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Fear of Missing Out and the Black Friday Madness

Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping day of the year, is just days away. This year, Friday, November 24th, will be the unofficial start of the Christmas season. Throngs of people will make their way to malls all across the country hoping to get some of the best deals on holiday gifts.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say people will act like crazed fans at a football game or soccer match. The news will show us scenes of people fighting over items, shoving each other out of the way to get to the hottest toys and trampling one another the moment stores open.

So much for the season of giving and the spirit of joy!

What causes normal people will do some very abnormal things in hopes of getting the best deal? Why would someone stand in line for hours waiting for a store to open when they could visit that same store any day of the week? And why to people forego sleep, getting up hours earlier than they have to on their day off? Fear of missing out.

Fear of missing out taps into scarcity, the psychological principle of influence that tells us people value things more when they’re rare or appear to be less available. Scarcity can be triggered by time constraints and competition for a limited number of items.

Black Friday naturally taps into time constraints because it only happens one day each year. Forego this shopping day and you might miss the best deals of the season! But then again, you might not have missed out because sales only seem to better as Christmas approaches and retailers look to unload the last of their holiday merchandise.

Nonetheless, over the years the lure of Black Friday has increased dramatically and retailers have taken advantage of the popularity of Black Friday by opening stores earlier and earlier each year. Some stores will open at midnight because Thanksgiving will be over and it will officially be Friday. If you don’t get there at midnight you might just miss out on some time sensitive deals!

When we hear the word “competition” we often think of athletic endeavors but competition isn’t limited to the sports arena. No, when it comes to shopping competition is alive and well, and retailers play on it in a big way.

Here’s how the competition part of scarcity works – no longer is it good enough to just get to a store because if you are not there when the store opens they might run out of the thing you wanted most. Limited availability is different than limited time so while you might have all day Friday to shop, certain items marked “While Supplies Last” or “Limited Availability” might be gone by the time you arrive at 5 AM or 6 AM. Can’t let that happen now, can you?

It’s amazes me that people respond as they do because little Johnny probably doesn’t remember that great toy you got him three years ago. You know, the one you stood in line at the mall at 4 AM to get? And sweet Sally probably can’t tell you which American Girl doll you got her when she was eight years old but it’s a good thing you stood in line for several hours to pay for it.

Here’s another eye opener. People will say, “But I saved $200!” Saving money is great but many of those same people wouldn’t drive across town to save $200 on a car because a $200 savings on a $20,000 car by comparison isn’t worth the extra time and effort.

So, they spend four hours negotiating a car deal, could go across town and maybe spend another four hours to save $200, but they don’t. Sure, it’s an eight-hour investment but many of those same people will spend more than 12 hours at the mall just to save $200.

I’m not telling you not to shop. I know for some people, Black Friday shopping has become as much a holiday tradition as Thanksgiving, getting a Christmas tree or sending holiday cards. But I challenge you to consider if it’s really worth all the hassle – the lost sleep, extra time at the mall, fighting traffic, searching for a parking space, the disappointment when someone bought the last item you wanted, etc. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Would I normally respond this way? Do I want to respond this way?” Then decide what you want to do.

If you know you’re going to give into the madness then I’ll help you save some time by sharing with you the Black Friday web site. Go to this site to get a sneak peek at some of the deals that will be out there. Before all the holiday madness starts I want to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving and a safe time no matter what you decide to do.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been view more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Leadership, Authority and Influence are All Intertwined

I’ve spent a lot of time the past six months immersing myself in leadership material from Focus 3 because it’s really good stuff. They’re called Focus 3 because they focus on three things: leadership, culture and behavior. Their overarching view is this: leaders create the culture within an organization which drives the behaviors that lead to results.

Tim Kight, the founder of Focus 3, did a presentation on How Leaders Achieve Great Results and during that talk he said something that resonated with me. He told the audience, “Leadership is not authority based on a position you’ve been given. It is influence based on trust you’ve earned.”

