Monday, January 3, 2011

Influencers from Around the World - Berlusconi and the Principle of Liking

To start the New Year the Influencers from Around the World post is from my Italian friend Marco Germani. I had the pleasure of talking to AND seeing Marco the day after Christmas. I didn't go to Rome, instead we used our iPhones. I also got to "meet" his wife Monika and their six month old son Martin. Technology is amazing!

I’m sure you'll enjoy Marco's insights on how the principle of liking helped a famous politician in his native Italy. Feel free to reach out to Marco on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Berlusconi and the Principle of Liking

He did it again. I am talking about one of the most famous prime ministers of the world, often for all the wrong reasons, my fellow-countryman Silvio Berlusconi. I guess his fame crossed the ocean and even in the U.S., people are aware of his tendency to have affairs with teenage girls and being caught. This already cost him his marriage and a number of scandals in the press.

I guess President Clinton in comparison was a saint, or at least a bit smarter in not being caught so often. A few weeks ago, a 17-year old girl called Rudy, confessed to the press she has been invited several times in the previous months to attend parties with Silvio and friends and she gave to the press sordid details of what was going on in the Presidential Palace during those nights. Hot stuff, I tell you! Let’s see how Silvio took advantage of the principle of liking to turn the public opinion in his favour, even in a very compromising and critical situation.

When informed of what the girl just said, he didn’t try to deny it. He didn’t get upset or promise legal battles to his political enemies, who this time also were paying a girl to speak false against him and destroy his political figure. He stated instead: “I love life, I love women, I am like this, this is my nature.” Surprisingly, a majority of the public in Italy took Silvio’s side and, most surprisingly still, many Italian women started to defend him! What happened? Two different effects:

1) By not trying to lie or deceive Italian people, Silvio appeared as an honest, sincere person, who was not afraid to display his weaknesses and, by the way, is loving life and loving women really a weakness?

2) Many men, who also cheat on their wives or have affairs, saw their behaviour legitimized by an authority figure; i.e., the prime minister. If the highest official of the Italian government can do it, why can’t I? Maybe I am not so evil, this is ordinary behaviour, and everybody does it in the end.

Women also, are often very intrigued by a man who can’t control his passions and must feed them continuously, even putting his political power in danger because of them. Power attracts women and a person with power who passionately loves women is a strong attraction for many of them. One famous Italian actress, Lory del Santo (the former wife of Eric Clapton, by the way), publicly proposed to Silvio as a lover, after his statements, writing a poem to him and telling him she could bring him to unattained before heights of pleasure.

By using the principle of liking, Silvio saved face again and avoided the risk of being swept away by the scandal. Probably he did it on purpose, maybe not. What counts is that it worked!


Some people have emailed me about the ethics on this article. Here’s what Marco shared with me:

First of I all, it is my duty as an Italian citizen to specify that, culturally, in Italy it is NOT OK for the nation’s leaders to have this kind of behavior. Let us not forget we have the Pope and Rome has been the hearth of Catholic Church in the world for centuries now, which should give some hints about the morals standards over here…. On the other hand, I personally see the study of the principles of persuasion as a science, whose objective is to understand them and, at the same time, being able to use them and defend ourselves from them when used in an unethical way (like in this case). Knowing that Berlusconi is using the principle of liking, gives us the option to understand what he’s doing and seeing it for what it really is, beside the natural feeling of liking we can feel toward him, given by the power of this principle. In my article, I never say what he did was right or wrong, I am only observing it as a scientist, and then everybody can draw their own conclusions.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


  1. So much for the "ethical" uses of influence...

  2. One important reason to understand influence is to see through the use of it when it's nothing more than a ploy because many people will try to use it against you. You obviously see through Berlusconi's use but unfortunately many others don't.

  3. Thank you Brian and Marco for the footnotes. I can certainly appreciate the value of analyzing the principals of influence from a scientific and amoral lens, as we all need to understand that people do use this power for unethical purposes. I am certainly no moralizer, and I love life and women as much as the next guy. In this story, however, I thought the unethical nature of Berlusconi's use of the principles of influence deserved some mention. Thanks!!

  4. I too thank Brian and Marco for the footnote. I think it is helpful, and important, as Marco did in a subsequent response, to clarify the unethical use of these principles when and unethical use is being used to illustrate a point. Not doing so I think can unitntentially lead a reader to potentially misunderstand.

  5. Lol, Berlusconi is a master of persuasion, you´re right about that! Interesting blog, will follow in the future.