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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.

Persuasive Coaching – The Importance of Building Rapport

When it comes to coaching, building rapport is almost as important as gaining trust. Rapport is essentially that feeling of connection you have with another person. If you’re like most people you can usually tell when you have rapport with someone. However, like most people you probably could do a better job at creating rapport with a little help from social psychology.

Rapport is analogous to what Robert Cialdini calls the principle of liking. This principle of influence tells us it’s easier for people to say yes to us when they know and like us. There are many things we’ll say yes to when a friend asks. On the flip side, we’re usually quite comfortable saying no to someone we don’t know or don’t like. For example, if a friend asked you to go out for drinks after work it would probably be easy to say yes. But, if someone you don’t know asks I bet it would be just easy to say, “No thanks.”

When it comes to coaching, rapport or liking, is important because it’s easier for someone you’re coaching to say yes to your advice if they know and like you. There’re two simple things you can do to engage this powerful psychology. Look for what you have in common with another person and offer genuine compliments.

When you know you have something in common with someone it’s easy for them to like you. For example, if you find out you root for the same sports team, went to the same college, or grew up in the same town, it’s easy to have an immediate connection with someone.

When it comes to compliments, we all feel good when someone pays us to genuine complement. Unfortunately, too often people leave good thoughts in their head rather than expressing them to another person. While thinking good thoughts may positively impact you, you don’t get the same bang for the buck as if you actually shared a compliment with the other person. That’s so because sharing compliments naturally makes other people like you more.

Here’s a very important point; the power of the principle of liking isn’t about getting people to like you. The power comes when you like the other person. When you look for what you have in common and pay attention to things you can genuinely complement you will start to like the other person more. This is where everything changes! When someone senses you like them they’ll be much more open to whatever advice you may share with them.

A big part of coaching is getting people to change their behavior. Coaches try to get those they work with to discard unproductive behaviors and embrace new productive ones. This is where persuasion comes in handy because persuasion is all about changing people’s behavior. How you communicate may make all the difference between yes and no.

If we go back to our definition of the principle of liking – it’s easier for people to say yes to those they know and like – then hopefully you see why this principle is so important in coaching. If the person you’re coaching likes you and knows that you like them they’ll be much more open to any suggestions that you may have to help them improve.

When you’re in a position where you have to coach others, I cannot encourage you enough to build rapport by tapping into the principle of liking. Not only will the person you’re coaching be more inclined to make the productive changes they need, you’ll enjoy the process because you’ll like those you coach much more.

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.

What’s Wrong With America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

If You Always Vote For The Same People…

Next month more than half of Americans will go to the polls to vote on various issues including the President of the United States. The rhetoric has heated up to unprecedented levels so now is a good time to look at a contentious political issue – term limits – through the lens of influence.

When George Washington declined to run for a third term precedence was set with American presidents. Based on Washington’s actions no president ran for a third term until Franklin Roosevelt did so in 1944. The unusual circumstance of a world war in two major theatres was a big reason for FDR’s decision. However, not long afterwards the American people passed the 22 Amendment limiting the president to a maximum of two terms in office.

For some odd reason Americans have not pushed for term limits for congressman and senators. A few states enacted laws to limit the terms of their particular representatives in Washington in an effort to move away from “career politicians.” Unfortunately the Supreme Court overturned those laws saying states could not limit the term of national offices.

Like just about anything in life there are positives and negatives to each side of the argument when it comes to term limits. What should concern citizens is whether or not the best people get elected and whether or not we’re getting fresh political ideas simply because of how voters make decisions.

I remember my pastor saying, “People will remain the same until the pain of staying the same is greater than the perceived pain that comes with change.” That’s akin to, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Americans saw voter revolts in 1994 when republicans swept into power in the house and senate and again in 2010 because of our economic woes. Both times there was so much dissatisfaction with the status quo that people kicked out many incumbents.

My question is; why do we have to wait for things to get so bad before we act? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” sounds good until you consider Steve Jobs and his iPhone. We didn’t need the iPhone because nothing was broken but we’re better off for it. Perhaps we could have the same fresh ideas and change in Washington if we routinely had new people in office.

Politicians are famous for saying things like, “We have term limits because voters can always vote someone out of office if they want to,” and, “Why do we need to restrict voter freedom?” Of course both arguments could be used against term limits for the president and yet as a country we thought it was good to limit the terms for the highest office in the land. I suspect career politicians are thinking first and foremost about staying in power, not the good of the country.

