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Review: Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

A fascinating journey into the hidden psychological influences that derail our decision-making, Sway will change the way you think about the way you think.

Organizational expert Ori Brafman and his brother, psychologist Rom Brafman, marry organizational behavior, social psychology, and behavioral economics to help us understand the irrational thinking that plagues us all.

Sway is a delightful, easy read. The authors make their point through the heavy use of research, storytelling, and real-life illustrations—most of which are astonishing and reinforce just how fallible our brains are.

I’m big on tangible insights and actionable remedies—the Brafman brothers don’t disappoint. They detail several forces that negatively influence our thinking and behavior:


Loss Aversion – our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid perceived losses, particularly when we have already committed to a specific course of action. EXAMPLE: George W. Bush’s Iraq strategy.

Value Attribution – our tendency to imbue someone or something with certain qualities based on perceived value, rather than on objective data. EXAMPLE: Virtuoso Joshua Bell’s subway performance in New York.

Diagnosis Bias – our inability to reevaluate our initial diagnosis of a person or situation. EXAMPLE: NBA’s draft order.

o Chameleon Effect – our tendency to take on characteristics that have been arbitrarily assigned to us EXAMPLE: “Tracking” kids in school based on early poor performance—they subsequently begin to think they are inferior

o Dismissal of Facts – placing greater weight on job interview questions that focus on subjective commentary about the past and present vs. those that get at hard facts.

Belief in Fairness, Procedural Justice, and the Need to be Heard – EXAMPLE: France’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” TV program – audience did not help an incompetent contestant because they perceived him as not deserving.

Pleasure vs. Altruistic Brains – the two parts of our brain can’t operate concurrently. When put to the test, our pleasure brain consistently beats out our altruistic brain. EXAMPLE: Incentives to teachers drove self-interested behaviors instead of altruistic behaviors that support children—unintended consequences of incentives.


Dissenting Votes – pressure to conform in groups is strong, however, a dissenting voice – even just one – will encourage other dissenters to speak out and result in better outcomes and more equitable balance of power.

The Long View – adopt a long-term orientation to avoid succumbing to short-term thinking (stress-driven traffic tactics, investment strategy)

Personal Construct Theory – remain flexible, explore options from different perspectives, establish a waiting period before making decisions.

Overcoming the Force of Fairness – 1) avoid emotional maneuvers or moral judgments, focus on weighing things objectively. Ask: “Would I rather achieve my goals or teach the other person a lesson?” 2) enhance perceived fairness in others by keeping them informed of the decision-making process and considerations.

Sway is a fun and thought-provoking read—and an exceptional guide for those that want to become better leaders, better managers or savvier at managing their relationships and lives. We all make mistakes. Sway shows us why we do while also providing effective tactics for overcoming common errs in judgment.

2017-11-18T20:14:27+00:00 November 18th, 2017|Book Review, Psychology|Comments Off on Review: Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior