Selling Without Making People Feel Sold

One of the nicest compliments I’ve received came after a presentation I gave a few years ago at a large insurance event. An attendee said afterwards, “I think Brian came across as a guy who, quote unquote, was not interested in selling you and invariably he sold us.” That compliment came to mind recently as I worked with a young intern at State Auto Insurance.

I spent an hour with this high school student talking about coaching in business. I started with the example of a basketball coach because she had a clear picture of what a good basketball coach should do to prepare a team to play to the best of its ability. From there we transitioned to business coaching and eventually focused on her.

As we talked about routines I asked her if there was something she’d like to change in her typical day. She acknowledged having a hard time getting ready for school in the morning. We discussed why that was the case and what she could do to make it easier on herself. She talked about possibly laying out her clothes the night before, perhaps showering the night before and doing her hair. She also knows she could start making the choice not to hit the snooze button after 6:45 AM.

Once we’d discussed all the options I asked her what she intended to do. She said she knows a better routine would help and committed to write down a few things we had talked about then try them over the next seven days. I encouraged her that even if it doesn’t work out as well as she would like we could talk about it again and see what part of her new routine might need to change.

Then I surprised her with this, “Do you realize we just had a coaching session?” Her eyes got wide; she smiled and shook her head to indicate no she didn’t realize it. I didn’t come across as someone who intended to “coach” her and in the end I coached her because there was no resistance. My coaching was just part of the bigger conversation we were having.

If your attempts to coach, sell or persuade someone come across as anything but a conversation you might want to rethink your approach. In our Principles of Persuasion Workshop I often tell salespeople the best way to close a deal starts the moment you shake a prospective customer’s hand and look him or her in the eye because everything builds from there. Your “selling” should really be informing people into yes and that happens best when you ethically employ the principles of persuasion.

I didn’t intend to convince you of anything here but I hope I convinced you.

Fatigue and Persuasion Equals a Bad Combination

Have you ever left the office and felt exhausted? Sure you have and your fatigue probably has little to do with the physical nature of your work. How can we feel so tired with so little physical effort? You can thank that thing between your ears called a brain.

Your brain is only about 2% of your body weight but it’s an energy hog! If your brain were a car we’d call it a gas-guzzler because it uses about 20% of your calories.

When we’re tired – mentally or physically – we are more prone to be influenced without thinking and we become less effective as persuaders.

In Six Degrees of Social Influence Richard Petty and Pablo Brinol wrote, “When motivation or ability to think are low, the variables identified by Cialdini are most likely to operate as heuristics.” By that they mean, if we don’t care much about something or our energy is low we respond almost mindlessly to the six principles of influence.

Some things don’t require much thought or energy. What you watch on television, which toothpaste to buy, or which restaurant to go to for lunch often don’t matter too much so we don’t give them much thought. However, with other choices there can be a lot on the line and even if we’re motivated to make the best choice possible, when we’re tired our ability will be hampered.

When it comes to your attempts at persuasion the same thing goes. This is top of mind for me because I was just in Oklahoma City to host a couple of workshops and do a talk for some bank executives. Hosting a 2-day workshop is not a problem at all but it is tiring. However, I’d never done two workshops back to back and four straight days of eight hours on my feet teaching and answering questions was tough. Throw in the bank talk plus travel and I was whipped when I got home.

I saw my fatigue play out as I went to buy tires for my daughter’s car. Unfortunately it turned into a fiasco. While I was very disappointed with the service I know I could have conducted myself in a more persuasive way. But I was tired and in no mood to think after a long, exhausting week. I had a Nike attitude about the tires – Just Do It!

Fortunately Jane saw my frustration and took over. When she and Abigail came home and the situation wasn’t resolved I let them both know what I thought of the whole thing. I told them I’d let the manager know my feelings in no uncertain terms. My venting came not only in a tired state but after I’d been balancing checking and savings accounts AND dealing with tax issues. Mental exhaustion doesn’t do justice to the state I was in.

