Robert Cialdini discusses influence in politics and across cultures, and how technology has changed the field.
Question: Do you see these principles of influence at work in politics?
Cialdini: I do. Let’s take the two conventions that we’ve just experienced, the Democratic and Republican Convention. Both were trying to send a message and, I think, a subtle message, not specifically enunciated but subtext below the surface message, each trying to activate a particular principle of influence that we all respond to. For the Democrats, it was the principle of consensus, the fact that the final night speech was held in a stadium of 80,000 people, the message was, “Look at all of the people who are on board with us. It must be the right thing to do.” That message, very clear. If everybody’s doing something, it’s a shortcut indication of what’s the valid thing to do. Right? For the Republicans, the message of John McCain, all of the people who were building up to his speech and all of the first half of his speech was, “Look what this man has already given to us. Look at the service that he has provided. Look at the pain that he has experienced as a patriot, as a captive, all those years. He’s entitled to our support for what he’s done already.” There’s a rule, the rule for reciprocation in all of human cultures that say, “We have to give back to those who have given to us. We have to give back to those who have given to us. [Otherwise], we’re not good people if we fail to do that.” So the subtext message of the Republican Convention, I think, is, “Look at what our man has done for you. You’re obligated to pay attention to his message, at least to do that much for him, if not to support him for what he’s done.” The Democratic message was, “Look at all the people who are supporting us. It must be the right thing for you too.”
Question: Do the same principles of influence apply across cultures?
Cialdini: There’s good news about the extent to which these principles apply in all cultures and there’s bad news too, for those of us who want to use them effectively. The good news is, all 6 of these principles, the fundamental principles of influence, apply in all human cultures. The bad news is the priorities associated with them are different in cultures. There was a great study done at Stanford University in connection with Citibank that has offices all over the world. These researchers went to Citibank employees in four prototypical cultures, and they said to these employees, “If one of your colleagues came to you with a request for help on a project that require taking time, energy, even staffing away from your own project, under what circumstances would you feel most obligated to say yes?” And in the US, the answer came, “I would ask myself, has this requestor done anything for me lately? If so, I have to say yes.” That’s the rule for reciprocation. In the Far East, the answer was different. It was, “Is this requestor connected to my group, especially the senior person in my group?” This was deference to authority. Out of fealty to one’s boss, you have to say yes to this person if he or she is connected to your boss. In the Mediterranean cultures, Spain, the answer was, “Is this person connected to my friends?” It wasn’t fealty to your boss, it was loyalty to your friendship network that spur the obligation, “I have to say yes to this person.” And in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, the answer was different, “According to the official regulations and rules of this organization, am I supposed to say yes?” So this was commitment and consistency to a mission statement, to a set of organizing principles, and people want to be consistent with that. The key is to recognize… Look, it’s not that in Germany, they don’t care about friendship. Of course they do. It’s not that in New York they don’t care about authority. Of course they do. But the priorities, the weight associated with each of these principles, will shift from culture to culture.
Question: Has technology improved the means of influence?
Cialdini: You know, it’s doing both. It’s expediting the way by segmenting the market more, you know, in a more detailed way, but it’s also causing us to lose some humanity. There was a great study that was done. MBA students at Northwestern University and Stanford University engaged in bargaining a negotiation over Internet, e-mail, the most bloodless of all communication mechanism, and they were surprised to see that when they engaged in this negotiation by e-mail, in 30% of the instances, there was no successful resolution. The negotiation was stymied. Everybody lost. They did a follow up where instead of just having them negotiate by e-mail first they had them send some information back and forth about one another’s personal hobbies and where they went to school as undergraduates, where they grew up, if they’ve been married, do they have any kids, these kinds of things. In other words, they personalized the exchange before they got to business, the way we do in a face to face interaction. And now, the same negotiation properties, the same simulation that they were working on, they only got 6% stymied negotiation. So you drop from 30 to 6% by simply bringing the flesh and blood back into the exchange that the e-mail process took out. So we can, we can use technology for very good purposes. Sometimes it undercuts us, but we can restore the value of the human exchange by bringing that back into the technology we use.