Ep. 76, Change My Mind: Using “Pre-suasion” to Influence Others | Summary and Q&A

January 24, 2023
Stanford GSB Podcasts
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Ep. 76, Change My Mind: Using “Pre-suasion” to Influence Others

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In this episode, Matt Abrahams interviews Robert Cialdini, an expert in persuasion and social influence. They discuss the concepts of persuasion and pre-suasion, the role of attention and motivation in influencing behavior, and how language and social norms can be used to influence people. They also explore the principles of unity, scarcity, and social proof, and how they can be leveraged in persuasive communication.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the distinction between persuasion and pre-suasion?

Persuasion involves motivating people to say yes by including factors such as quality, price, values, popularity, etc. in the message. Pre-suasion, on the other hand, is about focusing people's attention on these motivators before they encounter the message. It involves priming the audience by bringing certain aspects to consciousness beforehand. For example, in a study with a furniture store, the background of the landing page (fluffy clouds vs. small coins) affected people's preferences for comfortable or inexpensive furniture.

Q: How does the principle of unity work in persuasion? Can you give an example?

The principle of unity involves showing people that you share an important personal or social identity with them, that you are one of them. When people perceive you as a member of their "we group," resistance to influence declines. For instance, in a study, a young woman asking for donations for the United Way on a university campus got significantly more contributions when she added the sentence, "I'm a student here too." This sense of unity and shared identity makes people more likely to say yes.

Q: How does scarcity influence people's behavior?

People are attracted to things that are scarce or rare because they perceive them to be more valuable. This is due to loss aversion, where the prospect of losing something is more motivating than the prospect of gaining the same thing. Scarcity can be used strategically to motivate action. For example, eBay auctions drive excitement as they near the end, creating a sense of urgency and scarcity. Scarcity can be manufactured or emphasized to make something more desirable.

Q: How can social norms be used to influence people's behavior?

Social norms play a significant role in influencing behavior. When people see that others are doing something, it validates that behavior and makes it more correct. The principle of social proof can be leveraged in persuasive communication. For example, a sign in a hotel room mentioning that the majority of guests who stayed in that room reused their towels significantly increased the likelihood of towel reuse. People are more likely to engage in a behavior if they see others like them or comparable to them doing the same thing.

Q: Does word choice really matter in persuasion?

Word choice can have a significant impact on persuasion. For example, using the word "advice" instead of "opinion" can change the dynamics of a conversation. Asking for someone's advice instead of their opinion creates a partnership and collaboration mindset, leading to more favorable evaluations and better input. The associations and connotations attached to words can influence how people perceive and respond to a message.

Q: How can language, social norms, and other influencing factors be applied in communication?

It's essential to be aware of the specific circumstances and adjust communication strategies accordingly. Different tools, such as scarcity, social proof, unity, etc., can be used ethically and effectively based on the situation. Maintaining credibility, ethics, and showing the practical application of the message are also important ingredients for successful communication. Building long-term relationships where people trust and value the communicator's input is crucial.

Q: Who is a communicator that Robert Cialdini admires and why?

Robert Cialdini mentions Greta Thunberg as a communicator he admires. He appreciates how she has overcome personal challenges and effectively communicates her commitment to the environment. Her messages are clear, powerful, and she leads by example, which Cialdini finds inspiring.

Q: What are the first three ingredients for a successful communication recipe?

According to Cialdini, credibility, ethics, and application are key ingredients for successful communication. Building trust and being seen as knowledgeable and trustworthy are foundational (credibility). Upholding ethical standards is crucial for maintaining long-term relationships and avoiding negative consequences. Finally, showing the practical value of the message and how it can benefit the audience increases the chances of successful persuasion.

Q: Can you give an example of how the application of persuasion principles can be context-dependent?

Using the same persuasion approach in every situation is not effective. Its success depends on the specific context, circumstances, and target audience. For instance, an appeal to scarcity may work well in a limited-time offer, but it may not be relevant in a long-term relationship. It's important to assess which persuasion principle aligns with the situation and adapt accordingly for maximum impact.

Q: How can the principle of scarcity be leveraged in persuasive communication?

The principle of scarcity can be leveraged by highlighting the limited availability or dwindling quantity of a product or opportunity. People value and desire things that are scarce because they fear missing out or losing the opportunity to obtain them. Communicators can create a sense of urgency or exclusivity by emphasizing limited supply, limited time offers, or highlighting high demand. This can motivate people to take action sooner and preferentially choose what is scarce.

Q: How can the principle of social proof be applied in persuasive communication beyond testimonials?

Social proof can be applied by showcasing the behaviors and choices of others that align with the desired outcome. Testimonials are an example, but other forms of social proof can also be effective. For instance, presenting statistics or data on high adoption rates, customer reviews, ratings, or even mentioning the popularity of a particular product or service can influence people's decisions. It helps create a sense of validation and reduces uncertainty by showing that others have chosen and benefited from a similar option.

Q: Can you share a personal example of how the principle of unity influenced your perception or behavior?

Cialdini shares a personal example of how his identification as a Green Bay Packers fan influenced his perception of musical artists Justin Timberlake and Lil Wayne. When he found out that they were also Green Bay Packers fans, he immediately had a more positive view of their music and wished for their success. This highlights how shared identities can create a sense of unity and positively influence our attitudes and behaviors toward others.


Persuasion and influence involve understanding the motivations and attention of others. Pre-suasion is about priming people's attention by bringing certain motivators to mind before delivering the message. The principles of unity, scarcity, and social proof can be leveraged in persuasion. Unity is about establishing a shared identity to reduce resistance to influence, scarcity makes scarce things desirable, and social proof validates and guides behavior based on what others are doing. Language and word choice matter in persuasion, and the specific context and audience should be considered for effective communication. Maintaining credibility, ethics, and practical application are essential for successful persuasion.

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