“The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion – the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it.”

- Pre-Suasion, page 4

One of the most dog-eared books on my shelf is Influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini. Published in 1984 and translated into 30 languages with over 30 million copies sold, this book brought science to the art of persuasion.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that his sequel, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade carries on where Influence left off. It expands on his six principles of influence known widely known by influence experts as RASSCL:

R- Reciprocity
A – Authority
S – Scarcity
S – Social Proof
C – Consistency
L – Liking

This time Cialdini provides the science-based evidence of not just what to say to persuade but also when best to say it. Like good gardeners who realize that even the finest of seeds will not grow in poorly prepared soil, good influencers realize they must ready the person to ensure the seeds of influence will grow.

Even though Cialdini has popularized the science of persuasion and is among the most cited social psychologist of our time, the majority of scientific data on persuasion strangely goes unused. I’ve provided just a sampling of this research below.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Ethics - Pre-Pre-Suasive Foundation

"Do not seek dishonest gains, dishonest gains are losses."
- Hesiod, Pre-Suasion, page 214

We all know that the most important part of building a house is creating a solid foundation. Trust is the strong foundation upon which successful influence is built. When customers and employees can trust the ethics of an organization, they are more likely respond to an organization’s influence.

Cialdini offers three recommendations that he believes all organizations should adopt:

  1. Employees incentive structures should include honesty ratings by clients.
  2. The ethical reputation of the company as a whole should be measured and included in assessments of yearly performance.
  3. Senior management’s (and especially the CEO’s) compensation packages should have a component of ratings of the firm’s ethical orientation by employees.

By focusing attention on ethics, an organization can elevate the perception of trust, and ultimately become more influential. Sounds like an ideal win/win!

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

A Baker’s Dozen Ideas

"Unfortunately, the great majority of scientific data on persuasion goes unused by practitioners – even valuable findings such as this."
- Pre-Suasion, page 81

Pre-Suasion includes countless examples for how to influence behavior. Here is a baker’s dozen of ideas for you to use. One of these is not true. Which one?

If we want them to: Then we should first:
Buy a box of expensive chocolates


Arrange for them to write a much larger number than the price of the chocolates


Choose a bottle of French wine


Expose them to French background music before they decide


Agree to try an untested product


Ask whether they consider themselves adventurous


Do better on a math exam (high school senior females)


Ask them to record and reflect on their year (but not their gender), and have female monitors instead of male


Feel warmly toward us


Hand them a cold drink


Be more helpful to us


Have them look at photos of individuals standing close together


Be more achievement oriented


Provide them with an image of a runner winning a race


Make careful assessments


Show them a picture of August Rodin’s The Thinker


Trust us


Reference the weakness of your offer or idea up front


Deepen their loyalty


Ask them to recommend your brand to a friend


Be helpful


Ask them first if they consider themselves to be a helpful person


Change a behavior (e.g. lose weight)


Create If/when… then plans (e.g. When I’m hungry at 2pm, then I will reach for an apple)


Gain interest in your presentation or article


Begin it with a mystery


So did it work? Did posing the mystery up front (i.e. “Which one is not true?”) engage you?

The answer of course, is number 5: If you want someone to feel warmly towards you, give them a warm drink, not a cold one.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

When and Where—Important Considerations

"It is possible to learn scientifically established techniques that allow any of us to be more influential."
- Pre-Suasion, page 12

To illustrate the power of timing, Cialdini shares the story of how his publication deadline was pushed back by a year. While he was preparing to go to another university for a semester to work on his book, the dean of the school called. He described the wonderful office he had for Cialdini, the new computer, staff support etc. Cialdini was pleasantly surprised. It was even better than he expected.

Then came the ask. One of the professors was ill. Would Cialdini mind teaching just one class? He immediately saw his precious writing time slip away as he pictured all the time needed to prepare, teach, and work with the students. Yet he said yes. Why? On reflection, he realized it was classic influence. The Dean had offered the favor of an unexpected and delightful surprise. So when he asked for a favor in return, he had to say yes.

But as Cialdini reflected, he realized that had the Dean called the next day, he would have graciously declined. It was all in the timing. The most powerful reciprocation effect is immediately after the favor. As time passes, its potency declines.

To illustrate the power of your environment, Cialidini describes his challenge writing for a general, rather than an academic audience. He had two desks from which he would write; one in his office at the university with shelves of professional books and a fabulous view of imposing scholarly buildings. The other desk was in his apartment with a view onto an ordinary city street, filled with ordinary people doing any of a thousand ordinary things.

From which desk do you think he had greater success writing for a general ‘layman’ audience? Yup! His desk in the city. There the background cues in his physical environment guided his thoughts and helped him think from the perspective of his audience.

I work with pharmaceutical professionals, helping them be patient-focused influencers who partner with healthcare professionals to create better patient outcomes. So it makes sense that I should encourage my clients to have pictures of patients in their offices (action shots rather than head shots work better), videos of patient stories to watch, or podcasts about patient outcomes to listen to each day.

Surprisingly, Cialdini tells us, some of the behavioral science researchers have never seen implications of their amazing studies put into practice. What a pity. These researchers are doing great work – showing us better ways to influence. We just need to put that learning into action!

There are so many other tips and ideas in Pre-suasion. If influencing others is key to your success, you are missing out, not using these proven tips. Which one will you apply?

There’s a world of science behind influence just waiting for you to discover! Thank you Dr. Cialdini for opening that door!

Learn more about INFLUENCE AT WORK, and about how to effectively and ethically apply the Principles of Persuasion at the POP Workshop.

Consultant or Coach? Take our Fit Assessment to find out if partnering with Actionable is right for you.
Jill Donahue

ABOUT Jill Donahue

Everything I do is focused on improving patient outcomes. I do that by being a student and teacher of ethical, effective influence. I teach pharma people and health care professionals how to improve their ability to influence others...
Read More
blog comments powered by Disqus

Back to summaries