After sleeping on it and taking my daughter’s advice to heart I decided to take a different approach. I will still let the manager know that I thought their service was poor but I will do it in a less emotional, more constructive way.

Let me end with two take away considerations:

First, the next time you decide to make a major purchase, not only do your research, make sure you’re well fed and well rested. The combination of high motivation plus good energy will keep you alert so you can “keep your head in the game” and make the best choice possible.

Second, don’t approach important situations where you need to be persuasive when you’re not in the right frame of mind. Well rested and well fed will allow you to keep your head. The right approach might save you big time in terms of time, money and reputation.

Eyes Wide Shut

Sometimes we see but we don’t see and sometimes we hear but we don’t hear. What I mean is this; whatever stimuli we take in doesn’t always register in our conscious thought. Despite that, subconsciously many things we’re not aware of impact our decisions and actions.

As you might expect, my wife Jane is pretty good at persuasion having heard me talk about it and having read my writing for more than a decade. She’s put her knowledge to good use and gets her way with me quite often so I thought I’d share a couple of examples.

Many years ago she asked if she could go to Scotland to play golf with my stepmom Jo because it was Jo’s 65th birthday. I said no because if Jane went to Scotland I wanted to go with her and the timing wasn’t right. Just to clarify, if we make it over there she wants to play golf and I want to drink Scotch.

Upon hearing no she asked, “Then would you mind if I go to Florida for a week to play golf with Jo?” I told her that was fine. Sometime later Jane confessed that she never really wanted to go to Scotland but she knew asking for that would make a yes to the week in Florida come much easier. Touché!

Jane effectively used contrast because asking for Florida after Scotland seemed like a small thing by comparison. She also leveraged reciprocity because she stepped in with a more reasonable request immediately upon hearing no. Both are excellent uses of psychology of persuasion.

One other time that comes to mind was a simple question I asked Jane. I’m not always the most perceptive husband but occasionally I notice things. One day I innocently asked her, “Is that a new coat?” She replied, “I got this last year.” End of discussion.

At later date she told me the coat was new. She reminded me I’d asked her that question in January then told me she’d bought the coat in December. Technically her answer was right, she bought it the year before. She answered the question without really answering my question. Touché once again!

I share these stories because even though I teach people about the psychology of persuasion I don’t always “see” how people are trying to persuade me. When I focus I see more than most people however I’m not always focused because that can be mentally tiring. Now consider that most people have very little understanding about the psychology of persuasion let alone the mental focus needed to understand how they’re being influenced. This is a big reason so much persuasion happens at the subconscious level.

Whenever someone is trying to persuade you, especially if there’s a lot at stake, step back from the situation, take a deep breath and focus on what you’re being asked as well as how you’re being asked. Doing so might help you go from eyes wide shut to eyes wide open so you can make the best-informed decision.

Will You Watch My Things?

As I write this I’m sitting in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the busiest hubs in the world. While I was waiting for my second flight of the day a young man sitting across from me innocently asked, “Would you mind watching my things while I use the restroom?” Being the nice fellow that I am I told him I would.

I don’t know if he realized it but his simple question engaged a powerful principle of influence – consistency. This psychological concept highlights the reality that humans feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.

Think about the last time you gave your word to someone but had to back out. How did you feel? If you were like most people I talk with you would use words like bad, awful, guilty, or terrible to describe how you felt. If you could avoid feeling bad, awful, guilty, or terrible I bet you would and that’s what compels you to keep your word even when it’s difficult.

Another thought to consider – have you ever said “Yes” to someone’s request even though you didn’t want to? Maybe you felt trapped so you agreed to whatever they asked. We’ve all been there and I’d wager you probably followed through on your word more often than not in situations like that.

In his best selling book Influence Robert Cialdini sites a study that shows just how powerful the principle of consistency can be when it comes to asking for a favor. An experiment was run at a beach where someone would lay down a blanket and portable radio. After a few minutes the person would take a walk down the beach without interacting with anyone around them. Then, while they were away, someone else associated with the experiment would “steal” the radio. Under these conditions only four times out of 20 did anyone intervene to let the person know that wasn’t their radio.

