Humology is the Intersection of Humanity and Technology

I had the privilege of speaking at the Assurex Global North American P&C and Employee Benefits Sales Conference a few weeks ago. It was a top-notch event at a beautiful location that brought together more than 100 highly successful insurance agency owners and producers. My topic was the application of persuasion in sales. I love the opportunity to share at events like that! A side benefit is getting the chance to hear other interesting speakers.

One speaker caught my attention, Andy Paden, the Director of Practice Development at INSURICA. During his talk, Andy used a term I’d never heard of before, “humology.” The term was coined by INSURICA’s consultant, Scott Kosloski, founder of Future Point of View. Humology is used to describe the intersection of humanity (relationships) and technology. He stressed the need for people to understand how relationships and technology have to be considered together in business.

I think it’s especially important to think through this topic because too many people bemoan the fact that technology is hurting our relationships. I don’t believe that’s the case because “good” relationships are primarily a matter of perspective.

I’m sure as we moved from an agricultural society to the industrial age many people thought relationships suffered because families no longer worked together. Suddenly family members were gone 12-16 hours a day in factories which meant significantly less time together.

When the phone was invented I bet lots of people lamented that face to face conversations were less frequent. Rather than walking or driving several miles to see a neighbor or relative to sit a talk people just picked up the phone.

In more recent times I’ve heard countless people say texting hurts relationships because no one picks up the phone to talk anymore. They also pooh pooh social media sites because “those aren’t real relationships.”

Over time it’s inevitable that society and technology will change how people interact. But can we really say one time period is better than another? I think our challenge is to figure out how we can use technology to have the best relationships possible.

I’ll share two personal examples. The first is Facebook. I got on Facebook more than eight years ago because a friend said my daughter Abigail would probably want to get on Facebook when she turned 13 years old. I enjoyed Facebook more than I would have imagined and I began to realize Abigail was probably learning more about me than I was about her! She saw how I interacted with friends, my sense of humor and much more. She had a view of me that I never had of my parents and that helped our relationship.

I also saw my relationship with Abigail grow because of texting. We have more frequent contact with text because there’s no chance we would have called as often as we texted. Because I was willing to communicate with her in the manner she preferred we communicated more and our relationship grew.

If you want good relationships with friends, family or customers make sure you engage them on social media. That means taking time to respond if they comment on your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or blog posts. That’s where communication happens and relationships form and grow. Taking this approach has helped me meet people all around the world.

The last thing I’ll mention is the application of the principles of influence. People often ask if those principles are as applicable today given all the change in society and technology. Absolutely! Society is rapidly changing and technology is changing even faster but the human brain has not evolved nearly as quickly. That means the same principles that guided our decision-making thousands of years ago still guide us today. How we engage those principles differs only because we have more ways to communicate today and we can communicate with more people faster than ever.

I encourage you to embrace the changes that are happening. As you do, ask yourself how you can use the change to build more relationships and strengthen those you already have. I’m sure as you do that employing the principles of influence will come in quite handy.

Giving Isn’t About You, It’s About Them

When talking with a consulting client recently I encouraged them to look for ways to engage the principle of reciprocity with clients through giving. I told them when it comes to giving always remember; it’s not about you, it’s about the person you’re giving to. Let me explain.

Quite a long time ago I used to regularly have lunch with a friend named Mars. Every month I’d call him on the first weekday of the month and we’d look at our calendars to find a time to get together for a meal. Lest you think I have a great memory I’ll tell you my secret for consistently reaching out to him – I had set a recurring task on my computer to remind me to call him. That made it quite easy for me.

One day my friend thanked me for always calling to set up lunch. I jokingly said, “It’s not because I’m such a nice guy. I’m just really good with my computer.”  He replied, “No, that fact that you take time to call means a lot.”

That was an “aha” moment for me. I realized it didn’t matter to my friend that it took very little effort on my part. All he cared about was that I took the time each month to reach out to him.

