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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.

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.

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.

Ask Yourself a Better Question

I like to write about whatever is top of mind. Sometimes it’s sales, leadership, coaching, social issues, and at other times it’s parenting. Quite often I write when I’ve learned something I want to pass along and that’s what this post is about – asking yourself better questions.

Over the years I’ve read a lot about self-improvement. That leads me to books on how our brains work, how fitness helps our bodies and minds, ideas for success, and so on. I believe one of the most important things we can do in life is to reflect on our own thinking so we can improve our response to the situations life throws at us.

On the recommendation of two people I highly regard I picked up a copy of Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams, Ph.D. I learned something unexpected so I want to share it with you today.

One principle of influence that is most impacted by the use of good questions is the principle of consistency. This principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Bottom line; we usually feel better about ourselves when our words and deeds align.

Most people fail to engage this principle because they tell people what to do rather than asking. When you tell someone what to do you’re not gaining a commitment. Consequently, when it comes to questions I often share this with audiences: Stop Telling, Start Asking.

When I started to read Change Your Questions Change Your Life I expected to build on the use of consistency. However, what stood out to me was not the questions I ask others but the questions I ask myself.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say you have an employee named Pat. He’s been with your company and part of your department for a year and a half. You brought him in with high hopes and initially were very pleased. But over the last four months his performance has dropped noticeably. Work quality has slipped and he’s missed some deadlines. Because of many factors you’ve not been able to spend as much time with him as you did early on so you’re not sure what’s going on with Pat. Recently he missed another deadline by two days which meant you had to work over the weekend to make sure everything was ready by Monday morning for presentation to your boss. Needless to say, you’re not happy about feeling rushed and working over the weekend.

What’s the first thought that goes through your mind? Consider these possibilities:

  1. What the hell is up with Pat?
  2. Did I make a mistake when I hired Pat?
  3. Pat has so much potential. I wonder what’s going on with him?
  4. I wonder if Pat’s performance drop is because I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him in recent months?

As is the case with so many of us it’s easy to quickly go negative because Pat’s declining performance hurts your team and is a negative reflection on you as his manager. If you go into the next conversation with Pat focused on questions like 1 and 2 how productive do you think that conversation will be? Will Pat feel like freely sharing if he senses negativity and/or a hostile tone?

Now consider questions 3 and 4. Do you think you’ll have a more productive conversation with these questions driving your thought process? I’m sure you can see Pat will be more open to sharing if he believes you still see potential in him and are concerned with his career.

The first two questions, or any negative and judgmental questions you may stew over, will send you down a rabbit trail looking for answers to confirm those questions. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it’s easy to find mistakes if you look hard enough.

What the hell is up with Pat? This is an exasperating question that will probably leak anger and frustration. While those emotions might be legitimate would you rather turn around his performance or get rid of him and start all over again with a new employee?

Did I make a mistake when I hired Pat? Our memories are short and our attention spans are even shorter. It will be much easier to focus on Pat’s recent performance and build a case in your mind that it was a mistake to hire him as opposed to reviewing the body of his work. Again, I ask, would you rather to turn around his performance or get rid of him and start all over again with a new employee?

Pat has so much potential. I wonder what’s going on with him? This acknowledges Pat has performed well in the past and seeks to find out what might have caused the recent change in performance.

I wonder if Pat’s performance drop is because I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him in recent months? While his drop may not have to do with your one-on-one time this is a less threatening opening than laying all the blame on him.

I hope you see the difference. The questions you ask yourself about people and situations impact your emotions, thinking and ultimately your behavior. This week I encourage you to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself. When you do, see if you can understand how they’re driving your behavior. Is it the behavior you want? Is it the most productive behavior?

Seldom can you change other people but you can change yourself. It begins with how you view and think about people and situations. Will you give it a try? What do you have to lose? What might you lose by not trying?

Persuasive Coaching: Listening STARS

Last week we explored the necessity of asking good questions if you want to be a persuasive coach. You’ll recall the right questions can be effective because they tap into the principle of consistency. It won’t do much good to ask lots of questions if you don’t spend focused effort listening. This week we’ll explore five tips to help you grow in this area.

There are several levels of listening and the two you should shoot for as a coach are attentive and empathic.

Empathetic listening is where you seek to put yourself in the place of the other person. You not only understand where they’re coming from, you have a strong sense of how they feel. Empathy is different than sympathy.