Are you a leader? Leaders have followers. You may have the title and corner office but that’s no guarantee that people will follow you. Even if they follow, are they doing so enthusiastically or begrudgingly? If they’re only following because they have to then they’re not much better than those who don’t follow.

Getting people to follow you is where influence comes in handy. Influence, when used correctly and ethically, can help build relationships and trust as well as motivate people to action.

How do you build relationships?

Engage the principles of liking and reciprocity and you’ll find it a bit easier because when people like you they’ll be more inclined to do what you ask. But the key isn’t to try to get them to like you. Rather, you should make every effort to come to like them. Pay attention to others and look to connect on what you have in common.

Your other opportunity is to have the mindset that you want to catch them doing what’s right. When you do so and pay the person a genuine compliment it also works on your mindset. After all, don’t you generally think more highly of people you compliment?

As a leader, do you actively look to help your people grow and develop?

The second way to build relationship is by engaging the principle of reciprocity. When you coach them, provide resources and help them achieve their goals they’ll appreciate you and naturally look to repay the favor. When your team knows you have their best interest at heart it builds relationships.

Are you an expert and do you use it to help others?

It’s one thing to be good at what you do but it’s quite another to use your competency to help others get better too. The other half of the equation is trust. It does little good to be some kind of expert if people don’t trust you. Much of your trust comes from your character. Do you do what you say you’ll do? That’s why Aristotle said, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”

Finally, a leader needs to get people to take action.

The most effective way is by using the principle of consistency. Instead of telling people what to do (this doesn’t engage the principle) try asking. The big reason this is so effective is because once someone has agreed to do something they feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to follow through on their commitment. This is why I always encourage audiences to stop telling, start asking.

Becoming an effective leader isn’t rocket science but there is a science to it. When ethically looking for opportunities to engage the science of influence you’ll build relationships, gain trust and move people to take the actions necessary to ensure success.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been view more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Hurry Before It Goes Back Into The Disney Vault!

I just returned from Orlando where I spent two and a half days at Coronado Springs, a Disney resort hotel. I was there with more than 1800 learning professionals from around the globe to attend Elliott Masie’s Learning 2017 conference. It was an awesome experience! As I sat in the airport I thought about Disney’s phenomenal brand success.

There are many reason Disney appeals to young and old alike but one that stands out in my mind is the Disney Vault. The mental picture of a vault compels us to buy certain products because it taps into scarcity. This principle of influence teaches us we want things more when we believe they’re rare or going away. With that in mind, let’s analyze the concept of the vault.

The imagery of the vault conveys a secure place where precious item are stored. We use vaults for safekeeping jewelry, money, cash, passports and other valuables. We don’t store everyday items in vaults and neither does Disney.

Disney reserves the vault for its most valuable items – it’s feature length films. Every generation has its favorites such as Cinderella, Snow White, and my daughter’s all-time favorite, Beauty and the Beast. I bet you have a favorite Disney movie that conjures up strong emotions and brings to memory magical times.

When a movie goes into the vault the door is closed, the lock is spun and you can no longer get the movie because you don’t know the combination. Only Disney knows that and only Disney knows when they’ll unlock the vault next.

When items finally come out of the vault Disney does two significant things. First, whatever is brought out is only available for a limited time. After that it goes back in for an undisclosed amount of time. In other words, if you don’t act quickly you might miss out on your opportunity.

Second, when something comes out of the vault it’s not the same as when it went it. Something magical always happens. The movie that comes out might be digitally remastered in Blue-Ray with never before seen extended scenes! Your mind screams, “Holy cow!” You think to yourself, “I have the movie but how much better will it be in this new, digital version? And those scenes, what they are?”

As you ponder these thoughts you can bet your bottom dollar others are ordering so now consensus is at work on you. When we know lots of others are doing something we consider doing it even more. That wisdom of the crowd gives some validation that the new movie version must be worth it.

Between consensus and FOMO (fear of missing out) you psyche is taking a pounding! Maybe that’s not enough to get you to order…this time but it’s undeniable that this Disney approach works like a charm. I write that because marketers are savvy. They test different approaches and measure everything. If the concept of the Disney Vault didn’t work they’d have abandoned it long ago. The fact that you keep seeing it, no matter how ridiculous it might seem to you now, is proof enough about its validity.

What’s an unsuspecting shopper to do? First, remember almost everything is available on Amazon or EBay. If you miss your opportunity someone somewhere is selling the latest Disney stuff. And if your patient enough the Disney vault will open again and the same item – only enhanced and better – will come out for a brief time.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been view more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? It will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

What the FOMO are You Doing?

Last month I was in Arizona where I had the good fortune to combine business and pleasure. Pleasure was seeing family and attending an excellent Scotch tasting event at Total Wine. Business was a keynote presentation, sales calls with a good friend and coworker Dan and a trip to Flagstaff. One afternoon Dan and I stopped by Total Wine and during check out the person in front of us began telling us about a bourbon the store had just gotten in, Weller 12 year. He proceeded to tell us it was from the same distributor as Pappy Van Winkle, a rare and expensive bourbon. He let us know the store didn’t have many bottles and they’d probably sell out within the hour. Fear of missing out (FOMO) was enough for Dan to grab a bottle…even though he’s not much of a bourbon guy.

Dan’s decision to buy was heavily influenced by the principle of scarcity. This psychological concept alerts us to the reality that we value things more when we believe they’re rare or diminishing. FOMO is another way to describe scarcity. Most people hate missing out on what might be golden opportunities. If you think back on life most of what you regret probably centers around what you didn’t do (missed out on) rather than what you actually did.

Even though Dan isn’t much of a bourbon drinker, knowing Pappy Van Winkle has an excellent reputation and finding out this particular bottle would probably fly off the shelves was enough for him to make an unusual decision. Had that customer not mentioned how seldom the store got that specific bourbon and how fast it would sell I’m positive Dan wouldn’t have bought a bottle.

FOMO is constantly at work when it comes to sales.

  • Coupons that are about to expire get used more than those that still have time to use them. We may procrastinate but don’t want to miss out on that potentially great deal so we take action before opportunity passes!
  • The last day of a big sale gets us into the store even if we don’t have something in particular we’re looking for. You tell yourself you just want to see what deals are going on but once you’re in the store you’re far more likely to buy than if you don’t go at all.
  • Black Friday will be here before you know it and people will stand in line all night just so they don’t miss out on some of the best deals of the year.

Responding to FOMO isn’t all bad. After all, saving hundreds, or possibly thousands of dollars on something you’ve wanted for quite some time (new computer, flat screen television, a car) feels good and can be a prudent decision. Where you need to be careful is when you’re only responding to the deal but not necessarily a need. For example, many people are buying 4K televisions right now even though they don’t need them. Why? Because the prices have dropped recently and the deals seem too good to pass up. But remember, there will be another FOMO deal once the one you’re considering has passed.

Sure, not getting in on Apple or Amazon stock when they were first issued left a lot of people with regret. Perhaps that first love that got away gnaws at you because you think, “What if?” But keep in mind, as we enter the holiday shopping season the deals that will tempt you will be there during the after-Christmas sales, President’s Day sales and all the other traditional selling holidays. Make sure you’re responding not only to FOMO but what you really need and you’ll be a little happier in the long run.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been view more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? It will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Overcome Mistakes, Mend Fences, Restore Trust

In life mistakes happen. In fact, they happen all the time because we’re imperfect humans. Quite often that means we need to mend fences if we want to overcome mistakes and restore trust. If you look up the phrase “fence-mending” one definition you’ll see comes from Dictionary.com; “the practice of reestablishing or strengthening personal, business, or political contacts and relationships by conciliation or negotiation, as after a dispute, disagreement, or period of inactivity.” Because mistakes are inevitable we need to know how to overcome the negative impact they can have on relationships. Let’s take a look at a simple three step process.