We all value things differently. For me a full tank of gas is no big deal but when I fill my daughter’s gas tank it’s a huge deal to her. It doesn’t matter to her that it costs me very little in terms of time or effort, she really appreciates it, and appreciates it more than if I just handed her the cash to fill up.

It’s the same in business. It may take me very little time or effort to pass along a friend’s resume but for them it could be huge if they land a job so they’re always very appreciative.

When you give, don’t focus on what it costs you (time, effort or money) and don’t focus on what the particular gift would mean to you. Everyone isn’t like you so think about the other person. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what it means to them. That’s what really matters!

The golden rule encourages you to give unto others as you would have them give unto you. Giving engages reciprocity, which means if you need something down the road the recipient of your gift is more likely to give to you in return.

Giving is good but if you want to get the most bang for the buck consider engaging “the platinum rule” this week. This rule encourages you to treat others as they want to be treated and to give to others what they want. When you do this not only will you make his or her day brighter, the likelihood of help when you need it in the future will be even greater.

Even Known Irrelevant Information Can Bias Decision Making

If you follow me on Facebook then you know over the weekend Jane and I had a little scare that landed her in the emergency room for about three hours Saturday afternoon. Our time there included a CAT scan of her brain.

Jane had been working out Friday morning with a friend when she felt a sudden explosion (her word) in the back of her head, right in the middle. She said the pain was a 10 on a scale of 10 in the moment but quickly subsided. It did leave her with a mild headache but nothing else so she didn’t think about it anymore until the same thing happened that night.

I wasn’t aware of either episode until she told me about them late Saturday morning. We decided she should call a couple of doctor friends to get their take on the situation just to be safe. Maria, an urgent care doctor, and Mike, an ER doctor, both agreed Jane should go to the emergency room as a precaution.

About a year and a half ago one of Jane’s brothers had brain surgery for bleeding on his brain caused by a subdural hematoma. He had fallen and that caused bleeding inside his scull, which put pressure on his brain. Scary stuff. When describing the incident to our ER friend Mike, Jane mistakenly said her brother had an aneurism. Mike called a local emergency room so we would get in quickly. He also alerted the doctor on call about Jane’s situation.

As we interacted with the doctor in the emergency room he suggested a brain CAT scan based on what Jane described AND because of the information that her brother had an aneurism. Aneurisms can be heritable and therefore caution is needed with family members. The only problem was Jane’s brother didn’t have an aneurism. We confirmed that fact through a series of quick texts. However, once the ER doctor heard the word aneurism it changed his thinking and diagnosis.

Here’s the interesting part about the doctor’s decision making. The doctor told us if he’d not heard the word aneurism, based solely on Jane’s responses to his questions he would have just assumed she strained something while working out and would have sent her home. But his thinking had become biased by irrelevant information. I found it fascinating that this highly trained, logically thinking doctor recognized the bias in his decision making because he even said so! But he couldn’t change his thinking and recommended the CAT scan. I even confirmed, asking him, “If an aneurism had not been mentioned we would not be talking about a CAT scan, right?” He agreed. Despite discussing the irrelevant information at length we decided to go ahead with the CAT scan as a precaution. It came back normal and that gave Jane great relief.

For the most part people are emotional creatures and sometimes rationality just doesn’t cut it. We see it all the time. For example, once people hear about a shark attack they stay out of the water even though such attacks are incredibly rare and they stand a much greater chance of dying in a car accident. It does little good to rationalize with a veteran who suffers from PTSD when he hears a loud sound because his reality has been changed by prior experiences.

For Jane and the doctor the possibility of “what if” led them to a wholly different decision than they would have made otherwise. Certainty is better than uncertainty, no matter how small the odds. In the end, all three of us were more relieved than we would have been despite knowing what we knew about the irrelevant information.

