Robert Cialdini Was Wrong About This

In Robert Cialdini’s iconic and now classic book, Influence, he outlines ways we can all create influence and become more persuasive. Contrary to what Robert Cialdini wrote in his iconic book, I’ve found, we don’t attain power in relationships by giving favors. In fact, not only did I see it doesn’t work that way, but I also found favors are the least powerful way to create influence.

Coming from the world of non-profit, I had no connections. I didn’t know how to charge for my work, and I didn’t know anything about marketing. I was handicapped, but that didn’t stop me from setting out to find a way. So, I studied. Looking for a common thread among the mountains of books and hours of videos, it seemed like every great leader and mind was saying one thing: “If you want business success you need to have a network, you need influence, and you need to understand persuasion.” Naturally, this led me to grab Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence and glob onto it like it was gospel.

Using social media and podcasting, I set out to meet as many successful business owners and entrepreneurs as I could. My work with podcasting had already helped me meet multiple Oprah guests, get invited to exclusive events, and I figured if I just knew more people I could have more influence, which would lead to more paychecks.

In my first year, I created one of the largest business groups online for podcasters, and I gave as if my life depended on it. Every person I met I tried to serve, give to and offer a personal favor to them. It made me feel good, and I figured it’d help me create what Robert Cialdini called, ‘influence.’

Little by little I started to get worn out, weary from all my work helping others, and I began to see that most people enjoyed receiving but didn’t know how to give back. I also started to realize I was busy giving but wasn’t getting paid. While this bothered me, the worst realization was that most people disappeared after I gave to them. My romanticized idea that if you offer value, people will want to give back to you was coming to an end.

Noticing how much I had done, I decided to start charging for more of my time and work. I pulled back and gave less. I started conserving my energy. I also decided to call upon those I had previously helped and asked them to support me with some of my goals—getting more clients, being published in magazines, growing my podcast, introductions to certain people, and whatever else I figured someone could help me with.

To my surprise, most people were either ‘too busy’ or somehow ‘unable to help’ and stopped there. Then came another shock. Many of the people who I had been busy helping for free, got angry when I told them that I could no longer do those favors freely. For a small fee, they could get my support and services. In my growing up and going through this process, I lost a good deal of people I figured were my friends and supporters.

Looking back, I know I was giving in hopes of getting something back. So it was my karma to learn that giving like that does not reap great rewards, nor does it provide you with influence. It was also a lesson in human psychology. Most people you give to will never give back to you, so if you’re hoping that helping others will win favors back, know that it likely won’t. It also most likely will not help you win influence.

Robert Cialdini’s suggestion to help and do favors, so you win influence, is a misguided suggestion. It can help, but if you use it as your primary strategy, it won’t help.

Contrary to what old me used to think, I’ve learned that influence can be best won by making favors a small part of your strategy and that ideally, it’s not a strategy. I’ve learned that by charging what you’re worth, having boundaries with what you’ll do for free to help and what you won’t do for free—that wins you respect and will help you garner a stronger kind of influence.

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