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Best Books on Persuasion
(Updated 2023)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
Last update: September 28, 2023

The best books on how to persuade and influence others … and how to notice when others are trying to persuade and influence you.

In line with the topic, I can also recommend you some books on self-motivation and books on negotiation skills.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Made to Stick - Chip & Dan Heath

by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Link to the book at Amazon

Why can people remember fairy tales, urban legends, rumors, and conspiracy theories for the rest of their lives – but not the facts of a speech, lecture, or presentation from fifteen minutes ago?

The brothers Chip and Dan Heath have investigated what criteria must be met for a message to stick in the memory of readers, viewers, or listeners – even if at the core of the message are dry facts, statistics, or even advertising.

They came up with the following six principles:

  1. Simple – The message must be conveyed as simply as possible.
  2. Unexpected – Unexpected twists should attract attention.
  3. Concrete – Concrete messages and images ("We'll get a man to the moon and back to earth safely") beat abstract language ("We'll increase shareholder value").
  4. Credible – Both the message and its sender must be credible.
  5. Emotions – The message should evoke feelings.
  6. Story – The message should be wrapped in a story.

According to the first letters, the authors call their principles the "SUCCESs formula".

In one chapter each, the six criteria are dealt with in detail and vividly. The authors present numerous before-and-after examples in which they analyze authentic texts and revise them according to the SUCCESs formula.

The book is instructive, entertaining, and easy to read. I recommend it to anyone who regularly gives presentations, who wants to win customers and partners for projects, who as a manager wants to inspire their employees, as a teacher their students or as a politician their voters – simply to anyone who wants to get their message across effectively.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition

Influence - Robert Cialdini

by Robert B. Cialdini PhD

Link to the book at Amazon

How and why do some people succeed in influencing and persuading others to do things primarily in the persuader's interest and only secondarily – or not at all – in the interest of the persuaded?

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, professor of psychology at Arizona State University, has explored this question through more than three decades of scholarly research and a three-year field study (during which he had himself trained as a salesman in various industries).

In his best-selling book, he explains six psychological principles and behavioral patterns underlying influence. These generally provide our brain with "mental shortcuts" to work more efficiently and free up its capacities for other tasks. Advertising professionals and marketing experts, on the other hand, translate the principles into sophisticated advertising and sales strategies.

The first principle, reciprocation, states that people generally return favors. Otherwise, society as we know it could not exist. In marketing, this principle is used, for example, through free samples. And in the good cop/bad cop strategy, the "good cop" accommodates the suspect in the hope that he will pay off his "debt" by confessing.

The second principle, commitment and consistency, leads us – once we have made a decision or taken a stand – to behave congruently with that position. This principle saves us from having to constantly rethink decisions once they have been made. The principle is used, for example, in the "money-back guarantee": once we have bought a product, we usually keep it.

The third principle, social proof, lets us adopt the actions of our fellow human beings – especially those close to us. Children learn in this way. We adults, for example, like to use testimonials and reviews to help us decide for or against a particular product. In this case, both parties are pulling in the same direction (as long as the reviews are genuine, of course).

Liking, the fourth principle, states that we are more easily persuaded by people we like, find attractive, and who are similar to us. We tip the friendly waiter more than the grumpy one. And it's no coincidence that most car salesmen's clothes and hairstyles fit perfectly and that they make small talk with us, looking for characteristics that connect us to then respond to them. "Refer-a-friend" programs also use the liking principle.

The fifth principle is authority. We typically say "yes" to authority figures – even when we are asked to do actions we find unpleasant. We do this because we trust the knowledge, experience, and expertise of these people. Without this principle, we could not trust our doctor, our lawyer, or an airplane pilot. Companies use this principle, for example, by having actors portraying a doctor (or known from doctor roles) present us the benefits of their latest toothbrush.

Last but not least, the scarcity principle causes us to want things the more, the less of it there is. Companies take advantage of this by limiting products in terms of number or time (e.g., Black Friday).

With the knowledge of these six principles, we can recognize when others want to exploit them against our interests and manipulate us.

The book is written in an understandable and interesting way and reads smoothly. Entertaining examples from various everyday situations accompany the explanations of the six principles.

A recommendation for anyone who wants to sell products and services. And for anyone who wants to recognize the misuse of these principles against their interests and defend themselves against it.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

pre suasion - robert cialdini

by Robert B. Cialdini PhD

Link to the book at Amazon

In "The Psychology of Persuasion", Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology, presented six psychological principles that people can use to influence others in their behavior.

