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Human Hacking

Win Friends, Influence People, and Leave Them Better Off for Having Met You

By Christopher Hadnagy with Seth Schulman
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Human Hacking by Christopher Hadnagy with Seth Schulman

Human Hacking (2021) is a guide to the art of ethical social engineering. Using the same tools of psychology and influence deployed by security hackers, it demonstrates how to boost social interactions in daily life. It covers a range of tips on how to adjust your natural communication tendencies to steer encounters to your advantage, with practical tools on how to influence others using empathy and compassion.

Key idea 1 of 9

Set out to exert influence on people with their best interests in mind.

Not long ago, author Christopher Hadnagy was checking in at London’s Heathrow Airport with his family. While he was rummaging in his suitcase for passports, his wife spontaneously complimented the attendant behind the counter on her scarf. The attendant smiled and said thank you. 

Maybe this seems like a completely forgettable – if pleasant– moment. But if that’s what you think, you’d be missing out on a chance at human hacking.

When faced with this scenario, the author – a security expert – sensed an opportunity for social engineering. So he stepped up to the desk and casually asked how much an upgrade would cost. The attendant took one look at his wife and whispered: “I’m putting you all in first class.” 

The key message here is: Set out to exert influence on people with their best interests in mind. 

So what exactly happened here? The author figured that this woman usually had to deal with grumpy and stressed-out passengers day in and day out. In this moment, though, she’d just received an unexpected compliment, and by her genuine smile, he could tell that her mood had been boosted.

Since the author had a social engineering background, he knew that this combination of events was advantageous for him and his wife. So he decided to make a request – and was doubly rewarded for it. 

What’s important is that he didn’t try to coerce the attendant into offering a free upgrade. Unlike ethical human hacking, criminal hacking involves preying on people’s emotions to compel compliance, regardless of how negatively it affects them. But when you apply social engineering ethically, it enables others to feel happier about themselves by giving you what you want, as in the case of the airline attendant. It’s a win-win situation. 

In the following blinks, we’ll introduce practical tools to influence both people of interest and strangers alike, for your mutual benefit. As you start using these tools, keep the human hacking code of ethics in mind, which asks that you pledge to “leave others better off for having met you” in every interaction. Employ these tactics with compassion, not for the sake of manipulation!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can influence others, you have to be able to hack yourself. 

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