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A Picture of Corporate Giving

Last week I wrote a post To Give or To Give Back? That’s the Question and There’s a Big Difference! I explained there is a difference between giving and giving back.

Giving back implies someone first gave to you. In that case, the principle of reciprocity is at work on you because you feel obligated to give back or do something in return as a result of having been given to first.

When you give the principle of reciprocity is at work on someone else. That’s what causes another person to feel some obligation to give back to you.

Does that make sense? I hope it does because there are big implications for you if you hope to become a master persuader.

I recently watched a Budweiser commercial featuring Adam Driver that’s a perfect example of giving, not giving back. The commercial is called, “A Dream Delivered | Folds of Honor.”

I’m sure you know Budweiser, the best-selling beer in the United States and one of the most well-known brands in the world. However, you may not be familiar with Folds of Honor, an organization that “provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of our fallen and disabled service members while serving our nation.”

During the nearly four-minute commercial you’re introduced to Haley Grace Williams, the 21-year-old daughter of an army veteran who was injured just before deployment during the first Iraq war. We learn that Haley is struggling to pay for her last year of nursing school.

Adam, a Marine veteran who was also injured just before his deployment, visits the Williams home to deliver the good news that Folds of Honor will cover the last year of nursing school for Haley. Budweiser stepped in to cover all of the other associated school expenses for Haley to allow her to focus 100% on her studies. I encourage you to watch this heartwarming commercial.

Budweiser and Folds of Honor were not giving back; they were giving. Some people might see their actions as a publicity stunt but others will view it simply as an act of kindness.

I don’t see anything wrong an organization letting people know about their kind deeds. Doing so let’s people know more about the company and might make some folks feel better about the company. I think this is especially important at a time when most of what we hear and read has to do with corporate greed.

I also believe advertising good corporate deeds allows people to make better informed decisions about where they will spend their hard-earned dollars. In today’s society, most people want to deal with good corporate citizens but they need to be able to identify them.

If you own a business or simply work for a company, don’t be shy about letting the public know about your giving. If doing so makes people want to do business with your company then it’s a win-win.

To Give or To Give Back? That’s the Question and There’s a Big Difference!

We hear the phrase “giving back” quite often in conjunction with companies when they get involved in community initiatives or support various causes. I think the phrase is technically incorrect and misses a persuasive opportunity for many organizations.

When you hear the phrase “giving back” it implies something was given first and therefore reciprocity was engaged. It’s as if the company felt responsible to do something in return for the community. However, in terms of “giving back” to the community the question is this: what has the community given first? The more I thought about this the more I realized “giving back” is incorrect and organizations should simply talk about their “giving.”

It’s very rare that a community “gives” to a business organization. An organization files all kinds of paperwork and pays various fees in order to conduct business in a community. The organization then goes through different approval processes for building permits, signage, etc. By law the business pays taxes and in return they set up shop and may employ people from the community. It’s strictly a contractual business arrangement but it’s not reciprocity.

I realize to advise businesses to stop saying they are “giving back” and start touting their “giving” will bother some people. It goes against tradition and it’s very much in vogue to say you’re “giving back.” Again, technical or not, the business isn’t giving because community give first.

I believe good corporate citizenship is good business because people like to see business involvement in their communities. Good corporate citizenship makes individuals want to do business with the organization and that benefits the bottom line.

It’s really the business that’s giving – engaging reciprocity – because there’s no guarantee anyone will respond in some positive way towards the business because of their good community deeds. I don’t think a business should give to the community just to try to drum up customers but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a business entity alerting people as to their giving.

If a company supports a local school, donates to local causes, allows employees to volunteer time for community projects or does something else to help, even though they don’t have to, that’s great because it benefits people and the community as a whole. That’s giving, not giving back, and there’s nothing wrong with a business letting local residents know what they’re doing. Do they hope it engages reciprocity? Absolutley.

So, here’s my advice to businesses and business owners – stop talking about “giving back” and start telling people about your giving. Doing so will be correct and might engage a little reciprocity along the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eyes Wide Shut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will You Watch My Things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston, We Have a Communication Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Contradictions and the Ugly Side of Reciprocity

In 2008 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a republican from Kentucky, said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term president.” He and the republicans did everything they could to block President Obama’s initiatives.

