Influencers from Around the World – A Nightmare on Persuasion Street

This month our Influencers from Around the World guest post comes from across the pond from my old Irish friend Sean Patrick. Sean owns a sales training company, Sales Training Evaluation, and writes a blog, Professional Persuader. Sean is a big fan of Dr. Cialdini and attended the Principles of Persuasion workshop I led when he visited the States in October 2010. Always thought-provoking, Sean’s post this week is no different.
Brian, CMCT 
Helping You
Learn to Hear “Yes”.

A Nightmare on Persuasion Street
Persuasion is one of my life long loves.  It is constant learning and working out practically what makes people say “Yes.”  There are many types of persuasion principles and methods and one of those is coercion. When I refer to coercion, I mean two things; unethical use of persuasive techniques and emotional tampering.
The world is a changing place and has changed dramatically over the past three to four years, in particular. People realize we have moved into a new reality in which economic uncertainty is here to stay. As a result many bury themselves into fantasy land with the help of the internet and television soap operas.
Television has become one of the most potent forms of persuasion abuse in recent times. Politicians remind us constantly that we are all ok, that we’re being looked after, and that the sons and daughters of our countries are doing the right things by sacrificing themselves to affront a common enemy. As this all goes on we remain ignorant of the true facts even as our pension funds, life savings and home values erode to nothingness.
What I have just described is known as the “Lucifer Effect.”  What makes people accept brutality and evil as normal? The Lucifer Effect raises this question and also delves into the psyche of perpetrators of abuse or coercion. Throughout history we have been conditioned to accept one rule of thumb as being our normal even if other people in different countries vehemently oppose our ideals. Yet we gladly accept that what is normal should not be questioned in case we are ridiculed or have our loyalties questioned.
Human character is a dynamic thing, it transforms on the basis of different chronologies. What makes normal, law abiding, educated and healthy people become raving stewards of hate? When we look back in time at the inquisitions of the Catholic Church, The Third Reich, Rwanda, the abuses of the U.S. military in Abu Ghraib, Iraq and similar episodes in Afghanistan, what we see are normal law abiding citizens becoming perpetrators of sadistic evil.
This is where social proof in the influence process comes in. Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion are subliminal and powerful! In all of history’s foibles you can spot the persuasive mechanisms at work. Even today in North Korea, the power of the crowd plays an important role in keeping the population at large from uprising against a despotic regime.
It isn’t just politics where the abuse of influence is at work, we can see it every day in the mainstream news media, the press, soap operas, Hollywood films, advertising, and even religion. Once you’ve become accustomed to seeing the six principles it becomes more and more apparent how each principle is embedded in the context in which it is given.
Finally, where we see dehumanization at work we need to ask questions about what is really going on, and we can do this by seeing exactly how much effort is being put into the persuasive mechanism and how much others really want us to buy into it. Usually, such efforts are preceded by what I call the “Carrot and Stick” approach. This is the highly coercive act of offering a solution to a perceived problem by provoking a public reaction.

Hitler’s genocidal policy began through the introduction of a re-education of school children. Educational propaganda is nothing new and is intentionally designed to form dehumanization towards the common enemy.  This necessarily doesn’t need to be targeted towards people; it can be attitudes towards finance, work, immigration, foreign policies, centralization of government etc. A manipulation of public attitudes is definitely affected by this principle.
I’ve become more intrigued about this principle that was coined by Philip Zimbardo and to this end the fascination of watching the trial of Anders Breivik in Norway keeps reminding me that there is a greater degree of understanding needed when normal people become evil.

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