This is part of a series of information/stories delivered from the INCREDIBLE book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini. If you work or live a life where you have to get people to do thing, Influence studies and explains the 6 most powerful forces to persuade people. No other book has been recommended to me more, by people smarter than both of us.
In short, they are:
2) Social proof
3) Commitment & Consistency
4) Liking: People prefer to say ” yes” to those they know
And they will be a game changer for you and your business.
Today we elaborate on Authority.
It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief power of the Principle of Authority. And the definition of “authority” can vary from law enforcement, to commanding officers, to people in suits and lab coats.
Whenever we are faced with so potent a motivator of human action, it is natural to expect that good reasons exist for the motivation. In the case of obedience to authority, even a brief consideration of human social organization offers justification aplenty. A multilayered and widely accepted system of authority confers an immense advantage upon a society. It allows the development of sophisticated structures for resource production, trade, defense, expansion, and social control that would otherwise be impossible. The other alternative, anarchy, is a state that is hardly known for its beneficial effects on cultural groups.
Consequently, we are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong. The essential message fills the parental lessons, the schoolhouse rhymes, stories, and songs of our childhood and is carried forward in the legal, military, and political systems we encounter as adults. Notions of submission and loyalty to legitimate rule are accorded much value in each.
The very first book of the Bible, for example, describes how failure to obey the ultimate authority produced the loss of paradise for Adam, Eve, and the rest of the human race. Should that particular metaphor prove too subtle, just a bit further into the Old Testament we can read—in what might be the closest biblical representation of the Milgram experiment—the respectful account of Abraham’s willingness to plunge a dagger through the heart of his young son, because God, without any explanation, ordered it.
For those whose doubts remain, the story of S. Brian Willson might prove instructive. On September 1, 1987, to protest U.S. shipments of military equipment to Nicaragua, Mr. Willson and two other men stretched their bodies across the railroad tracks leading out of the Concord, California, Naval Weapons Station. The protesters were confident that their act would halt the scheduled train’s progress that day, as they had notified Navy and railroad officials of their intent three days before. But the civilian crew, which had been given orders not to stop, never even slowed the train, despite being able to see the protesters six hundred feet ahead.
Although two of the men managed to scramble out of harm’s way, Mr. Willson was not quick enough to avoid being struck and having both legs severed below the knee. Because Navy medical corpsmen at the scene refused to treat him or allow him to be taken to the hospital in their ambulance, onlookers—including Mr. Willson’s wife and son—were left to try to stanch the flow of blood for forty-five minutes until a private ambulance arrived.
Amazingly, Mr. Willson, who served four years in Vietnam, does not blame either the crewmen or the corpsmen for his misfortune; he points his finger, instead, at a system that constrained their actions through the pressure to obey.