Later the experiment was repeated with all conditions being the same except before heading off for a stroll the beach goer would ask someone sitting near them, “Would you please watch my things?” Everyone agreed to do so. And how did it change the behavior of those bystanders? In this scenario 19 out of 20 intervened and some tried to physically restrained the would-be thief. A simple question and nearly five times more people took action!

Many of the principles of influence we naturally engage without thinking because we learn for example that it’s good to give before asking for a favor (reciprocity), following the crowd (consensus) typically leads to a better result, or asking someone to watch your things (consistency) lessens the likelihood that something will end up missing. These are human behaviors we all engage in to one degree or another.

However, to become a master persuader you can’t always rely on what you’ve always done or simple intuition. To excel in persuasion you need to consciously think about which principles are naturally available before you make a request otherwise you’re probably missing opportunities to be even more effective went it comes to influencing people.

When the young man returned he thanked me and I jokingly told him, “I only had to fight off three people for you.” It was a win-win because he got his goods and I got a great real-life story to share with you.

Houston, We Have a Communication Problem

If you saw Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 then no doubt you remember the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” Tom Hanks uttered those words when he realized there was a major problem that could cost the astronauts their lives. Whenever that phrase is used you should take note because something serious is happening. This applies to communication as well as space travel.

Where I work we are going through major changes in just about every aspect of our business. One big area that’s changing is how we communicate with one another. We’re trying to be more open, honest and collaborative in our communication. In a word, we’re striving to be more candid with one another so we can accomplish more. But Houston, we have a problem.

What is candor? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary its “unreserved, honest, or sincere expression.” When we’re candid we’re being sincere in expressing our thoughts and feelings about someone or something.

What holds people back from being candid? In a large corporation perhaps the biggest issue is fear of reprisal if someone up the food chain doesn’t like what they hear. Another hindrance is fear of looking foolish for expressing something others might disagree with. And certainly personal baggage can get in the way. For example, if you were raised in a home where you were constantly shut down, ridiculed or ignored you probably decided long ago that it wasn’t worth voicing your opinions.

A company also has to agree on exactly what candid means. Is it okay to say whatever is on your mind in the spirit of being candid? Someone might think, “What a f#&%ing stupid idea!” but is saying that the type of candid communication a company really wants? If a company is only looking at honesty and sincerity then perhaps it is candid.

But the bigger question is this – will that “candid” approach create a more open environment that encourages conversation or will is shut down dialogue? Based on my 30 years in business I think it would crush any attempt at creating more open, honest and collaborative communication.

Whatever the reasons for a lack of candor, just because its announced that management wants candid conversations doesn’t mean they’ll happen any time soon. Personal change is hard and cultural change is even harder. People usually take a wait and see approach hoping someone will break the ice. Employees want to know, “Is it really safe to speak up and voice an opinion when it differs from those in charge?”

Whenever communication takes place there’s a dynamic between the speaker and the listener. There’s what the speaker thinks he said and what he actually said. On the part of the listener there’s what she thinks she heard and what she actually heard.

A speaker might think he simply asked, “Why were you late?” when he actually came across accusatory because of heavy emphasis on the word “why.” Even if is was an innocent question the listener might have placed more emphasis on “why” than was intended and become defensive. As you might imagine, miscommunication happens easily and often.

When it comes to effectively communicating you can’t change the other person but you can make personal choices that will change you and that could open up the lines of communication. To build a culture where candor is the norm the bulk of the responsibility rests with each person. Here are three simple things you can do to help create a culture of candor:

  1. Preface your words. If you think your message could be misinterpreted consider the point of view of the audience and what they might need to hear first.
  2. Don’t get defensive. Even if what you hear provokes you candid conversation means hearing the other person out. Reciprocity means emotions will be matched unless you make a conscious choice to respond in kind to fear, anxiety or anger.
  3. Discover the real meaning. Ask questions to draw out the real meaning behind the words. It’s often the case that what you hear first is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Houston, we have a problem,” was a distress signal, a call for help. The NASA scientists came through and saved the Apollo 13 crew. When it comes to communications issues we can do the same if we take time to incorporate the three ideas outlined above. Do so and you’ll become a building block in a culture of candor.