The follow-up, "Pre-Suasion", is about the moment before persuasion – and how to use it effectively to create a psychological frame in which the other person becomes particularly receptive to the message being conveyed.

This frame is created by an atmosphere (e.g., posters and photos in the background, music and scents, demeanor and word choice, creating a sense of familiarity or community) that draws the recipient's attention to the benefits of the message being conveyed so that the recipient forms positive associations with both the messenger and the message.

For example, French background music in a wine store leads to an above-average number of shoppers choosing a French wine. Photos of people standing close together make people more willing than average to help. Pictures of athletes winning lead shoppers to be more likely to buy high-performance products, while images of money lead them to be more likely to choose low-cost alternatives.

The author backs up his statements not only with vivid examples like these but also with numerous fascinating scientific studies.

The book is easy to understand, even for psychology laypeople, and is absolutely worth reading. After all, knowledge of this considerable power enables us to pay particular attention to where our attention has been directed and how this might influence our decision when making important decisions.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes!

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

pitch anything - oren klaff

by Oren Klaff

Link to the book at Amazon

In "Pitch Anything," Oren Klaff presents fascinating strategies and tactics for gaining and maintaining the upper hand in negotiating situations. He explains how the human brain picks up messages and makes decisions, how to recognize and interpret behavioral patterns of negotiating partners, and how to counter them successfully.

It's not about deceiving, outsmarting, or pressuring your negotiating partner, but rather about commanding respect, standing out from the crowd, generating emotions such as curiosity, excitement, and enthusiasm, and ultimately getting your message across in a way that sticks.

The author provides detailed and immediately actionable step-by-step instructions for the perfect outline of a pitch. But the real focus is on the concept of "frame control." This involves using clever psychological and sometimes humorous moves to become the alpha person who attracts the respect and attention of everyone present. At the same time, it is essential to avoid so-called beta traps, which the negotiating partners set to prevent just that.

The author demonstrates his concept with numerous practical examples – mainly investor pitches in the millions to billions. The method should, however, be applicable in all social situations in which you want to convince someone. One should be aware, though, that it will likely require intensive training over many years.

The book is easy to read, and the abundance of compelling examples makes it highly entertaining. It should be mentioned that the author speaks only from personal experience – his method is not based on any scientific studies.

Some readers may find the book and the methods it describes a bit too "American." I don't see it this way. I worked in startups for two decades – and in my experience, you don't have to be any less squeamish in discussions with European investors than with Americans.

As the author says, you must always assess what is appropriate and what is not in a given situation. One must never be insulting, and a healthy pinch of humor can turn a tough negotiation into an intellectual game for both parties.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is read by the author himself.

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing, and Influencing Others

To Sell is Human - Daniel H. Pink

by Daniel H. Pink

Link to the book at Amazon

Each of us is a salesperson – everyone tries to get people to do something in one way or another. At work, we try to convince others of our ideas. Parents and teachers try to get children to learn. And in addition to traditional salespeople, more and more self-employed people are trying to market their products or services.

Daniel H. Pink, a linguist, lawyer, and best-selling author, has examined what skills are needed to persuade people to act in today's world, where – thanks to search engines and review portals – buyers have the same information as sellers.

These skills include empathy, optimism, the ability to find problems and not just solve them, the ability to express ourselves clearly and focus on the essentials, improvisational skills, and the attitude of wanting to serve others first and foremost, that is, to improve the life of the person we have "moved."

The author does not simply list these skills but gives us concrete instructions, frameworks for action, rules – and practice exercises at the end of each chapter. For example, we learn five ways to deliver messages more clearly and persuasively. We are introduced to the six successors of the "Elevator Pitch". And we are taught the basic structure of improvisation.

The book is lightly written and reads easily. It contains entertaining stories and reports on exciting studies. Thanks to the many exercises, we can put the theory into practice right away. I recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their ability to move other people.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and it is read by the author himself.

How to Win Friends And Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People - Dale Carnegie

by Dale Carnegie

Link to the book at Amazon

Even though we software developers like to sit back at our desks, we have to get along with other people all our lives. This book shows you how this works best: how to make people like to be in your company and how to make friends; how to avoid arguments; how to make people see your view of things and do what you want without feeling pressured.

The book is 83 years old, believe it or not! Nevertheless, every single piece of advice is up to date. The fact that the examples given are almost a century old initially takes a little getting used to, but quickly makes the book very entertaining.

Suitable as an audiobook? Absolutely yes. I found it very pleasant to listen, almost as if it had been read out by the author himself.