But I digress and you’re wondering how influence ties into this. It will come as no surprise to readers when I state the obvious; nearly every sitting politician wins re-election the vast majority of the time. In fact, it’s staggering how often they win! Take a look at the charts below showing reelection rates for U.S. congressman and senators from the Center for Responsive Politics.

houseoreps

senate

Are incumbents winning so often because they’re the best candidates? Hardly. It’s simply a function the principle of liking due to familiarity. People go to the polls and tend to vote for the person they’re most familiar with and the farther you go down in terms of elected offices the worse it is because quite often people vote for the incumbent simply because they know nothing about the other person running. When you’ve seen or heard about your congressman for the past four years or your senator for the last six years that’s a lot of familiarity for a challenger to overcome.

On this subject, in his book Influence Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini wrote, “Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.” And it’s not just how often we hear a name it’s how much we see the face. Sitting politicians are routinely seen in the news and that helps unless their face is connected to a scandal. I can tell you from firsthand experience that I get much better response to my emails when I include my picture at the bottom of the email because familiarity helps.

While there many other things that come into play during an election we can’t underestimate the importance of simply being more familiar with one candidate vs. another. It’s the way we’re wired.

To be sure we – the typical American voter – are partly to blame because we’re notoriously disengaged when it comes to knowing the candidates, their positions, and understanding the issues. If anyone didn’t need term limits it would be presidents because I’d venture to guess we know presidential candidates better and understand the presidential issues more because of how much they’re in the media vs. lower offices and more localized issues.

In a sense terms limits save us from how our decision-making sometimes works against our best self-interests. My boss likes to say, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” In other words, how can we expect anything different from Washington when we keep electing the same people for the most part? Yes, we can make a concerted effort to become more informed voters but with less than 60% of people of voting age voting in every presidential election since 1968 do we really think that will happen? I certainly don’t. Sometimes we need laws to protect ourselves from ourselves and term limits might be one such law.

Love the One You’re With

Last week I mentioned I would be writing a series of posts on how you can use the principles of persuasion to influence your own behavior for positive changes.

Crosby, Stills and Nash have a famous song from the early ‘70s called “Love the One You’re With.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that little title and while we might not be able to “love” everyone, we can at least come to like people more than we do today.

In the psychology of influence, we talk about the principle of liking. When we like someone it’s easier to say, “Yes” to him or her. Or to look at it the opposite way, it’s harder to say “No” to people we like.

There are many things we can do to get people to like us. Two simple things are similarities and compliments.

When we learn we have something in common with someone it’s easy for them to connect with us and like us. Have you ever experienced a situation where you learned you had something in common with another person (hobby, hometown, college, pet, etc.) and the conversation just naturally flowed? Sure you have. We all have. You could probably tell that person liked you and responded differently to you than a stranger might.

When it comes to compliments, it’s easy to see the impact they have on others. When you give genuine praise the other person not only appreciates it, they feel better. Feelings are the result of chemical reactions in our bodies as different hormones are activated. When you routinely look for the best in others and let them know about your positive thoughts, they like you more because they like how you make them feel.

So how do you use this with yourself? The principle of liking isn’t just about getting someone to like you so they’ll do what you want them to do. The bigger implication is that you will come to like them! That’s right; as you connect through similarities and offer up genuine compliments you’ll convince yourself that you like them. This is the game changer in relationships because when you like someone you tend to:

  • Want the best for them
  • Offer up your best efforts
  • Care for them
  • Trust them

The list of positives could go on and on but you get the point. When you like someone they sense it and respond accordingly. The whole dynamic changes.

So here’s what I want you to do. Don’t approach new people thinking, “How can I get them to like me?” Instead start focusing on, “How can I come to like that person?” Look for ways to connect on similarities and offer genuine praise in order to persuade yourself. It’s often said the only person we can control or change is ourselves so do whatever you have to so you can come to like other people. I think you’ll find it easier, less frustrating and much more beneficial in the long run.

My Name is Brian and You Are?

In his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

There is no word that catches our attention more than our name. That’s why you can be in a noisy, crowded area, straining to listen to someone talk but all of a sudden if you hear your name you can easily tune into wherever it came from.

I share those insights because recently I had an experience because of my friend Loring Mellien, a.k.a. “Pud.” You might recall reading about Pud in a post about a month ago because of the joy he gets in helping others.

Something I’ve learned from observing Pud in the real world is the value of using people’s names. No matter where we are – a bar, restaurant, poolside talking to a DJ, on an Uber ride, Pud will always introduce himself and ask the other person’s name. Conversation instantly flows.

In my new role as Director of Learning at State Auto Insurance, I routinely walk into the building around 6:45 each morning. As I enter I see the same security guard behind a desk every day. He asks to see my ID badge, I ask how he’s doing, he asks how I am then I’m on my way to my office. Very generic stuff.

