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Mental Recalibration

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Immediately after finishing the book Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, I bought a number of copies and gave them to key executives at my company. First published in 1984, this book has gone through several editions since. The fact that it is still in publication says more about its content than anything you will read in this review. The first two sentences in his book are: “I can admit it freely now. All my life I’ve been a patsy.” His premise is that the way our society has developed over thousands of years has ingrained in us an automatic way—he calls it “click, whirr”—of reacting to certain social situations. These automatic responses can and very often do lead us into doing things we would never have done if not for the way we have been programmed to respond to certain social stimuli.

Cialdini lists six types of social situations that he calls “Weapons of Influence:” Reciprocation, Commitment, Social Proof, Liking, Authority and Scarcity. He cites numerous examples for each of these “weapons,” to which we can all relate because we have been there. We read this book for our book club, and each person mentioned situations when they had been in- influenced to do something they never would have done if not for the “click, whirr.” You likely will experience the same reflections as you read the book. How many of you have been invited to a party by someone you don’t know very well? If you aren’t interested in getting to know that person better, don’t go to the party. If you do go, there is an eight-to-one chance that you will be inviting that person to one of your parties. The same is true for Christmas cards. Why do you send them? How many do you send that

you wouldn’t have because those people sent one to you? How many extra do you keep on hand to send to people who were not on your list but sent one to you? This is the rule of reciprocation working in your life.

We are all subject to these ingrained influences in our life. Smart people have learned to take advantage of our social nature to our detriment. Cialdini makes us aware of them and gives us useful methods to employ to avoid their snares.

How accurate are first impressions? How many times have you said to yourself, “Now that I have come to know that person better, she is nothing like I first thought?” Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Talking to Strangers – What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know, reveals how inept we are at understanding people based on talking to them. He starts by outlining misjudgments made by people whose experience should make them experts. He compares the performance of judges who decide who should be given probation and who should be sent to jail. These judges who interview the defendants and review their records have been doing this for years, and the experience should make them experts. Unfortunately, their record is dismal. Artificial Intelligence programs that simply scan defendants’ records outperform judges by a margin of almost two to one.

One staple of murder mysteries is the detective who can interview suspects and spot “tells” that indicate people who are lying or are hiding something. Gladwell doesn’t want to ruin your enjoyment of these books, but he makes it clear the ability to read people flawlessly in those situations is a fairy tale. He starts the book with the story of Sandra Bland, who was stopped by a Houston police officer for a minor infraction. His and her misjudgments of the situation led to her being incarcerated and her committing suicide in jail three days later. This tragic story underscores how easy it is to misinterpret other peoples’ actions. This story also highlights the community policing policies that have given rise to the Black Lives Matter and the Defund the Police movements.

Is suicide contagious? You will be shocked by his analysis of suicide trends. Gladwell never ceases to amaze his readers with profound insights on important subjects that poke valuable holes in conventional wisdom. This may be his best and most useful book yet. It is well worth your time.

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