|The Barnabas Ministry
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert Cialdini is a professor at Arizona State
University and, at least once upon a time, a
self-described sucker for buying things he doesn't
really want. Influence
is a book arising out of his studies on the art and
science of persuading people to do things.
Cialdini cites numerous psychological studies where various factors are tested for their ability to influence people to make decisions. Not only do the discussions of these studies make for interesting reading, they are highly instructive about the power of influence. Cialdini utilizes real-world experience in the realm of what he calls "compliance professionals"-- people whose job it is to get others do to things. This includes marketers and salesmen, but also political, business and spiritual leaders.
Cialdini identifies six major tools of persuasion:
The core of Cialdini's thesis is that each of
these principles of persuasion work because most of the
time they are reasonable. He says that often the world
is complicated and rather than apply critical thinking
to each and every thing we come across every day, we use
these various rules (there are hundreds of variations on
these basic themes) to make our lives simpler and guide
One of the many studies I got a kick out of reading about was his discussion of toy marketing around Christmas. People in the toy business like the Christmas spike in sales, but they'd also like to make it last more throughout the year. Cialdini cites an incident where he discovers that toy makers market a certain toy to create a demand, but then deliberately under-produce the toy prior to Christmas. Parents promise their kids this toy for Christmas but can't find it in stores. So, they buy a bunch of other toys (that the kid doesn't even really want!) to make up for it, and then (surprise!) in January or February the elusive, much desired toy is now available. People go off to finally buy this elusive toy out of a desire to be consistent with what they promised their kids-- and toy companies sold a bunch of toys in December that nobody really wanted in addition to the much-coveted toy. Like many other techniques used by compliance professionals, this is a hybrid using both the consistency and scarcity principles to manipulate people.In each chapter, Cialdini also discusses ways to say "no" to these forms of influence. The problem with saying "no" is that the rules usually work and are good for us, and we tend to follow them automatically. So we've got to be alert to when the rules are being manipulated or the stimulus is fake. In a nutshell, we are less likely to be duped by some technique if we separate the idea being pushed from all of the other trappings. For example, do we really want the afore-mentioned "second best toys" in the first place, or do we get duped into getting them because we've been manipulated?
So how does a this book matter to the Barnabas Ministry? What does it have to do with churches? Well, church leaders can be classified as "compliance professionals." In some sense, they want people to do things. Like other forms of influence, this isn't always bad.
But some church leaders are unscrupulous. These use the church for their own benefit or gain. They manipulate people to get what they want. Less evil people may deeply desire some good end result but utilize any of these methods to achieve it. This book is highly useful for identifying strategies that unscrupulous church leaders may use to manipulate others.
In fact, I have seen each of Cialdini's six keys to influence used unscrupulously and manipulatively in church settings:
In the discussion of "social proof" Cialdini discusses a phenomenon called "pluralistic ignorance" that I also recognized from my experiences in an unhealthy church. The idea is that if some people see something but don't do anything about it, then this inaction creates a social proof for others to ignore the problem as well. Nobody does anything about the problem because "nobody else" is doing anything about the problem.
Psychology of Persuasion is a readable, useful
book in not only a social context but also in a
spiritual context. I especially recommend it to those
wanting to understand how people get them to do things
that they end up wishing they hadn't done.
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