Apologize

Step one is to apologize. The good news is apologizing isn’t a skill you don’t possess. Apologizing is a choice any of us can make. It might feel awkward and uncomfortable but we can all choose to apologize if we can let go of our fear and negative emotions.

Ask for Forgiveness

It’s always good to know whether or not your apology was accepted. Simply ask, “Do you forgive me?” I’ve had people say that’s awkward in business so another approach might be asking, “Are we good?” There are two possible outcomes: you’re forgiven or you’re not.

If you’ve been forgiven that’s cool so leave it alone. In sales there’s something called “selling past the close,” and it can be fatal to making the sale. If someone says they want to buy then it’s time to shut up because talking more might cause them to change their mind! By the same token, when someone forgives you it’s time to shut up because your continued talking might reopen the wound you want to heal.

Let’s say the other person doesn’t acknowledge your request for forgiveness or says they don’t forgive you. Take the high road. You might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I can’t change the past so all I can do is apologize and try to do better going forward.” If nothing else you can leave the situation knowing you did the right thing. And maybe, just maybe the other person will forgive you in that moment or sometime down the road.

Prove Yourself

If you get the opportunity to prove yourself take it! I also encourage you to make sure the other person knows about your change. Let’s say you got a report in late and that negatively impacted a teammate at work. The next time you have to turn something in look to get in to your coworker a day or two in advance of when they asked for it. When you give it to them you might say, “I know I blew it last time but I wasn’t going to let that happen again so I wanted to get you this as quickly as I could.” Actions speak louder than words but words can be used to highlight your actions and bring them to consciousness for the other person.

Silver Linings

There are a couple of silver linings with mistakes. First, sometimes when you work to correct mistakes relationships can actually improve. For example, some studies show people rate the service higher at restaurants and hotels when there was some mix up but it was corrected to the satisfaction of the customer. Why is that? When you go out of your way to make things right you engage reciprocity. Most people see that extra effort and feel obligated to give a better tip, rating or satisfaction score.

Another silver lining is this; admitting a mistake can make you more trustworthy and enhance your authority with others. Authority is the principle of influence that tells us people defer to those with superior wisdom, knowledge or expertise. Authority rests on two things – credibility (you know what you’re doing) and trustworthiness (you can be counted on). The net positive with enhancing trust is increased authority which means people are more likely to follow your lead or advice down the road.

To Do

This week I encourage you to actively look for your mistakes that impact others. When you see them, don’t wait for someone else to discover them, own up to them immediately. This taps into Dale Carnegie’s advice, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Doing so will allow you to practice a much-needed skill for interpersonal relationships and make it easier to do when the stakes are higher.

Why Don’t We Just Listen for a Change

I was inspired to write this week’s post after watching an enlightening Ted Talk from Theo E.J. Wilson called A Black Man Goes Undercover in the Alt-Right. Don’t worry, this post is not to advocate for any particular position on the political and social spectrum. Rather it’s about the lost art of listening and communicating to understand one another. Theo rightly points out things that prevent us from understanding each other and I have added some of the principles of influence that make it easy to happen:

Online Algorithms

These algorithms begin to filter information to us that we already view and believe, an application of the principle of consistency. It’s no different than the Amazon recommendations that pop up based on prior purchase decisions and sites you’ve viewed. Isn’t it someone freaky how you can start to type in a Google search and the choices that appear almost always contain the exact search you need? It’s as if Google read your mind! This curating of information is constantly going on behind the scenes and may be limiting your worldview.

Media Outlets

We make active choices that narrow our worldview such as only watching Fox News or CNN to the exclusion of all other media outlets. We do so because other large groups of people like us – the principle of consensus – hold the same views. I try to watch MSNBC and Fox in equal amounts because it’s like viewing the world from the North Pole and South Pole. Doing so gives me a better view of the entire planet. Make no mistake, news outlets are run by human beings and have their own bias points of view so be wary.

