Summary Written by Susan Gregory
"Small changes can make a big different to your powers of persuasion."

- Yes!, book cover

The Big Idea

Gazing up at the sky

"Persuasion is a science."- Yes!, page 5

Studies show what works, but many don’t apply it. If we look into these studies and understand what they mean for us, we’ll be able to persuade our children to do their homework, convince the boss of the value of our suggestions and sell more easily to our clients.

Why don’t we take more advantage of these studies? Perhaps we’re following the principle of social proof, which tells us that we look to what others do to guide our behavior.

Social proof is a powerful concept. Research scientist Stanley Milgram conducted a study in New York City, whereby one man (an actor) stopped and looked at the sky for 60 seconds. He was largely ignored. When four more actors were added, gazing into the sky, the number of people who stopped to see what they were looking at quadrupled.

How can this idea be used elsewhere to convince others to take action? Hotels want people to reuse their towels and almost all hotels use the same message on small cards in the guests’ rooms: reusing your towels helps the environment. But, are environmental benefits as persuasive as social proof? The results are in: when the sign mentioned instead that most people who had stayed in that hotel reused at least one towel, participation increased by 26%.

What other concepts can we apply to be more persuasive?

Insight #1

To make more sales, offer fewer choices

"What could possibly account for this tenfold increase in sales?"- Yes!, page 26

This was an eye-opener. We tend to believe that the more choices we have, the happier we’ll be. However, having to analyze and weigh up multiple options is time-consuming. We feel frustrated and confused. Often, we’ll end up simply choosing nothing.

The jam experiment (as outlined in more detail in our summary of The Art of Choosing and our interview with Sheena Iyengar) involved a display at an upscale supermarket, featuring either 24 or 6 different jams to taste. When 24 options were available, only 3% bought jam. When 6 options were available, 30% of those who approached the display bought jam – a tenfold increase! More is not always better, when it comes to choices.

Procter & Gamble applied this concept to their benefit: they reduced the number of Head and Shoulders varieties from 26 to 15. This resulted in a 10% increase in sales!

Are we giving our clients too many choices? The lesson here is to make it easy for clients and customers to buy from us, by offering a sensible number of products or services.

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Insight #2

To persuade others that you're competent, admit when you're wrong

"…if you play the blame game, pointing your finger at external sources, rather than yourself, both you and your organization will likely end up as the losers…"- Yes!, page 110

We often see examples of organizations refusing to apologize and accept responsibility for their mistakes. Perhaps it’s a fear of admitting liability and becoming open to expensive lawsuits. However, when a company or an individual fails to take responsibility when things go wrong, they are missing an opportunity to be seen as credible and competent.

Social scientist Fiona Lee conducted a study in which participants read reports about a fictitious company. Two reports were produced. Each report contained information that the company had produced poor results over the previous year. Report A cited internal factors, such as management decisions and investments in new products, while Report B blamed external factors such as the economy and competition. Participants who read Report A rated the company more positively on a number of factors than those who read Report B.

It takes humility and bravery to admit when we make mistakes. It often feels easier to blame external circumstances: the weather, the economy, the government. Blaming outside circumstances doesn’t work, because we’re implying that we don’t have control over the situation or the ability to fix it.

There’s a simple (but not necessarily easy!) way to apply this, both personally and professionally. When you’ve made a mistake, say you’re sorry. Apologize quickly and clearly, taking responsibility and looking at what you can do differently next time. Though it can be tough to admit when you’ve failed, the overall effect is that you’re more likely to be seen as someone who is competent and in control.

There are so many useful tips in this book; it was difficult to choose just two gems. Each of the 50 methods is a gem on its own. With just three clearly written pages for each tip, it’s easy to dip in and out. Over 2 million people have benefitted from the work of Robert Cialdini and his co-authors – pick up a copy of Yes! so you can too.

Read the book

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Noah J. Goldstein

Dr Noah J. Goldstein is a faculty member at Anderson School of Management at UCLA, California. His scholarly research and writing have been published in many of the premier psychology and business journals, and he has been awarded research fellowships and grants from several US government institutions, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He has also consulted for a number of corporate and government organisations.

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