than “feel” different because we look at the environment for cues to explain why we’re feeling what we’re feeling.
And we tend to make up stories about the “why” depending on what sees first or what makes the most sense.
this is why having arousing dates can work in making our dates believe they really like us: they misattribute their arousal (for something else) with attraction (for us).
- Convey high expectations
Some people downsell to beat expectations, but you’re probably going to end up with a higher rating if you anchor expectations very high.
- Use “you” pronouns in your message
If you want to give a feeling of similarity, use “us” and “we”. If you want to grab attention, research in advertisement shows that “you” can dramatically increase the persuasiveness of an advertisement.
- Make your description difficult to read or understand
If you want you or your services to be perceived as “advanced” or unique, make it complex to understand or even to read, with smaller fonts or fonts against a similarly-colored background.
If you know my reviews, you know what I am about to write.
If you don’t know yet, my rule of thumb is that the better a book/resource is, the deeper I go with my nitpicking.
So here’s my nitpicking for this wonderful resource:
- Sometimes the “why” didn’t convince me
When cult members realized the world wasn’t ending and there was no alien ship to take them on board, they developed stronger beliefs, says Colenda.
In my opinion, it’s not that they developed stronger beliefs, but they acted more on their beliefs and tried to recruit new people because now they needed their BS to be true (some of them had even sold all their belongings).
- Sometimes general rules are inferred by one single study
Sometimes I felt some statements were a bit too bold in generalizing big psychological principles just because there was one mentioned study that confirmed it.
Countless studies have been proven wrong by successive researches. That is why generalizing based on one single study takes us into dangerous territories.
- Negative and graphic messages don’t always work better
The author says that graphic ads for driver safety work better. But that’s not always true.
People are more likely to heed a highly emotional and painful message when they feel they can do something about it.
But if they feel too overwhelmed or like they can’t change their behavior, they will suppress the message instead.
Also read: The Social Animal.
- Adding negative information doesn’t always make you more persuasive
The author also says that you should introduce a small amount of negative information to make your case because it will look like you have done your research and considered all sides of the coin.
However, that’s not always true: if you are presenting to an audience that is already full on your side, then it’s better to state your case without acknowledging discordant information.
With a well informed or critical audience instead, it’s best not to use one-sided arguments.
I can’t list all the pros because when it comes to influencing, “Methods of Persuasion” is possibly the best book I have read so far.
Nick Kolenda takes a huge amount of scientific research and distills it in digestible, easy to understand, and “ready to use” fashion so that every reader can use (or defend himself).
I have rarely seen a more referenced book.
Part of it, is because the author wants to portray authority -as he admits himself-.
And the other reason that he does not say himself, but which I will, is that he simply does a great job at being a thorough author.
Some of his most references works, which he mentions in the foreword, include Robert Cialdini -author of Influence-, Daniel Kahneman -author of Thinking Fast and Slow-, Dan Ariely -author of Predictably Irrational– and a few more.
Nick Kolenda says that his goal is to make Methods of Persuasion your most highlight book.
Well, he did pretty well in my case.
Methods of Persuasion is one of the best books I have read on “Machiavellian psychology“.
I also took one of his courses and it was great.