In America there’s a debate raging and millions of people are lining up on opposite sides of the issue. The debate has to do with constitutional rights vs. public safety. You probably know I’m talking about the gun control issue that’s come to the forefront of national attention after the Sandy Hook tragedy last year. At the center of the debate is gun ownership and in particular assault weapons.
This post has to do with that debate because it’s about weapons. If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s classic book, Influence Science and Practice, then you know it was born out of his curiosity about why he was such a “patsy” when it came to the “pitches of peddlers, fund-raisers, and operators of one sort or another.” He wrote, “I wanted to find out which psychological principles influenced the tendency to comply with a request.” Thinking of himself as someone who was taken advantage of more than he cared to admit, a few sentences later he characterized these psychological principles as “weapons of influence” because quite often they were used against defenseless people. I say defenseless because manipulators understood the principles but their targets of influence didn’t and that gave manipulators a huge advantage. Cialdini held to this viewpoint so much so that at the end of each chapter ideas are presented on how you can defend yourself against the manipulative use of these weapons of influence.
Nearly 30 years have passed since Influence first hit bookstores and times have changed when it comes to people’s views on influence and persuasion. After selling nearly 2.5 million copies, people have embraced the idea that the psychology of persuasion can be used in an ethical manner to create more win-win situations than ever before. People have embraced the concepts from Influence so much so that it was named the top sales and marketing book in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.
Considering the change in attitude toward influence I’m writing today to ask people to banish the “weapons” terminology from their vocabulary when referring to the principles of influence.
Why now? As I scanned my Twitter feed one morning I saw a post that referred to one of the principles of influence as a weapon of influence. All of a sudden it didn’t sit well with me and as I analyzed it all the thoughts I’m sharing here came to mind. If I knew what was meant by “weapons of influence” and didn’t care for it I wondered how others might perceive the terminology.
First, the weapons terminology doesn’t conjure up positive thoughts, particularly during this time of tense, heated debate around the subject. If we truly believe small changes (i.e., using certain words at particular times in specific situations) can make a big difference – indeed that’s what influence is all about – then I argue “weapons” can’t be helping our cause when it comes to teaching people about the ethical use of influence. Consider the following:
If you didn’t know anything about influence how likely would you be to attend a workshop where you’d learn about using weapons of influence? Some people will go but I suspect many will subconsciously make an automatic decision not to consider the workshop.
How might your customer feel if they found out you were using weapons of influence on them? It’s not likely they’ll believe you’re using those weapons to defend them. Rather, I suspect they’ll feel you’re using those weapons against them in an effort to defeat them and get what you want.
We all know things can be used for good or bad. Guns in the hands of our military are good when they help defend our freedom. They’re not so good in the hands of bad guys. However, as I noted at the beginning, with the national debate raging, using weapons terminology will provoke the wrong images and emotions for too many people.
I prefer talking about ethical influence. When I teach I encourage people to look for principles that are genuinely available to the situation they find themselves in. If they look hard enough they’ll find some just waiting to be used.
Next you want to incorporate the principles into your request in a way that’s truthful. In other words, don’t tell people there’s a time limit – scarcity – if there’s not. Don’t tell people how “everyone” is using your product – consensus – when they’re not.
And finally, look for what Stephen Covey called “win-win” situations. Your product, your price, your idea, whatever you may be trying to persuade someone about will not be right for everyone. Sometimes honestly pointing that out will get you recommendations because people will trust you – authority!
In closing I ask you to join me and lay down your weapons of influence and in their place pick up the tools of ethical influence that build. I encourage you to start thinking of the principles of influence as tools that can help build relationships, overcome doubts and motivate people to action. Will it make a difference? I believe it will, because small changes can lead to big differences.