No Tips, Tricks or Techniques to Ethical Influence

Sorry, no tips, tricks or techniques here but let’s talk about what it takes to become a master persuader. Saying there are tips, tricks and techniques to influence people degrades people, devalues the influence process and shortchanges real learning.

When people refer to “tips” to influence people that devalues the influence process. You get tips at a racetrack and while that may up your odds of picking the winner in the next race it doesn’t necessarily help you become better at picking the winners time and time again. Don’t you want to become consistently good at influencing others?

Another problem with tips is they often come with little or no cost because they provide little value. Many times tips are nothing more than a restatement of what we already know to be true. Cut your carbs, don’t smoke and exercise if you want to be healthy. Wow, thanks for telling me something I didn’t already know.

Talking about “tricks” to influence people makes it sound like a magician using his knowledge of people’s senses to fool them with slight of hand. There’s no such thing as magic so what’s really occurring is deception.

When it comes to influence you don’t need to deceive people because there are scientifically proven ways to use the understanding of human psychology to make your message more effective and ultimately move people to action ethically.

When I hear people talk about using tricks it makes it sound like you’re taking advantage of others and nobody wants to feel like they were taken advantage of. How would you feel if you discovered someone tricked you into something like a sale?

What’s wrong with learning techniques? Techniques are fine until you find yourself in a situation where your technique doesn’t apply. However, if you understood the why behind the technique – why the technique usually works – you’re in a better position to figure out something else that might help in the moment.

Here’s an example of a technique. You want to lose weight quickly so you fast for two days and only drink water. That might be fine if you’re a wrestler looking to make weight but it won’t cut it if you’re looking for long-term, healthy weight loss.

If tips, tricks and techniques won’t cut it then what does it take to become a master of influence? Like anything in life it takes time, effort and practice. If you wanted to get significantly better at golf you might start by attending a golf school for a few days or a week. But how much would you improve if you didn’t continue to practice?

Attending a workshop to immerse yourself in the language of influence for a few days is a great start because you’ll learn the why behind human behavior. But that’s only a start. You need to reinforce your learning by reading books like Influence Science and Practice, Pre-suasion, Predictably Irrational, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Becoming a student of influence is an excellent start to becoming a master of influence but your most important step is the next one – be strategic as you look for opportunities to put your new knowledge to use. Only when you try something then assess your results, looking for ways to improve, will you grow. That means assessing what went well and what could be improved.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy in life and that’s true when it comes to being a master at persuasion. Don’t succumb to tips, tricks and techniques! Learn how to ethically influence people because it will lead to more professional success and personal happiness.

What Are You Gonna Do When the Bear Comes for You?

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

Two hikers are walking through the woods when suddenly a bear jumps out from behind a bush and starts towards the frightened hikers. Instinctively both start running for their lives, but then suddenly one of them stops and begins to put on running shoes in place of his hiking boots. His friend says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” He replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you!”

The story is a classic example of “Compared to what?” All too often we fall into the familiar, the comfortable, and the easy when it may not be the right thing to do. In this story what do you need to do? Easy, try to outrun the bear! But a master persuader knows that’s the wrong comparison. The master persuader knows to outrun the other person is the right comparison because the bear will be satisfied one it catches one of the two hikers. Your goal is to be the one that’s not caught.

This may be a silly, and slightly gruesome example, but it reveals the need to make the right comparison if you want to succeed. When you make the wrong comparison you waste time and energy. Here’s an example that might hit closer to home – sales.

