“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

It was in Hamlet that William Shakespeare penned the famous line, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I came across this quote while doing some research for a training class I’ll be leading on attitude but the more I thought about that simple sentence the more I thought about how persuasion differs from manipulation. Some people are uncomfortable with the psychology of persuasion because they think using that knowledge gives them an unfair advantage over others.

It’s true that understanding how people’s minds work and knowing more effective ways to get someone to say “Yes” gives you an advantage. However, I don’t see that being any different than good looking people having a leg up when it comes to modeling, math whizzes doing better in fields like accounting, or people with great voices having a better chance at a singing career.
In each case those people possess something most others do not but we don’t consider it an unfair advantage. To be sure, if a good looking person uses their looks to take advantage of you or if the math genius knowingly confuses you with numbers to get the best deal then we’d say those people were not acting in a fair manner.
Shell and Mario Moussa, authors of The Art of WOO, have a wonderful quote that goes to the heart of the matter so to speak. They wrote, “An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affections. So does the cad who succeeds to take advantage of another’s heart. But when the cad succeeds, we don’t blame the flowers and candy. We rightly question his character.”
Flowers and candy are neither good nor bad because, as Shakespeare rightly pointed out, we are the ones who ascribe meaning to them. Flowers can be wonderful when a man gives them to a woman when he asks her to marry him. They can also signify profound sadness when displayed at a funeral. Candy might not be so good if
you’re on a diet but it’s usually received with great joy by little kids on Halloween.
what does this have to do with understanding the psychology of persuasion? The six principles of influence as defined by Dr. Cialdini are neither good nor bad. They simply describe how people respond to one another and each can be used in positive ways or each can be used to take advantage of another person. Let’s take a brief look at each principle to see how this can happen.
Reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to return the favor when someone first does something for them. This is a great principle to know if you helped a friend move and need help down the road because your friend will be very likely to want to return the favor and help you. Of course there are always people who give you things or do things for you just so you’ll feel obligated to help them in some way.
Liking is the natural inclination to enjoy working with or being around people we like. Finding ways to like other people and get them to like you makes life much easier. Don’t you enjoy working with people you like? Sure you do. And I bet you want to like your neighbors and hope they like you. Deceitful people will tap into this principle by flattering you just to get you to do what they want.
Consensus is the tendency for us to go along with the crowd. Much of the time this is the right thing to do because “there’s safety in numbers” and “everybody can’t be wrong.” A dishonest person might try to sway you by telling you how “everyone” is doing something because they understand you’ll feel a psychological pull to go along with the crowd.
Authority is all about our reliance on people we view as experts. When you don’t have time to do a lot of research it’s a big time saver to defer to an expert. For example, most people don’t want to do their own taxes so they hire an accountant. On the flip side, there are people who prey upon this by creating a false impression of authority just so you’ll trust them.
Consistency is all about people doing what they say they’ll do or doing what you’ve done in the past. That’s very good because we can rely on people to continue in a consistent manner when we engage them. Of course, the manipulator seeing that can dupe the unsuspecting person by referring to something they said just to take advantage of this principle.
Scarcity comes into play when people’s actions are impacted by the thought of something becoming less available. Quite often this is good because we don’t miss out on opportunities that might go away. However,
this can be used against us when untrustworthy types create a false sense of urgency to get us to act in the moment rather than giving us time to consider all options.
As you can see, each of the six principles has an upside. In fact, I’d say the upsides are huge because they typically help us make good decisions faster. After all, if they didn’t lead to good decisions most of the time we’d quickly figure that out and stop responding to the cues. But just as flowers and candy aren’t
always good, the principles can be used in manipulative ways by some people who are only looking to get their way no matter the cost to the other, unsuspecting person. Just like the honest and sincere lover and the cad, it comes down to the motive of the person wielding the principles. I trust that you as a reader have come to see my focus is on the ethical use so win-win situations are created. Even if you don’t see yourself as the influencing type, understanding the principles will also help you protect yourself from the cad.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

4 replies
  1. Jason Rogers
    Jason Rogers says:

    Your post is filled with great points. As the quote of Shakespeare says, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” There is a goldmine of insight that can be gained from a quote like this. The existential undertones, alone, that characterize these principles, are great for drawing parallels among these points.


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