As I walked in not too long ago I wondered why I’d never bothered to ask his name since we see each other every day and there’s usually no one else around. I started to realize the more time passed the more awkward it would be to ask his name. After all, if a year went by it would be strange to finally ask, “What’s your name?” So I decided not to wait any longer. Taking a prompt from Pud I simply said, “I come in here every day and we say hi and it occurs to me I don’t know your name.” I stretched out my hand and said, “My name is Brian and you are?” He stood up with a smile on his face and said, “I’m Tom,” as he shook my hand. He looked genuinely happy and it made me wonder how many other people have bothered to ask him his name.

Later that day when he was in a different part of the building I waved from a distance and he smiled as he waved back. I’m sure things will be different every morning as I walk in now and that sometimes conversation will ensue instead of a simple hello.

Sharing this reminds me of a time when I was traveling many years ago. I went to Friday’s for dinner while in Nashville for business, sat at the bar with a copy of USA Today when all of a sudden the bartender said, “Hi, I’m Ryan,” sticking his hand out. He continued, “What’s your name?” I told him my name and noticed the whole evening felt different as he said, “How’s your food, Brian?” “Brian, need another beer?” “Thanks for coming in, Brian.” All of these phrases made me feel like a friend was waiting on me. It changed the experience for the good and his tip was better because of it.

Pretty simple stuff but like many simple things in life, we can either overlook them or get to a point where it seems weird or awkward to act on what we know we should do. Even though I teach this stuff it’s not always natural for me to be that outgoing. It takes effort whereas for some people it would take restraint not to be that outgoing. But the more I do it the easier it gets. A simple act like this will make your day better and make other people’s day better too. Not only that, you’ll meet some interesting people along the way and make some friends and that could come in handy down the road if you need a favor because it taps into the principle of liking.

So I challenge you this week – introduce yourself to strangers and ask their name. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

That Silent Nudge

Have you ever experienced any of the following?

  • You reviewed an email and felt something was off but you couldn’t put your finger on it. Eventually you sent it after rereading it one more time only to notice an error just after hitting send!
  • You left the house and felt something wasn’t right. You mentally reviewed your steps considering the rest of your day but decided to leave the house anyway. Before you know it you realize you forget your phone or wallet!

This happened to me recently as I wrapped up a workshop. I had my laptop bag over one shoulder and several items, including a workbook and handouts, in the opposite hand. Some workshop attendees came up to talk and when we were finished I headed out the door. I had a momentary feeling that something was different but continued on despite the feeling. Later that night I realized I’d left my workbook and handouts on a table because I’d sent them down during that final conversation! Fortunately the hotel had not thrown them away when I called the next morning.

In each case noted above, your subconscious and mine was trying to tell us something but our subconscious doesn’t use words to communicate. It uses feeling, gut instinct and other discernable cues. I told one friend it’s like the look my wife Jane occasionally gives me. I know something is up but I’m not sure what it is even though I’m supposed to. I wish she’d just tell me but most of the time she doesn’t and I’m left to try and figure it out.

The human subconscious is a marvelous thing because it’s helped humans survive. It’s what alerts us to danger before we know what’s actually happening so we can react appropriately. Gavin de Becker does a wonderful job explaining this in his book The Gift of Fear. I highly recommend you picking up this book, especially if you’re a woman, because understanding this might just save your life.

I’ve noted in past posts that experts vary on how much of our behavior is driven by our subconscious but they agree it’s a lot; at least 85% and could be higher than 95%.

The principles of influence I teach on behalf of Robert Cialdini often impact us on the subconscious level. By that I mean, before we fully understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, we make quick decisions. One example has to do with the contrast phenomenon.

In a survey of blog readers many years ago, I posed the following question:

You are at a store considering buying a high-end electronic item for $879. While there you learn you can drive across town and get the same item for $859. Will you make the trip (approx. 30 minutes)?

Only 13% said they would make the drive. However, with another group, when the item they were considering was $79 and they could get it for $59 somewhere else, 49% said they would go to the other store – nearly four times more! It’s highly unlikely anybody was thinking, “Is $20 worth 30 minutes of my time?” Everyone was subconsciously comparing to an arbitrary number and making a decision based on that.

One more example. If you called a friend for a favor, let’s say to move a heavy piece of furniture in your home, they most likely wouldn’t say to themself, “Pat is my friend so I should help.” Instead they would probably say yes if they had the time and strength. In other words they’re not analyzing the friendship but the friendship (the principle of liking) plays heavily into the decision making. In case you wonder consider this; if you asked a stranger they would say no because they don’t know you and would consciously wonder why a stranger would ask something so ridiculous.

In conclusion, understanding the silent nudge of the subconscious is important for a couple of reasons.

First, recognizing that nudge, a nagging feeling, and taking time to consider your next step more thoughtfully can help avoid small errors like the email noted above and bigger errors like forgetting your wallet on the way to the airport.

Second, knowing the power of the subconscious should make you more determined to look for ethical ways to employ the principles of influence because doing so will make it easier for others to say yes to you.