My wife Jane has a golf buddy who also happens to be the sales manager at a BMW dealership in town. He said the toughest sale is the guy who owns a Honda and can finally afford a BMW because making the jump from a Honda to a BMW is steep and the pain of paying is significant.

Trying to sell someone on the benefits of a BMW over a Honda is the wrong comparison to make. If the typical buyer considers the price tag, cost to insure and maintain, gas mileage, etc., they would be hard pressed to choose the BMW over the Honda. But do people who can afford a BMW place more weight on those factors or the prestige of owning a BMW? I think it’s the latter.

The smart salesman will congratulate the prospective buyer on his great taste and good fortune. From that point forward the comparison has to be the BMW versus other luxury automobiles like Mercedes or Audi. Do you see the point here? Too much focus on the move from Honda to BMW might make some car buyers hesitant. It would be like trying to run from the bear – a waste of time and energy that might not end well. It would be much easier to assume the prospective car buyer will want some kind of luxury car so making those comparisons is like putting on running shoes.

Next time you have to make a comparison to drive home your point don’t settle for the familiar, comfortable, or easy, because that may not lead you to the comparison that helps you get to “Yes.”

New Year’s Resolutions – Try A New Approach

If you’re like many people then you made New Year’s resolutions and if you’re like most who did so then you’ll break your resolutions within a few days. According to one study, more than half the people who make resolutions are confident of achieving them, yet only about 10% do so. That’s amazing because most resolutions are good!

Here are a some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions:

  • Spend more time with family
  • Lose weight
  • Begin exercising
  • Quit smoking
  • Quit drinking
  • Get organized
  • Get out of debt

The list is admirable so why are these goals so difficult to achieve for 9 out of 10 people? There are probably as many reasons as there are resolutions and dwelling on those reasons would not be as beneficial as giving you scientifically proven ideas that can help make 2017 a year of positive change for you. Around this time every year I share an influence technique that can help readers PAVE the way to success in the New Year.

In the study of persuasion there’s a powerful motivator of behavior known as the principle of consistency. This proven rule tells us people feel internal and external psychological pressure to act in ways that are consistent with their prior actions, words, deeds, beliefs and values. When we act in consistent ways we feel better about ourselves and other people perceive us in a more favorable light.

There are four simple things you can tap into in order to strengthen the power of consistency in your life. These simple ideas will help you PAVE the way to success because they’ll dramatically increase the odds that you’ll follow through on your New Year’s resolutions.

Public – Whenever you make a public statement, whether verbally or in writing, you’re putting yourself and your reputation on the line. The mere fact that another person knows your intention and might ask you how you’re doing is often enough motivation for you to follow through.

Recommendation #1 – Share your New Year’s resolutions with another person, or group of people, and ask them to hold you accountable.

Active – You have to actively do something. Merely thinking about a resolution, just keeping it to yourself as some sort of secret, will lead to the same results as people who don’t make any resolutions. In other words, nothing will change. This came to light in a study with a group of students who wanted to improve their college grades. One group was asked to write their goals down, one group kept their goals in their heads, and the last group had no specific goal whatsoever. As you can imagine, the group with the written goals succeeded, with nearly 90% of students increasing their grades by a full letter grade! With the other two groups the results were identical and poor. In each group fewer than 1 in 6 students improved a full letter grade. It’s worth noting, they were all given the same study materials so they all had the same opportunity to better their GPA.

Recommendation #2 – Make sure you have to take some active steps. It could be as simple as buying a book to help you learn more about the changes you’re hoping to make or writing them down.

Voluntary – This has to be YOUR goal, not someone else’s goal for you. If you’re trying to do something – quit smoking, lose weight, get in shape – it’s not likely your motivation will last if someone told you that you have to do it. The goal has to come from you because if it’s forced on you it’s not likely your willpower will last long. Samuel Butler said it best when he wrote, “He who complies against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Recommendation #3 – Make sure it’s something you really want to do of your own free choice.