Our Associations

We tend to hang out with like-minded people. This is a natural phenomenon – the liking principle – because we like people who are similar to us and it’s less taxing mentally to have conversations with people who think like we do.

Social Media

Online “conversations” aren’t really conversations at all. They’ve become forums to espouse views then vehemently defend them. This is one way the principle of consistency can lead us astray. For more on this I will refer you to a post I wrote years ago called Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I’m sure you can think of more things that limit our ability to understand each other. Here are some ideas to perhaps change this. By change I don’t necessarily mean your views have to change but, if you come to understand another person, their point of view, and can maintain respect for them, then isn’t that a good thing?

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was different than you, not to convince them of your point of view, but to simply get to know them and their point of view better? I find it’s best to do this in person, over coffee, a drink, or a meal, where there can be dialog instead of monologue.

Have you ever asked someone what it’s like to be them? Two conversations I’ll never forget happened with a couple of African-Americans; a coworker and my best friend. With my coworker, I asked her on a flight from Nashville to Columbus what it was like to be an African-American working at my company. She talked non-stop the entire flight and I had a new, enlightened point of view.

The other conversation was with my best friend after Barak Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You cannot imagine the pride he expressed at something he never thought he would see in his lifetime. I don’t believe in either case the conversations would have happened if I had not opened the door with questions. Give a safe place for people to express themselves and you’ll be surprised at what you hear.

What was refreshing in the Ted Talk was hearing Theo acknowledge that many people who held views completely opposite from his were still people just like him. He saw pictures of kids and families. He saw people who enjoyed activities and liked to have fun. They were humans who viewed the world differently. When we lose sight of other people’s humanity we’re in big trouble because we treat them as things to be opposed. We need not look any further than Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to see what people can do to those they consider less than human.

It was also refreshing to hear Theo acknowledge flaws in the thinking of people he more closely aligned himself with. Every side has flaws because they’re made up of human beings, all of whom are flawed.

Someone asked me recently if I thought our country was more divided than ever. My response was no because there was a time we were so divided we plummeted into civil war. We have an opportunity to turn much of our negativity and opposition into something better. In order to do that I believe we need to stop opposing each other, stop shouting each other down and start having real, person to person conversations. Steven Covey encouraged us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That would be a great starting place.  I encourage you this week, reach out to someone who is different than you and start a dialogue.

Principles vs. Techniques, Laws and Other Burdensome Rules

When I lead The Principles of Persuasion Workshop for salespeople I tell attendees that a sales technique is good unless you find yourself in a situation where the technique doesn’t apply. If all you know is a technique or pithy response but not the why behind it you’ll probably find yourself a loss. However, understanding principles let you know why those sale techniques work which opens up many more options and gives you quite a bit of freedom. I was reminded of this thought as I read the blog post “Burn Your Rule Book and Unlock the Power of Principles” by Eric J. McNulty. He wrote:

“Principles, unlike rules, give people something unshakable to hold onto yet also the freedom to take independent decisions and actions to move toward a shared objective. Principles are directional, whereas rules are directive. A simple example of a rule: ‘All merchandise returns must be made within 30 days.’ Contrast this with Nordstrom’s principle-based approach: ‘Use your best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.’ The former shows no trust in either the sales associate or the customer. The latter is exactly the opposite and encourages the frontline worker to build a relationship with the customer.”

What does “the return must be within 30 days” rule signal? It could be that the company doesn’t trust its customers. They feel they will be taken advantage of so they have to limit the chance of that happening. A fundamental distrust of people might say more about the organization than the customers.

The rule could also signal that the company don’t trust their employees to make good decisions. Perhaps they need to do a better job hiring the right people and then training them on how to make good decisions that benefit the customer and the company.

