Reading Notes For: 

Part 3: The Power of Consistency

This is a summary of my reading notes from Influence by Robert Cialdini.

“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini is a timeless masterpiece that unveils the secrets of persuasion. Cialdini delves into human psychology, revealing six principles of influence that guide our decisions. What sets this book apart is its practicality; it offers actionable strategies for marketing, sales, and communication. Cialdini’s storytelling prowess makes the concepts engaging and memorable. It remains relevant despite its 1984 publication, offering a solid foundation for understanding human behavior in a changing world. Importantly, “Influence” emphasizes ethical persuasion, making it a must-read for anyone seeking to influence others with integrity.

Let’s delve deeper into the intriguing realm of commitment and consistency, exploring the profound influence of initiation rites and the nuances of inner responsibility. This extended discussion will provide us with a more comprehensive understanding of these psychological phenomena.

Initiation rites, practiced across diverse cultures and groups throughout history, serve a pivotal purpose: they foster loyalty and dedication among participants, thereby enhancing group cohesiveness and increasing the odds of survival. Remarkably, a study examining fifty-four tribal cultures discovered that those with the most elaborate and rigorous initiation ceremonies also exhibited the highest levels of group solidarity.

Now, let’s explore the critical elements that make commitments so effective in reshaping an individual’s self-image and future behavior. Commitments tend to have the most profound impact when they possess specific characteristics. These include being active, public, and effortful. However, there is one paramount quality that eclipses all the others combined.

To illustrate this point, consider fraternities. They staunchly resist incorporating civic activities into their initiation rituals. The reason is simple: they want initiates to wholeheartedly own their actions. No excuses or outs are permitted. If an individual endures a challenging hazing process, they cannot later justify it as an act of charity. This leads us to a fundamental aspect of effective commitment: inner responsibility.

Research reveals that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we believe we’ve chosen to perform it independently, without significant external pressures. Large rewards and threats, while they may induce immediate compliance, often fail to instill inner responsibility, and consequently, long-term commitment.

Now, let’s apply this knowledge to the realm of parenting. It suggests that we should avoid heavy-handed bribery or threats when encouraging our children to adopt certain beliefs and behaviors. While these tactics may yield temporary compliance, they fall short of nurturing inner responsibility in our children. To achieve more than mere compliance, we must somehow guide them toward accepting inner responsibility for their actions.

Discerning parents will identify the reasons that resonate most effectively with their children. The key is selecting a reason that not only triggers the desired behavior but also empowers the child to take personal responsibility for it. The less detectable the external pressure within the reason, the more likely it is to be effective. While choosing the right reason may present challenges, the effort invested will undoubtedly pay dividends, differentiating between fleeting compliance and enduring commitment.

Now, let’s return to the concept of inner change through commitment. Commitments that engender inner change wield incredible power. Firstly, this transformative change extends far beyond the specific situation in which it originated, influencing a spectrum of related circumstances. Secondly, the effects of this change endure over time. Once an individual has been induced to act in a manner that reshapes their self-image, they are likely to maintain that new behavior.

However, there’s another captivating facet to commitments that stimulate inner change—they grow their own support system. They don’t necessitate costly and continuous reinforcement efforts because the drive for consistency naturally takes care of it. An individual who begins to perceive themselves as, for example, a public-spirited citizen will naturally start viewing the world differently, noticing new facts, and becoming more persuasive to themselves about the correctness of their choice. This process generates additional justifications for the commitment, which can bolster the perception that they’ve behaved correctly, even if the initial reason for the behavior is removed.

Now, let’s shift our focus to the business world, specifically the automotive industry, where a tactic called “lowballing” is employed. This tactic offers customers an exceptional deal, often hundreds of dollars below competitors’ prices, with no intention of honoring it. The objective is to secure the customer’s commitment to buying a car from the dealership. Once the commitment is made, a series of activities strengthen the customer’s sense of personal commitment to the car. These activities include filling out purchase forms, arranging financing terms, and even allowing the customer to drive the car for a day before signing the contract. During this time, customers develop new reasons to support their choice.

However, on occasion, an “error” in calculations is discovered, resulting in a price increase. Astonishingly, customers are often willing to accept this price hike because they’ve developed an array of other justifications favoring their choice. This highlights how a personal commitment can create a web of support and justifications that reinforce the initial decision.

Now, how can we protect ourselves against these persuasive tactics that exploit our inclination toward consistency? It’s crucial to recognize when consistency might lead to a poor choice. There are two types of signals that can help us with this. The first signal manifests in the pit of our stomachs when we realize we’re being coerced into complying with a request we genuinely don’t want to fulfill. It’s a visceral feeling, and paying heed to it can be our primary defense.

The second type of signal is more subtle and occurs slightly before we can intellectualize our feelings. It’s a pure, basic feeling, and it emanates from what we might refer to as our “heart of hearts.” This is the genuine feeling you should trust when asking yourself whether you’d make the same choice again. By paying attention to these signals, we can avoid the trap of mindless consistency.

In conclusion, comprehending the dynamics of commitment and consistency empowers us to make more informed decisions in various aspects of our lives. Whether as parents guiding our children, consumers navigating persuasive sales tactics, or individuals maneuvering through group dynamics, this knowledge equips us to recognize the power of inner responsibility, the role of justifications in reinforcing commitments, and the signals that help us steer clear of the pitfalls of thoughtless consistency. Thank you for joining me on this enlightening journey through the psychology of influence and commitment, with a deeper and more detailed exploration of these fascinating concepts.

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