Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion [Book Review]

As project managers, we have to influence others – usually without formal authority.

We lead project teams made up of people who likely report to a different functional manager. And yet we depend on these team members to complete project work, meet milestone due dates, and prioritize our project work among their other tasks.

We need to encourage software end users to embrace and adopt new solutions. Usually after they’re well accustomed to familiar software, and likely not eager to change.

And there are many other events day-to-day that require persuasion and influence to help us be successful

The project manager often has all the responsibility for project success with no formal authority.

For this reason, when a friend recommended Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, I was eager to see if there was valuable advice I could use.

I wasn’t disappointed. In Influence Robert Cialdini presents eye-opening ways that influence is used on you regularly. You’re likely not even aware of it. But there’s also information you can apply to your projects, without feeling icky about your behavior.


influence Robert Cialdini


Dr. Cialdini has conducted many years of research on the psychology of influence. He’s the CEO and President of Influence At Work, an organization that provides influence training. He’s also Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.
In his book Influence Robert Cialdini  covers the following 6 principles of influence:

1. The Rule of Reciprocationinfluence robert cialdini
2. Commitment and Consistency
3. Social Proof
4. Liking
5. Authority
6. Scarcity

He covers academic studies, but also provides entertaining anecdotes. He gives examples that clearly illustrate how these play out in daily life and business.

For example, one way to persuade someone is to give a reason for your request. Cialdini explains that people will often grant a request more often if you give a reason. He went on to give a surprising and funny example:
He tells about an experiment in which subjects asked to use a copy machine that
was already in use. Sometimes the subjects would ask “Excuse me, do you mind if I use the copier?” Other times the subjects would instead say “Excuse me, do you mind if I use the copier because I need to make copies.”

When the subjects added the reason (even though it was just the same as anyone else using the machine) they were allowed to move ahead and make copies far more often.

Wow. Really?


Influence and Project Managers

The entire book was great. But the sections that were particularly interesting to me in my role as a project manager were the rule of reciprocation, commitment, and social proof. There was great research showing ways that you as a project manager could have positive influence on your project success.


Reciprocation and Influence

When presented with a gift or favor, we feel a sense of obligation. This creates a situation in which the recipient is in a situation to be more easily persuaded. Cialdini gives many examples of the use of reciprocation and obligation. The Hari Krishnas gave flowers in airports before asking for donations. Charities mail out personalized return address stickers when asking for donations.

He explains a study in which the subject bought a soda for someone prior to asking if they’d purchase raffle tickets. More raffle tickets were purchased when the gift soda was offered than when it wasn’t.

Cialdini explains that you can influence someone’s behavior by doing a small favor prior to your request. This could easily be applied by doing favors or offering small gifts (even getting coffee or chocolate) for your team or others you’d like to gain favor with. This does not have to come off as sucking up. You can do this with sincerity and a gracious spirit.

I’m just now remembering all those lovely cups of tea I’ve been offered in carpet shops around Asia as gorgeous carpets were spread before me. Is that why I felt more compelled to buy?

(Perhaps situations are coming to mind for you, too? You’ll possibly be more mindful of them in the future.)


Commitment and Influence

When someone makes a public statement, it greatly influences their desire to stand by that decision. In Influence Robert Cialdini gives examples of people who’ve increased their success rate in quitting smoking by declaring it to others. He also tells of a restaurant that had a high rate of no-shows by those who made reservations. By simply having the receptionist get a commitment from patrons to let her know if they change their plans, they reduced the no-show rate.

The commitment principle could easily be applied to your project team. When you get commitment from team members to complete a task by a certain date, they’re more likely to do so. If you have daily stand-ups with your team, and each person makes a commitment to address something that day, they’ll surely be more likely to do so. Especially if they must come in the next day and report progress vocally to the team.


influence Robert Cialdini


Social Proof and Influence

People love social proof. They are comforted knowing that others like them approve of something. Social proof can be a great influencer. In Influence Robert Cialdini talks about the use of canned laughter for TV shows, and even though people hate it they respond to it – so that’s why TV producers use it. It offers social proof.

If you’re rolling out software to a team and you can get testimonials or support from users, this can help others feel more optimistic about adoption. This is one immediate situation that comes to mind, but I’m sure you’ll think of others ways you can apply it to your particular situations.



influence Robert Cialdini


Eye Opening and Surprising Read

Some of what you’ll read here will be obvious. And some lessons won’t be quite so obvious, but as you consider them, they make perfect sense, and you’ll start to realize how they play out in daily life.

“Our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”

I can think of ways that these principles can be applied in your work as a project manager. And even if you’re not working as a project manager, there are ways these principles can be applied in your work.

I’m not talking about being insincerely manipulative. But rather, when you know that your software solution needs to be successful and adopted by resistant end users, you could use influence principles to help ease the transition for teams.

In Influence Robert Cialdini presents a book that’s entertaining and easy to read. Not heavy or overly academic. While Dr. Cialdini has the credentials and is an authority on the topic, his writing approach is easy and entertaining.

There’s much more than is briefly mentioned here. When you read Dr. Cialdini’s book, you’ll come away not only knowing how to use these principles, but you’ll be aware of how others are using them on you, too.


  1. Dave Gordon March 19, 2017
    • Leigh Espy March 20, 2017

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