Effort – It was already noted that you have to actively do something. In other words, making the commitment should require some effort on your part. The more effort you expend setting up your goal, the more likely you are to succeed. Something as simple as writing down your resolution can make a difference, even if you don’t share it with anyone. But, taking the time to share it also fulfills the public requirement, which gives you more bang for the buck! Robert Cialdini puts it this way, “People live up to what they write down.”

Recommendation #4 – A little more effort, like committing pen to paper, will increase your chance for success significantly.

So to recap the four recommendations:

  • Public – Share your resolutions with others.
  • Active – Make sure to take some active steps.
  • Voluntary – Make it your goal and own it.
  • Effort – Commit pen to paper.

None of what I just shared is new. In fact, I share a variation of this post every year but I’m guessing many of you haven’t tried to PAVE the way to success before. If you’ve failed at your resolutions in the past then give this approach a try. If you fail again you’re no worse off but this different approach might just be your key to success in 2017. Good luck and Happy New Year!

The Greatest Salesman Who Ever Lived

I boldly proclaim Santa Claus to be the greatest salesman who ever lived! Why do I assert that Santa is the ultimate salesman? To start, he has a couple of success stories most of us can’t compete with. First, he’s successfully run the same family business for hundreds of years. There’s something to be said for stability, especially in today’s economy. Second, Santa can boast a client base that expands every year — no matter the state of the global economy. Can you or your business make those two claims?

But those aren’t the reasons I believe Santa is the greatest salesman who ever lived. Contrary to what you might think, his success doesn’t come from his business savvy. After all, consider the obstacles he has to overcome.

  • Business attire: Santa obviously doesn’t buy into the “dress for success” business attire philosophy. Power suits are fine but a red suit and hat, both lined with fur, is a little over the top in today’s business environment. Now if he were in Hollywood…
  • Delivery system: Santa’s remains way behind the times here. His “One Day Delivery” is literally that – you get your packages one day a year. He doesn’t seem to notice in today’s economy people want what they want, when they want it, and that usually means now. But the real problem behind “One Day Delivery” might just be his delivery method. I think you’d agree the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or UPS would be much more efficient than eight tiny reindeer pulling a small sleigh.
  • Manufacturing: Some say Santa’s operation is too labor-intensive to survive much longer. After all, he’s competing with Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple and other giant companies. In today’s marketplace, how can any business can get by without automating? Perhaps if he automated a process or two he’d have enough inventory to open this store more than one day a year.
  • Efficiency: I realize Santa gives his product away for free but that doesn’t mean it costs him nothing. He has all those elves and reindeer to take care of. Food and lodging are bad enough but health care costs have to be crushing his profit margin! And what about worker’s compensation costs? If he automated at least he’d save a little money and might be able to take Mrs. Claus on a nice vacation – somewhere warm for a change!
  • Branding: All companies change their branding to fit the times and Santa might want to consider doing the same. After all, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!” has gotten a bit old and stale.
  • Orders: I think Santa could fill orders much faster if only he’d just set up a website. And how about replacing all those last minute letters with email, text, instant messaging or a Twitter account? It has to be painfully slow for him to read all those handwritten letters.

So, all this begs the question, “Why is Santa so successful…in spite of himself?” In business if you continually land new customers and retain the old ones then you’re doing something right. Here are six reasons Santa continually attracts new customers and retains all his current ones:

  • He loves his job! Could you do the same job day after day, year after year for most of your life? Could you do it and remain so upbeat and jolly? Perhaps, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” is his corporate culture and not just some slick branding slogan.
  • He genuinely cares for his customers. His goal is to meet everyone’s needs and all he hopes for in return is to see joy on their faces. Do you get joy from serving others?
  • He gets to the personal side of selling. Granted he’s not always accessible but he doesn’t expect clients to come to him. When he’s at his absolute busiest, with his deadline approaching and delivery date nearing, he can be seen everywhere talking with his customers. How he can be in so many places at one time I’ll never know. How often do you initiate contact with your customers, even when it’s inconvenient for you?
  • He creates atmosphere. A toy is just a toy, except when it’s from Santa. Because it only comes once a year and will be found under the tree on Christmas morning it creates anticipation and builds excitement! That’s so much better than getting something online or from some mail order catalog. Do you create an experience for your customers?
  • He adds value. When people hear the word “free” they often think “cheap” or wonder, “What’s the catch?” Even though Santa gives his products away we love what he gives us mostly because it comes from him. Don’t you have a few things you prize because of the person who gave it to you? That’s your change to add value. Do your customers see you adding value?
  • He delivers on his promise. Santa does what he says and always delivers, at no extra charge, on time! Can your customer count on you to be that consistent?