As I considered principles and rules I thought about how Jane and I raise our daughter Abigail. We’ve always spent a lot of time talking with Abigail from the time she was very little. We didn’t want to just teach her right and wrong, good and bad. Rather, we wanted her to understand why we believed some things were good and some bad, and what made something right or wrong. Granted, these concepts are very subjective but we all possess subjective values and we pass our values along because we believe they’re good to live by.

My verification that we were on the right track came as Abigail approached her 16th birthday. My mom told me she was having a conversation with Abigail about getting her license and her curfew. Abigail told my mom that she didn’t have a curfew to which my mom responded, “Oh you better believe you do.” Abigail told her again that she didn’t have a curfew and again, my mom insisted she did, along with other rules. Then Abigail said, “No grandma, I really don’t have any rules but I wouldn’t do anything to break my parents trust.” Wow! That’s exactly what Jane and I would have hoped for. She wasn’t focused on the minutia of following rules but simply wanted to maintain a good relationship with us.

We’re not as involved in church as we used to be and I know church gets a bad rap quite often for reasons too numerous to list here. Church can seem like a rule based life to define good and bad but that’s not how I see it. When it comes to living right I believe this passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “For the whole law is fulfilled on one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” That’s pretty simple just like not breaking parent’s trust and just like using your best judgement. If something goes wrong following these simple principles then you have a coaching opportunity with your child or employee.

I encourage you to give thought to this idea this week. If you’re a parent, manager or run a company are you loading people down with rules or helping them understand why you want them to do what you’ve asked them to do?  George Patton once said, “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the result.” Tell your kids and employees where you want them to go, give a few guiding principles and they might just surprise you.

Fan Psychology and Your Favorite Sport Team

This past weekend college football officially kicked off its season and Thursday night the NFL will do the same. There were some big games (#1 Alabama vs. #3 Florida State) and amazing comebacks (UCLA down 44-10 late in the game came back to beat Texas A&M 45-44). There are few things in life that people are more passionate about than their favorite sports teams. Football is king in the United States but in the rest of the world soccer dominates the landscape.

With passion comes some interesting psychology. For example, people will like others who cheer for their team with virtually nothing else to go on. That’s the principle of liking in action. When we find one thing we have in common with someone else, especially when it’s something we’re very passionate about, it’s easy to like them because we view them as being like us.

The principle of consistency comes into play when people make public statements about their team then feel pressure to back up those statements no matter what the facts may be. For example, I have a relative who is a big Michigan Wolverine fan. I happen to be a huge Ohio State Buckeye fan. The two teams have one of the longest, most heated rivalries in all of sports which culminates in “The Game” every November.

When the Maize and Blue dominated the Buckeyes throughout the late 80s and all of the 90s my relative insisted it was because Michigan was a better team and program. The tables have turned since those days and over the past 15 years OSU had owned Michigan, winning 13 times. My relative can’t bring himself to admit Ohio State simply has a better program at this juncture. Instead he chalks up the OSU wins to cheating, poor officiating, rule breaking, luck and just about anything else he can think of. To be sure, there can be bad calls and an element of luck, but it’s hard to argue your team is better when they’ve been so thoroughly dominated for so long.

My relative isn’t alone when it comes to defending his team at all costs. As I noted earlier, to remain consistent it’s normal for people to vehemently defend their team and position at all costs.

One other bit of psychology you’ll see on full display, especially on game day, is confirmation bias. This psychological concept tells us people will search for evidence to confirm their position while denying evidence that contradicts their position. We’re all susceptible to confirmation bias when it come to our teams. Consider how often opposing fans will dispute calls despite clear evidence on instant replay.

