A short lesson from "The Godfather of Persuasion"

Last night, I had the pleasure of having dinner with one of my behavioral science idols, Robert Cialdini.

We talked about psychology, music, and food for hours. It was amazing.

I want to tell you about one of the stories he told me; I think you’ll find it interesting & useful.

We were nerding out on behavioral science (and his new book), and he was telling me how he’s constantly analyzing the persuasive appeals he hears in his daily life.

When I asked for an example, he told me about a strategy that an airline tried before he boarded one of his flights recently.

It turns out that the plane was overbooked. So the gate attendant went on the intercom and attempted to get a few people to take a different flight.

The attendant knew that he had to get the attention of everyone who was waiting, and so he decided to say something surprising… which is smart. You can’t get anyone to take action and change their flight if they aren’t paying attention.

So he called out: “Hey everyone, I need a few volunteers to switch over to a new flight. I’m offering a good reward today… $3000!”

As you can imagine, people perked up. He had their attention.

Then, after a couple of seconds, the airline attendant jumped back on the intercom: “Just kidding! We’re offering $300.”

How many people do you think volunteered?

Yep – zero.

Not a single person budged.

Cialdini leaned towards me and asked: “What do you think they should have done instead?”

Then, with a big smile on his face, he said: “The attendant should have offered $3. Imagine how surprising that would have been.”

Indeed. AND it would have made everyone focus on a really low number. Three hundred dollars sounds incredibly large compared to three dollars. But three hundred dollars sounds tiny compared to three thousand dollars.

This is called anchoring. It’s an extremely common psychological phenomenon, and one that is used by savvy persuaders all over the world.

It’s why you should always put forward a really large number if you’re involved in a negotiation. You can always pull back to something lower, which seems immensely reasonable compared to the initial number—even if it’s what you wanted all along.

Look around your daily life for examples. Anchoring is everywhere.

Can you think of any examples from your own life? Send them my way. Would love to share them (with your name taken out) with the newsletter.

Just a little lesson from the Godfather of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini.   

Jason Hreha