HBR - Uses and Abuses of Influence

The Uses (and Abuses) of Influence

From the July-August 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review comes an "interview with Robert Cialdini by Sarah Cliffe". At least for the time being, the full article is available on the HBR site here, and not behind a subscriber paywall.

Robert Cialdini wrote perhaps the definitive popular book on influence, how it works, and how we are manipulated through its "weapons", like reciprocity, authority, scarcity, commitment, and so on. What is remarkable is the fact that this book continues to be as relevant today as it was when first published almost thirty years ago. The same principles outlined in his book continue to be relevant when eliciting cooperation at work for instance, by using establishing and leveraging the principle of "reciprocity". If you help someone, be sure to mark it as a "partnership", thus establishing the expectation of reciprocity at some point in the future. A new area of research for Robert Cialdini is the "ethics of influence". To what extent does an unethical culture punish an organization and its employees? If the fear of being caught out is a strong motivator against unethical behavior, then why do we still have a surfeit of it? "People don’t expect to be found out. Especially at the highest levels of power, people feel that they’re bulletproof." The natural conclusion of that would be to repeat, "as goes the leader, so goes the organization", and yet, as we saw in the case study, "The Unmanageable Star Performer", companies can sometimes be remarkably ambivalent and myopic in tolerating behavior they would not in employees lower down the pecking order.

The evidence continues to be clear on the toxicity of unethical behavior, yet there doesn't seem to be any diminishing of such behavior in companies. Perhaps best explained by the human impulse to value short-term rewards more than harmful effects that may not be evident for a long time?

"Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion", by Robert B. Cialdini (Flipkart, Powell's, Indie Books, Amazon US | CA | UK, Kindle US | CA | UK)

© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.