Why Study Persuasion? A Common Language Leads to Efficiency

Last week I acknowledged that your time is precious. I also built a case for the fact that you use persuasion far more than you may have realized. With upwards of 40% or your workday spent persuading others you can’t afford to not get better at persuasion if you want to enjoy more professional success.

If you want to improve I have good news for you. Help is available. You may not have known this but there’s more than seven decades of research from social psychologists and behavioral economists into the science of persuasion. That means there’s lots of data for you to rely on to become a more effective persuader. If you approach persuasion as a learnable skill then you can get better at it.

Social scientists like Robert Cialdini have uncovered proven rules (i.e. principles) to help you codify and categorize persuasion into an understandable language and framework. This is incredibly important because it simplifies everything.

During a recent two-day workshop I was talking with a participant and the following example came to me as I explained this concept. I said to him, “Imagine we’re playing pick up football and I tell you to run 10 yards, head fake to the left then cut hard to the right towards the sideline. As you cut, angle back slightly so you come about three yards towards the line of scrimmage. And once you make your break back look toward me because the ball will probably already be on the way.”

I went on to tell this young man, “Instead of all those words, what if you and I spoke the same language and all I had to say was, ‘Do a down and out’? If we spoke the same language we could call the plays faster and keep doing so the entire game we’d be a much more efficient offense. That’s what the language of persuasion can do for us. It’s a vocabulary and framework that allows us to be significantly more efficient.”

Once you define terms everything becomes easier. Here are six psychological concepts I share with people when I speak and teach. These are what Robert Cialdini’s calls the principles of persuasion, sometimes known as the principles of influence.

  • Reciprocity – We feel obligated to give back to those who first give to us.
  • Liking – It’s easier for us to say “Yes” to those we know and like.
  • Consensus – We look to others to see how we should behave in certain situations.
  • Authority – We look to those with superior knowledge or wisdom for guidance.
  • Consistency – We feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and do.
  • Scarcity – We value things more when we believe they are rare or diminishing.

There’s a lot to know and understand about each of the principles but it starts with defining the terms. Once you understand the language of influence, if someone says, “Look to engage reciprocity,” you know exactly what they mean and can focus your attention.

In the opening I reiterated your time is precious. Spending a little time learning the language of persuasion will help you save lots of time down the road. In the process you’ll also become more effective in your attempts to change the behavior of others and that’s an effective one-two combination!

Why Study Persuasion? You Can’t Afford Not To!

There never seems to be enough time in the day to do all that you want to or all that you need to. So why should you spend your precious time learning about persuasion? Because you cant afford not to!

Let’s start with exactly what I mean when I talk about persuasion. Persuasion is not simply about changing a person’s thinking because if the change in thinking doesn’t lead to a change in behavior have you really gained anything? For example, if you ask your child to clean their room, which do you want to have happen?

  1. Have your child acknowledge cleaning their room is a good idea (changed thinking).
  2. Have your child actually clean their room (changed behavior).

I don’t know any parent who would be satisfied with A. When we try to persuade we want to change behaviors and that’s why I believe Aristotle has given us the best definition of persuasion. He said it was, “The art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” Someone isn’t doing something so you interact with him or her in hopes of changing their behavior in some way.

What you may not realize is how much of your day is spent persuading people. In To Sell is Human Daniel Pink cites a survey of more than 7,000 business people in non-sales positions. He wrote, “People are now spending about 40 percent of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.” If you happen to be in sales that percentage is probably greater than 60%.

That means if you’re like the typical worker you spend more than three hours a day attempting to persuade others! Over the course your career you’ll spend upwards of 40,000 hours engaged in the act of persuasion at work!!

So let me ask this – if you’re going to do something for at least three hours a day, 40,000 hours over a lifetime (and that doesn’t include time persuading your spouse, kids and others outside of work), wouldn’t it be wise to understand how to do it to the best of your ability? Put another way, can you afford not to become more skilled at persuasion? There’s a lot at stake at work and at home when it comes to perfecting your persuasion skills so I encourage you to tune in next week to find out more.

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.