So there you have it, six reasons behind the success of jolly old St. Nick. Yes, I stand firm on the assertion that Santa Claus is the ultimate salesman! Did you notice that everything Santa does is within your power to do with your customers? That’s right, there’s no reason you can’t do the same things Santa does. And here’s some welcome news for most of you – you don’t have to wear a silly red uniform while you do those things!

I hope you enjoyed this post and that you and your loved ones have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

What’s Wrong With America?

We’ve had more than a month to let the presidential election settle in. Trump supporters hail it as a victory over the establishment, a chance to “drain the swamp” and possibly begin a new age in American politics. Meanwhile Hillary supporters believe his election has set us back decades on issues like gender and racial equality and they’ve taken to the streets to make their voices heard.

So what’s wrong with America? Are we a nation full of racists and bigots? I don’t think we’re anymore racist today than we were in 2008 when we elected President Obama. At that time the focus was the historical significance of the first African-American president and people were talking about how far we’d come as a nation on the issue of race. Have we regressed that quickly?

No, I don’t think we’ve taken a step back. We just had not taken as many steps forward as we thought. And for those who did make some strides, it seems as though they didn’t take a look over their shoulder to see how many others were keeping up.

In my persuasion workshops I share the following quote from Samuel Butler, “He who complies against his will is of the same opinion still.” I think that sums up the politically correct (PC) environment. The PC culture hasn’t changed hearts and minds, it merely silenced many people. Fear of loss, fear of being the outcast, and not wanting to go against the tide do nothing to change hearts and minds.

Because of Donald Trump’s brash, often offensive approach, many who were silent now feel comfortable being more vocal about their views on social issues.

So how do we change hearts and minds so we really can be more accepting of those whom we view as different? Facebook certainly won’t do it. For more on that see a post I wrote years ago, Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I believe it starts with relationship. When you break bread with people who are different and have conversations that aren’t intended to prove your point or disprove theirs but instead are focused on learning from another’s viewpoint, I believe you’ll start to change your opinions.

I’ll share two personal examples. The first occurred in the late 1990s when Jane and I met Ahmet, a Turkish waiter on a cruise ship. Of all the places in the world he could have ended up when he left the cruise industry he landed up in Columbus, Ohio to go to college!

Ahmet, a devote Muslim, was open to learning about my faith and I was open to learning about his. Neither of us was ready to change our deeply held religious beliefs but we formed a close friendship that I believe changed each of our views when it comes to people who have a different faith.

My second example was Jerry, someone who was brought in on a project at work. Jerry opened up over dinner to Jane and me about being gay. Our acceptance of him began to change his view of Christians and it changed our views of people in the LBGT community.

I believe each of us has racist tendencies to one degree or another. I wrote about that in I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist. That fact doesn’t make all of us terrible people because much of it is conditioning from childhood. But that doesn’t mean we have to just accept it. If each of us changes just a little every day and we do it consistently we will make progress as a nation.

So what’s wrong with America? Our biggest problem is we’re a country full of human beings. We’re all flawed and deficient in many ways. It’s okay to admit that but let’s not be okay with it. Each of us can seek positive change.

This week I challenge you to strike up a conversation with someone who is different than you. When you do this just have one motive – to get to know them and understand their point of view. If you do this I hope your experience is similar to those I had with Ahmet and Jerry.