Consider the following study cited in The Person and the Situation by Lee Ross, Richard E. Nisbett, and Malcolm Gladwel. The authors wrote, “In this study, Dartmouth and Princeton football fans both viewed the same film of a particularly rough gridiron struggle between their respective teams. Despite the constancy of the objective stimulus, the opposing partisans’ assessments of what they had viewed suggested that they ‘saw’ two different games. The Princeton fans saw a continuing saga of Dartmouth atrocities and occasional Princeton retaliations. The Dartmouth fans saw brutal Princeton provocations and occasional measured Dartmouth responses. Each side, in short, saw a struggle in which their side were the ‘good guys’ and the other side were the ‘bad guys.’ And each side thought this ‘truth. ought to be apparent to any objective observers of the same events.”

Later the authors wrote, “This polarization effect, it seemed, occurred because the subjects in both partisan groups tended to accept evidence supportive of their own position uncritically, while at the same time critically scrutinizing and ‘explaining away’ evidence that was equally probative but that ran counter to their position.”

So, what’s the point here? Sports brings out passion in people. You’ll be accepted by those who cheer for your team and reviled by those who don’t…at least on game day. When it comes to “convincing” someone about the superiority of your team save your breath because it’s like trying to teach a pig to sing – you won’t succeed, you’ll upset the pig, and you’ll get frustrated in the process.

That’s What She Said but Not What He Heard

If you were a fan of The Office you know Michael Scott, the manager of the Dunder Mifflin paper supply office in Scranton, PA, was fond of saying, “That’s what she said.” Michael’s references usually had a sexual overtone but don’t worry, that’s not where I’m going. I’m also not going to talk about miscommunication between men and women although, according to some people we’re from different planets.

I’d like to talk a little about the sender-receiver model of communication. This is important because two people can say exactly the same thing and get entirely different results. In the most basic sense we can break down verbal communication as follows:

Sender

  1. What they actually said (words)
  2. What they think they said (words + tone + body language)

Receiver

  1. What they actually heard (words)
  2. What they think they heard (words + tone + body language + prior experiences)

If you want to become a master of persuasion you have to understand the sender-receiver dynamic and be able to adjust accordingly or else you’ll fail more than you need to. Let me lay out a scenario.

You’re in the airport and have a tight connection for your next flight. If you miss it there’s only one other available flight to get you in on time for an important business dinner. The gate agent has just informed everyone your flight is delayed by 30 minutes. You have to make a decision about whether or not to gamble and stay on your assigned flight or try to get on the other flight. You’re stressed as you approach the gate agent and say:

“I have to get to [city] today so what are my options?”

The words are not in dispute but how you said it, taking into account tone and body language, can come across quite different than you might intend. You may have thought you were calm and polite when in reality you came across as angry and demanding. There’s what you “think” you said and what you actually said.

But that’s only half of the equation. What about the gate agent (receiver)? This person has their own filter. He or she might have just started their shift so they’re rested and calm. If that’s the case, and he or she maintains a positive attitude, they will probably “hear” you as someone who is expressing some nerves and in need of help. It’s likely the gate agent will be polite and helpful.

But what if the gate agent is at the end of a long shift, has dealt with several other delays and is tired of angry travelers? Under those circumstances they might be at the end of their wits. Through their filter you’re just another angry, demanding traveler who verbally abuses gate agents even though they have no control over what happens with planes.

As you can see, there are lots of ways this can play out depending on what you think you said and what the other person thinks they heard. The only thing you can control is yourself so taking a moment to make sure you’re calm, collected, positive, and clear about your needs is your best bet.

What about the gate agent? You don’t know what their filter is but a little empathy goes a long way if you hope they “hear” something different from you. Acknowledging they have a tough job might make all the difference. It could be as simple saying, “I bet it’s been a rough day with another delay to deal with,” before sharing your needs.

Never forget, beyond the words and principles of influence you use there’s more going on than meets the eye. Taking a moment to consider how you’ll come across and how the other person might receive you is always a good investment of your time.

A Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Selling

There’s old saying that applies to persuasion and selling, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I don’t actually know anyone who’s ever skinned a cat so I have no idea how many ways you can do it but I’ll trust there are multiple ways. When it comes to persuasion there are many approaches you can use to hear “yes” more often.

What I’ll share this week is directed towards salespeople but the application goes beyond just sales. When it comes to landing a sale, there are a couple of ways you can approach it: top down or bottom up.

Top Down. Sometimes you want to go for it, pull out all the stops and be bold. After all, you have no chance of hearing “yes” if you don’t ask for the sale. Too many salespeople censure themselves with a belief that the prospective client will never go for their top of the line proposal. What they end up doing is reducing their offer…and their chances of making the sale.

I’ll give you an example from my industry – insurance. I can tell you from more than 30 years of experience that far too many people are underinsured when it comes to their homes, cars, businesses, and lives. Here are just a few reasons this happens:

  1. People feel “forced” to buy insurance. The state says they have to insure their car and the bank that holds their mortgage requires them to insure their home.
  2. Laws require business owners to carry certain coverages like workers’ compensation.
  3. Nobody wants to contemplate the end of life so the decision for life insurance is put off again and again.

Because people don’t like to buy insurance they can be quick to dismiss coverages and suggestions from their insurance agent. It’s always in the best interest of the customer that the agent recommends the policy and coverages he or she believes will afford the proper protection. During my time in the insurance industry I’ve never heard someone say after a loss, “Darn! My agent sold me the right coverages and I’m fully protected!” However, many people have said, “Damn! My agent didn’t sell me the right coverage (or amount) and now I’m paying out of my own pocket!”

By offering the right policy and coverages up front the agent risks being rejected and that’s okay. First, never underestimate that some people will buy what’s presented because they recognize it’s in their best interests to do so. If the individual rejects what’s presented the agent has the opportunity to engage what’s known as “reject and retreat.”

If someone rejects your initial offer and you step in with a more moderate offer, one that still affords the essential protection they need, the likelihood that the prospect will say “yes” to the second proposal is higher than if you’d have started with it outright. Why? Because of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. In the case of rejection, when you make a concession, take a step to the middle, quite often people will make a concession too and meet you part way.

My advice to salespeople is always this – don’t censure yourself! Put the proposal on the table that you believe is right for the customer. When you do so, anticipate they might reject it and be ready with reduced offers you can use in case you hear “no.” Anticipating “no” is not pessimistic, it’s strategic because it allows you to strategically engage reciprocity.

Bottom Up. Sometimes it’s best to tackle the situation from the opposite direction. There might be reasons you can’t go for the whole enchilada because it will surely result in hearing “no” without any fallback options. This might happen because:

  1. You don’t have enough experience with the type of account you’re trying to write.
  2. You don’t have a strong enough relationship with the business owner to warrant going after all the policies associated with his or her business.
  3. The main part of the account comes up for renewal at a different time.

Your best opportunity under these circumstances would be to try writing something smaller like the prospect’s home and auto or part of their business account (auto, worker’s compensation, etc.). The reason you want to approach the sale in this manner is to get your “foot in the door.” If you write any business for the prospective customer you become their agent. Assuming you do a good job for them that little step forward will make it easier for them to give you an opportunity on the bigger parts of their insurance package.

The psychology behind this approach is the principle of consistency. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Once you’ve become someone’s agent it’s a consistent next step to see if you can help him or her with their other insurance needs. Now the whole enchilada is within sight!

Persuading a person isn’t always as simple as some would lead you to believe. Due to situational factors and individual differences you can never predict what a single individual might do any more than a doctor can predict which person will live a long life. However, just as a doctor can confidently predict more people will live longer if they live healthy lifestyles, we can confidently say more people will say “yes” when you correctly tap into social psychology. We can make this claim because there’s more than seven decades of research you can rely on to significantly increase the odds that you’ll hear “yes” when you make a request of another person.

So, next time you go into a sale consider whether or not top down or bottom up is the right approach. A little strategic planning could make the sale much easier.