In 2016 McConnell’s tone was much different when he spoke these words, “It’s time to accept the results of the election, to lower the tone and see what we can do together to make progress for the country.” Mitch seems to have done an about face when it comes to the opposing party working with a president elect.

Remember during the election there were fears of rioting after the November 2 results? Those fears were voiced by Democrats who thought Trump supporters would riot if he lost. It turns out the fear of riots was right…except it’s been Hillary supporters who’ve been rioting.

No doubt each side will rationalize their words and actions. As behavioral economist Dan Ariely likes to point out; we’re not rational beings who occasionally act irrationally but rather, we’re irrational beings who occasionally act rationally. Salespeople have always known this and sum it up this way, “People buy based on emotion and justify with logic.”

Most of us are reactive and our reactions are based on emotion. The sad reality is this; had Republicans been conciliatory when President Obama won and had they honestly tried to work with him they’d have a leg to stand on when asking Democrats to work with Trump. That’s reciprocity.

Instead we’re seeing the ugly side of reciprocity play out in an eye for an eye manner right now. What basis do Republicans have when it comes to expectations of the Democrats working with them? None. And two years from now when the Democrats retake the Senate – mark my words they will because of the natural ebb and flow of politics – our country will be caught in another political quagmire where the highest importance in Washington isn’t getting things done for the good of the country but rather blocking the other side from doing anything to promote their agenda.

All is not lost however and there is a glimmer of hope. The Democrats and their supporters don’t owe anything to Republicans but should they decide to turn the other cheek and try working with Trump then they’ll have a soap box to stand on next time their candidate wins – and surely there will be other Democratic presidents. They’ll be able to appeal to republicans and the nation saying, “Work with us like we worked with you.”

You see, reciprocity can work both ways. When someone does us a good turn it’s easy for us to do something good in return. However, when someone harms another person the natural inclination is to inflict harm back. As a nation we find ourselves in the downward negative side of the cycle but we don’t have to stay there. We can make the conscious choice to look for what we have in common – and there is much – then work together to achieve something good based on those common goals. That may be all it takes to turn the tide and start an upward cycle where favors are traded in a positive way that benefits us all.

When You Give, the Recipient isn’t Always Who You Think

As we explore ways you can leverage the principles of influence for your own self-improvement, we’ll consider giving and the principle of reciprocity this week.

Reciprocity is the psychological term that tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. The wise persuader looks to give “gifts” that are meaningful, customized and unexpected for the recipient. Giving in this way makes it easier to request a favor down the road.

But the person who gets the “gift” may not be the one who gets the most out of the transaction. In much the same way that employing the principle of liking impacts the persuader, so does reciprocity when it is done with right motives.

Ancient wisdom says, “Tis better to give than receive.” I know when I was a kid I thought, “No way!” because at Christmas, birthdays and other times it felt way better to get the gifts than give them.

However, as I got older I started to see the wisdom in those words. For my wife’s 52nd birthday I got her something I’d never heard of anyone giving before. I was excited to give it to her because of its uniqueness and I kept telling all of our friends about it because that heightened the surprise for Jane. My gift on that birthday was a promise that I would give her a gift a week for a year. In other words, 52 presents for her 52nd birthday.

I have to tell you it’s been a lot of fun for both of us! Certainly Jane enjoys the gift each week but what I think she appreciates most is the thoughtfulness. She doesn’t know anyone who has ever received that gift so she feels special. Each week when I give her a gift I video it then post it to Facebook because so many people are curious about what the 52 gifts will be. Everyone seems to enjoy it so it’s been nice to spread some cheer.

What I’ve enjoyed is a renewed focus on Jane because I’m constantly paying attention to what she says and does so I can find gifts that are meaningful. Our daughter, Abigail, gets in on the action too because I run many of my ideas by her.

Why is it better to give than receive? I’ve seen several reasons.

First, you experience joy when you give because being kind to others releases the hormone oxytocin into the blood stream. Oxytocin is the hormone that bonds mothers to babies and makes us feel closer to one another.

Second, while receiving is nice you never know when it will happen. However, giving is your choice and you can engage in it many times throughout the day. It could be buying coffee for the next person in line or letting someone over in heavy traffic. It really is the thought that counts and then taking action.