Imagine someone tells you they lost their job. You might feel sympathy for them because you know intellectually it must be difficult and scary. The person who empathizes wouldn’t just acknowledge those feelings, to the best of their ability they’d allow themselves to feel the anger, hurt, and scariness that come with losing a job.

Empathetic listening is something most of us shy away from because it often entails feeling emotions we’d prefer to avoid. After all, who want to feel bad if they can avoid it?

Attentive listening allows you to understand where the other person is coming from but not necessarily feeling all the feelings. If you can’t empathize then attentive listening is the next best thing because at least the other person has been heard and you’re still in a better position to coach them.

How can we listen attentively and perhaps empathetically? Most people never consider how they could be a better listener and very few have view listening as a skill that can be improved. When I teach classes on communication I often share a method to help people become Listening STARS.

STARS is an acronym that stands for: Stop, Tone, Ask, Restate, Scribble. We’ll take a brief look at these five simple steps which, if put into practice, will make you much a more effective listener and better coach.

Stop. First, you need to stop whatever you’re doing when someone is talking to you. Doing so conveys respect and makes the other person feel important. Additionally, you will catch more of what he or she is saying because multi-tasking is a myth. You cannot listen when you’re texting, typing an email, or doing any other activity that taxes your cognitive abilities. Many studies show the best you can do is switching quickly from one task to another which means there are times you’re not listening.

Tone. Paying attention to tone is important because it often conveys feelings. When I ask my wife Jane how she’s doing and I hear, “Fine,” in a short, terse tone I know she’s not fine and wants me to ask how she’s really doing. Much like body language, tone can indicate how someone is really feeling.

Ask. This reminds us to ask clarifying questions. Normally I don’t advise people to interrupt someone when they’re talking but the exception is to get clarification on something that was shared to prevent miscommunication. Another advantage of asking clarifying questions is doing so shows you’re actively listening.

Restate. It’s one thing to think you understand another person but it’s altogether different to actually understand them. Never assume. Instead, take a moment to restate in your own words what you think he or she is trying to convey. If you realize you don’t either ask more questions or have them to tell you their story again.

Scribble. If you can take notes do so. When you do this don’t try to write the next great American novel because you’ll miss too much if you’re too focused on writing. Try to bullet point key concepts that will trigger more detailed thoughts when you reread your notes.

Each of these five steps is simply a choice but don’t fool yourself – listening is hard work. To improve it will take time, energy, and patience. Like most skills you need to succeed in business and life, listening needs to be worked on continually. It’s not easy but the personal and professional benefits are huge.

Persuasive Coaching: Ask the Right Questions

A good coach is a lot like a good salesperson. A good salesperson never makes you feel pressured or sold. Using a combination of questions and a conversational tone a good salesperson helps the prospective customer uncover their needs. Next, the salesperson engages the prospective customer so he or she sees the right service or product to meet their needs.

In a similar way, a good coach will have a conversation where lots of questions are asked so the person being coached – the coachee –  feels like they came up with the solution to their challenges.

People who self-generate their own ideas will always be more committed to them than ideas that come from being told what to do. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, clearly understood this when he encouraged readers to, “Let the other person feel the idea is theirs.”

Why is this approach so effect? Because of Robert Cialdini’s principle of consistency. The psychological principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure as well as external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.

As little pleasure seekers and pain avoiders humans work hard to make sure their words and deeds line up. When we do what we say we’ll do we feel better about ourselves. We also look better to others when we consistently keep our word. Both are strong motivators of behavior.

Being more committed to whatever solution the person being coached comes up with isn’t the only benefit of asking good questions. Asking questions and engaging in dialog also helps shape the coachee’s thinking. The more they learn to critically think and solve their own problems the more self-sufficient they become. That independence usually means they can make more decisions and do so faster.

If you’ve raised kids you know how important it is to help them develop their thinking because mom and dad won’t always be around to answer questions. The same can be said of a coach.

I’ll close with a quote from Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master the Art of Selling. Tom tells audiences, “When you say it they doubt it but when they say it they believe it.” Ask the right questions and the person you’re coaching will believe in the answers they come up with, be more committed to their ideas, and will have learned how to solve their own problems.

Persuasive Coaching – Competency and Trust, Two Sides of the Same Coin

In order for business coaches to be successful two elements are absolutely essential. First, they have to know what they’re talking about. In a word, they have to be competent. Second, they need to gain the trust of the people they’re coaching.

