Editor's Note: This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Cialdini's Seven Laws of Persuasion

Unity is a powerful tool of persuasion, and not to be underestimated. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, compiled his Seven Laws of Persuasion for use in ethical cooperation, but the principle of unity can be used for good or evil. A predator can manipulate our need for unity, acting like “one of us”, to persuade us to act against our better interests.

We all know the connection we feel to someone from our hometown, or the team spirit that bonds fans of the same sports club, but predators will use this feeling of unity to their advantage. The average social media profile shows a wealth of information, and a clever manipulator can work out our likes, dislikes and affiliations and, by pretending to share them can masquerade as someone just like us.

For decades, politicians – honest and otherwise – have used the principle of unity to collect votes, by wearing the costume and adopting the attitudes of the people they want to convince: city-dwelling candidates wear farmers’ overalls when campaigning in rural areas.

In the same way, recruiters for high-control groups will blend in to the community that is their hunting ground: cult groups use younger members who pretend to be students at a university to disguise their actions, and religious extremists sometimes pretend to belong to a “mainstream” mosque, church, or synagogue to lure others to their cause.

Manipulation through unity is not limited to abusive groups: traumatizing narcissists carefully watch their intended victims, finding out everything they can, to seduce them into an abusive romantic relationship. By assuming a person’s likes and attitudes, a manipulative person can seem to be the “ideal” mate.

The principle of unity is also the reason that the telephone fraudster calling you from halfway across the globe will adopt an English name, although this tactic rarely convinces anyone. However, this clumsy use of Cialdini’s law of unity does not reduce its overall power, and we must be wary when a stranger claims they are just like us. It is always a good idea to look closer at anyone who claims to be one of “us” – and make sure that there isn’t a wolf under all that wool.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Robert Cialdini’s Influence? Do you have a story about unity that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

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