Three books on influence and persuasion

Reviewed by Johny Van Aerde, MD, PhD


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Three books on influence and persuasion


The LEADS framework states, “Leadership is the capacity to influence people to work together to achieve a common constructive purpose.”1 According to Grenny et al., “Leadership is influence.”2 Given that leadership and influence are closely aligned constructs, it is no surprise that the market has been flooded with books on influence and persuasion.* This is a brief review of three of them, all released last fall.


Invisible Influence: the Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior

Jonah Berger

Simon & Schuster, 2016


Invisible Influence deals with research on how social influences affect our decisions as individuals and as groups. Berger describes how most of us are in denial about our own shortcomings and don’t realize that we are often being “herded.” As a result, we believe that our ideas and decisions are completely our own when they are not. Berger offers advice on how to become self-aware and avoid such invisible influence and how to prevent “groupthink,” a team’s equivalent to invisible influence. Although entertaining reading, Berger’s ideas and theories are not new or revelatory.


Payoff: the Hidden Logic that Shapes our Motivations

Dan Ariely

Simon & Schuster/TED, 2016


If Berger focuses on awareness of invisible influence, Ariely deals with motivating people. In Payoff, he is reflective, sometimes even philosophical, about how leaders motivate people (and self). One of the keys is giving people a sense that they have some say in what they do and that their own life matters. Perhaps, surprisingly, people are not as much motivated by money as we think; according to Ariely’s research, after a brief spike in productivity resulting from a bonus, productivity actually declines to below the pre-bonus level. Gratitude and compliments, even when expressed in unconventional ways, are better motivators. As Ariely puts it, “acknowledgement is a kind of human magic.”


This book was worth my time for three unrelated reasons: it made me reflect on how the research findings could be applied at different levels of our health system; the book’s style and content made for enjoyable reading; it was only 100 pages long.


Pre-Suasion: a Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

Robert Cialdini

Simon & Schuster, 2016


If Invisible Influence is about awareness and Payoff is about how to motivate others, then this third book is about learning how the other side operates. Cialdini, a social psychologist, pioneered much of the research on persuasion a few decades ago. In this latest book, only his second since the 1980s, he presents his research on pre-suasion.


This new term means that the most successful persuasion is not in the message itself, but in the key moment(s) before the message is delivered. He has found that altering the other party’s attitudes and beliefs is not necessary; what is required is to alter the audience’s focus of attention just before requesting a relevant action, not much different from a magician influencing the audience’s attention just before a magic trick. Most examples come from marketing, and the book is of limited direct interest to physician leaders. However, if you want to become more aware of how we are duped, manipulated, and persuaded to do things we may not want to do or regret later, this fun and fast read is for you.


Berger and Cialdini’s books help us better attune ourselves to the artful techniques used by master manipulators and may increase our chances of making good decisions without closing ourselves off to new ideas and views. Ariely’s Payoff is worth considering for your reading list as an aid to reflect on some of the tools we may need to motivate ourselves and others.



1.Dickson G, Tholl B. Bringing leadership to life in health: LEADS in a caring environment. London, UK: Springer-Verlag; 2014.

2.Grenny J, Patterson K, Maxfield D, McMillan R, Switzler A. Influencer: the new science of leading change. New York: McGraw Hill; 2013.



Johny Van Aerde, MD, MA, PhD, FRCPC, is editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership and past-president of the Canadian Society of Physician Leaders.


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Pre-Suasion: a Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade