Learn to regularly employ Cialdini’s 6 Weapons of Influence and you stand a good chance of getting more people to believe, think, and do what you want, when you want. But as you master this game of persuasion, you may well find yourself asking whether there’s a line in the sand you simply shouldn’t cross…
These 6 Persuasive Levers Carry Real Power
In the 1961 romantic comedy, Lover Come Back, Doris Day and Rock Hudson play Jerry Webster and Carol Templeton, two warring Madison Avenue advertising executives who fall in love with each other.
During this cotton candy romp of a film, Rock Hudson’s somewhat ethically-challenged character shows just how far he’s willing to go to win a sale. In the process, he demonstrates the power of Liking, one of a handful of truly potent persuasive tactics first identified by Robert Cialdini and labeled the 6 Weapons of Influence.
In his book, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, Cialdini calls Liking “the friendly thief” and introduces the concept this way:
Few people would be surprised to learn that, as a rule, we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. What might be startling to note, however, is that this simple rule is used in hundreds of ways by total strangers to get us to comply with their requests.
Even ‘Manufactured’ Liking Can Be Hard to Resist
In Lover Come Back, Jerry Webster makes masterful (and wholly unscrupulous) use of Liking to steal business away from his rival Carol Templeton. Here’s how he does it:
Webster and Templeton each get word that Jay Paxton Miller – who heads the Miller’s Wax company – is coming to New York City within 24 hours, and that his coveted advertising account is up for grabs. They’re each determined to win his business.
Templeton tells her assistant that she wants a “complete rundown on Miller”: she wants full details about his company’s recent financial performance, manufacturing volumes, and brand positioning. She then tells her creative team that they’ll all have to work through the night to develop a series of new ad concepts, as well as a redesign for the Miller’s Wax can.
When Webster hears the news about Miller, he also tells his secretary that he wants a “complete rundown” on the business owner: he wants to know Miller’s family background; whether his wife will be coming to New York with him; what liquor he drinks; and what kind of girls he likes. He also asks for a book on the Civil War, after hearing that Miller is from Richmond, Virginia.
The film then cuts to a scene of Jerry Webster and Jay Paxton Miller sitting together at a nightclub table, sharing a bottle of bourbon, while Miller ogles a dancing girl performing onstage (Miller’s wife has most definitely not accompanied him on this trip to the Big Apple). Webster pounces when he sees that the dancer, who’s named Rebel Davis, has captured the wax magnate’s attention…
Webster. She’s distantly related to Jefferson Davis, our great leader.
Miller. Did you say our leader?
Webster. Um-hmm. I was raised here in the North, but my heart remains loyal to the place of my birth, Virginia.
Miller. You’re a Virginia boy?
Webster. (He nods). Richmond.
Miller. Well that’s where I’m from.
Webster. You are kidding.
Miller. Born and raised!
Webster. (Holds up his glass). Well, to Richmond.
Miller. Of course! (They clink glasses and drink). So you’re one of them Virginia Websters.
Webster. My great-grandfather followed the 19th Virginia Volunteers.
Miller. So did my granddaddy.
Webster. He fell during Pickett’s Charge.
Miller. Mine, too!
Webster. He was following that great and gallant Captain Elijah E. Miller.
Miller. That was my granddaddy!
Webster. (Looks surprised). Mr. Miller, this is a hallowed moment. More bourbon?
Miller. (Holds up his glass and nods). Just a touch.
Needless to say, Webster has the advertising account locked up before Carol Templeton gets even a moment of face time with Miller.
Feigning Common Ground: How Far Is Too Far?
Cialdini has declared himself belligerently opposed to this sort of “manufactured persuasive tactic,” because Hudson’s character so patently feigns common ground with his prospective client in order to activate the Liking principle and win Miller’s business. Webster wasn’t born in the South and he’s not a direct descendent of a Confederate soldier who fought in the Civil War – he may not even care that much for bourbon.
And that brings us to the crux of this persuasive communications issue: whenever any of us attempts to sway the emotions, beliefs, and actions of others by leveraging these Weapons of Influence, we have to ask ourselves, “How far is too far?” “Just how far am I willing to push the envelope when it comes to leveraging these tactics to achieve my persuasive goals?”
“Where’s my line in the sand?”
Share Your Thoughts
Do you think we should set limits on our use of Liking – or any of Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence – and if so, how? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.
P.S. if you liked this piece, you might also like What the Fuller Brush Man Knew About the Persuasive Power of a Gift and Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore Nonverbal Communications
About the photo: Photo of line in the sand by Sarah Saunders. All rights reserved.
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