It’s of little value to be exceptionally intelligent if someone doesn’t trust your advice and direction. On the flip side, it won’t matter how trustworthy you are if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Competency and trust are two sides of the same coin so let’s see how persuasion can help those qualities come to the forefront in coaching.

Competence is simply knowing your stuff. This is important because it’s human nature to be more open to new ideas and change when we know the person we’re interacting with has expertise. That’s Robert Cialdini’s principle of authority in action.

Having expertise doesn’t mean coaches know everything. A coach doesn’t always have to know more than the person they’re coaching although it certainly helps. What’s important is that good coaches have trained eyes and ears they use skillfully to observe situations and behaviors. They may make suggestions based on their observations but the better route is to ask good questions because doing so allows the person being coached to come up with their own solutions. Taking this approach is especially helpful because it taps into the principle of consistency.

Consistency alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and what they do. When someone believes they’ve come up with a solution, as opposed to being told what to do, they own it more because of consistency. A sense of pride comes into play because we all feel our ideas are good ideas. This is why Dale Carnegie encouraged readers of How to Win Friends and Influence People to, “Let the other person to feel the idea is theirs.” Remember, competent coaches ask good questions!

Competence is also displayed through wisdom which is the application of knowledge. It’s not enough to be smart, you have to know how to apply those smarts in ways that help the people you’re coaching. When you know someone has done something for a long time you naturally assume they’re good at it. Something as simple as, “Sally, I’ve been doing this for more than 15 years now and what I’ve found is…” That little reminder of  years of experience makes the coach more credible. Of course, this can also be accomplished with a good bio or third party introduction.

When it comes to trust, credibility can be enhanced by admitting weakness. Nobody has all the answers so sometimes admitting that to the person you’re coaching gains trust because they view you as more honest. “Joe, that’s a great question, one I’ve never considered before. Would it be okay if I looked into it and got back with you during our next coaching session?”

Another way to gain trust is by displaying good character and adhering to consistency can help you. As a coach, when you do what you said you would do you’re more believable and trust grows. In the example above, getting back to Joe in the next coaching session gives Joe a reason to trust you. Little acts of doing what you promised reveal character and build trust over time.

One last way to enhance trust is by engaging the principle of liking. Liking tells us it’s easier for people to say “Yes” to those they know and like. When you engage this principle don’t focus on getting the other person to like you. Instead, engage the principle with the intent of coming to like the person you’re coaching. When someone sees you truly like them you get a whole host of benefits and one big benefit is trust. After all, we naturally assume people who like us want the best for us and will do right by us. In short, you gain trust when someone knows you truly like them.

Remember, competency and trust are different sides of the same coin. You need both to be an effective coach and now you have a few simple ways to enhance them using persuasion when you coach.

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!

If You Were My Son

Have you read Robert Cialdini’s new book Pre-suasion? If not, make sure you get your copy today because in addition to learning how to set the stage for persuasion, a strategy he refers to as “pre-suasion,” you’ll learn about a new 7th principle of influence.

That’s right, a new principle is introduced in Pre-suasion. For more than 30 years, since publishing Influence Science and Practice, Dr. Cialdini has referred to six universal principles of influence. In Pre-suasion he tells readers there’s a seventh principle that was hiding underneath the surface all along. He introduces readers to the principle of Unity, otherwise known as “we.”

The principle of togetherness highlights the reality that we are most likely to help those with whom we share some kind of bond. It’s not necessary for liking to be activated although the principle of liking may facilitate togetherness.

Consider for a moment your family. You might have family members you don’t particularly enjoy but you’re more inclined to come to their assistance over a stranger or perhaps a close friend for no other reason than the bond of family.

Another example comes from the few, the proud – the Marines. Marines don’t just go through training; they go through the crucible. It’s said that Marines forge a bond amongst themselves like no other branch of service. I see this firsthand every time my father, a Marine who served in Vietnam, meets another Marine. If that other Marine happens to have seen combat I’d swear my dad was closer to him than his own flesh and blood.

So what can you do if you don’t have the bond that comes through family, team sports or the military? Sometimes you can create a sense of togetherness by the words you use, which leads me to a story.

Many years ago there was a position I aspired to at work that had just been filled by someone else. Because of my interest I was asked to mentor with the person who had the job I wanted someday.

I’ll never forget our first mentoring session. He walked into my office, sat down, looked me in the eye and said, “If you were my son I’d say stay as far away from (name withheld) as you can. Do you understand me?” A little shocked I replied, “I don’t think you can be any more clear than that.” He reiterated, “Stay away from (name withheld) because for some reason (name withheld) doesn’t like you and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Wow! Do you see what he did? He was much older than me and he treated me like family as he gave me the same advice he would have shared with his son. His approach was much more powerful than leaning on the fact that we were coworkers or just sharing advice without prefacing it at all. After all, a parent would never knowingly steer his or her child in the wrong direction. He created a “pre-suasive” moment based on the principle of togetherness and that was all he needed to do. I stopped pursuing the position and focused on other priorities.

How can you tap into this “new” principle to become a more effective persuader? If you truly would give the same advice to someone that you’d give to your spouse or children, then let the other person know that. Family is the tightest unit of togetherness there is because you share the same genes.

I’ve also seen a powerful response when you label someone as a friend. You might know you’re friends with coworkers but when you tap into that saying, “Thank you, friend” or “Thank you, my friend,” it changes things. I remember the first time someone responded in an email, “Thank you, friend,” because it really caught my attention. I knew in that moment everything changed in a very positive way.

Remember, together is better! Don’t simply look to connect on the principle of liking, seek to go deeper and tap into the sense of togetherness you may have with the person you’re trying to persuade. Doing so will make you more persuasive and deepen your relationship.

Those Pesky Deadlines!

Don’t you just hate looming deadlines? Most people do because stress levels rise and quite often other things have to go by the wayside in an effort to complete the task with the deadline. I bet you just wish you could go without those pesky deadlines, especially those imposed by others, right? Actually, that might work against your best interests.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist from Duke and author of several books including The Upside of Irrationality, looked at ways students respond to deadlines. He divided his students into three groups. One had no deadlines other than turn in three papers by a certain date near the end of the semester. Another group got to choose their due date or dates. You see, they could have chosen to submit all three papers on the last possible day or they could set up any dates of their choosing throughout the semester. Most set their own timetables and didn’t default to the last possible date. A third group was given deadlines by Ariely.

Which group do you think did best on their grades? Logically it should have been those who could wait till the last day because that meant they could spend more time on each paper. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. In fact, as a group they did the worst on their grades. Procrastination usually isn’t helpful.

The group that got to choose their due dates performed better than those who had no due date other than the last day. Apparently some pressure was a good thing and procrastination was held at bay a little.

The group that did the best was the students who had three deadlines imposed on them by the professor. Apparently humans respond well when called to do so.

I had a chance to put this into practice over the summer. I was approached by to do a sales video that entailed writing 18-20 scripts that would last approximately five minutes each. That’s basically 18-20 blog posts on top of what I already write. I consider myself very self-disciplined but I know I can also become complacent at times.

So what did I do? My strategy was to discuss the situation with my contact at and get her to impose some deadlines on me. It worked well because I was able to get everything done in about six weeks, which was mush faster than she expected. It was a relief for me, too.

Why are deadlines typically so effective? Because they tap into the principle of scarcity. When deadlines loom we know there may be something to lose (a bonus or raise at work, a good grade at school, etc.) and that compels us to take action.

What does this mean for you? The next time you have something that needs to get done and you ask when it’s due, don’t settle for, “Whenever you get around to it.” Whomever you’re dealing with might be laid back but that “freedom” will probably hurt you in the end. Instead tell the other person you want a due date and some milestone dates before you start. Not only does that tap into scarcity, it engages the principle of consistency. When you publicly agree to the due date and milestone dates, you engage the principle on yourself because you’ll feel more compelled to hit those dates. It’s almost like having an accountability partner.

Here’s one more things about deadlines that might surprise you. People say they hate gift cards with expiration dates. They think it’s not fair because the company that sold the gift card gets to keep the money regardless of whether or not you buy anything. But, you might be surprised to learn that gift cards without expiration dates are used less than those with expiration dates! When you know the card will expire you tend to use it so you don’t waste it. However, when cards don’t have expiration dates they tend to get lost, forgotten about and all too often go unused.

So the next time you encounter a pesky deadline, maybe you should step back and remember this post then give thanks that you’ll be more likely to do what you need to in short order.