Third, quite often giving makes recipients more generous with other people they come in contact with. You can have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve set a positive chain of events in motion.

My fourth and final reason (but there are more) is that you’ll have confidence knowing if you need a favor you can turn to many of the people you’ve given to in the past and they’ll want to help you in return.

In the end, your act of giving generously, giving without strings attached, benefits you every bit as much as the recipient and sometimes more. Much like I wrote about the principle of liking last week, when you engage the principle of reciprocity not just to receive yourself, but out of a more noble reason, you become the real beneficiary.

Persuasive Marketing the Old Fashioned Way

People often ask me if Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence are as effective today as they were when he first wrote about them 30 years ago. I emphatically reply, “Yes!”

The methods of communication may be changing – email instead of letters, text or instant messaging instead of phone calls, online advertising instead of television commercials, to name a few – but humans have not evolved nearly as much in the last century.

The human brain has not changed as rapidly as technology so you can rest assured the principles of influence work every bit as well today as in the past IF you understand them and employ them correctly.

Even though the preferred methods of communication may be changing, things like television ads, phone calls and letters are not going away any time soon so the smart marketer will be looking to use the principles with traditional media during this transition.

A friend recently gave me a marketing letter he received from AT&T because he knew I’d be interested in it from a persuasion perspective. I’d like to point out several places where AT&T is effectively using influence.

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At the top the letter had my friend’s name – John – which personalized the communication. Dale Carnegie said the sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. Our name catches our attention and that’s the marketer’s opportunity to keep you reading.

In the opening paragraph it reads, “Per your request…” Closely read the letter and you’ll realize it isn’t directed to the person who received the letter. It’s written to David Banks of AT&T’s Consumer Marketing Department. Like most people reading something like this I didn’t pay close attention so it took me a couple of reads to figure that out.

If the person reading the letter assumes it’s directed at them then “Per your request” taps into consistency. This principle tells us people feel psychological pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. If you requested something it’s much more likely you’ll take time to read the rest of the letter and consider the offer.

The next paragraph mentions a number of free offers. People love free to the point of irrationality. Dan Ariely wrote about our obsession with free in Predictably Irrational. One example Ariely frequently cites is how often people purchase additional items on Amazon just to get the free shipping. In the end they spend much more money!

Being offered the free items up front is an attempt to engage reciprocity although it doesn’t actually do it in this letter because unless you take AT&T up on the offer you’ve not received anything. It’s only when you get something that you feel obligated to do something in return. Nonetheless, a potential free offer keeps the reader interested.

The fourth paragraph reads, “We don’t want John to miss out on this great deal.” This is the principle of scarcity. People hate the thought of losing out, especially on great deals, so it motivates behavior that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

At the bottom of the page the “Reviewed” stamp adds an element of authority. As noted above, the letter is to David Banks from AT&T’s Consumer Marketing Department and the stamp shows he reviewed and approved the offer.

Last but not least is the “hand written” yellow sticky note affixed to the top of the letter. In a blog post I called 700,000 Great Reasons to Use Sticky Notes, I went into detail about how using these little post it notes can dramatically increase response rates. This sticky note looks hand written and that engages reciprocity because the perception is that someone took a little more time to put the sticky note on the letter and more time to actually write the note.

Now you may be thinking this would never work on you and you might be correct. However, it works on enough people that AT&T and many other smart companies incorporate this type of psychology into their communications. If it didn’t work they’d quickly abandon approaches like this in search of others that do work.

Using the principles of influence won’t make a bad product good or a lousy offer better. But, in a day and age where we’re assaulted thousands of times a day with marketing messages, small tweaks to communications might be the things that grab attention and keep people reading. And that’s the goal of marketing because in the absence of that, nobody would take AT&T up on an offer like the one you just read.

Combating ISIS with NICES: Giving and Receiving

As I write this post there have been ISIS attacks in Belgium, Iraq and Pakistan, not to mention attacks in numerous other countries before all the recent tragedies. Their increased activity has people living in fear despite the reality that the likelihood of dying in an ISIS terrorist attack is so much less than dying in an airlines disaster or car accident.

The irrational fear is because of the recency effect. Those things we can quickly recall to mind impact our thoughts and behavior more than other things that might have a far greater chance of impacting us. Think for a moment; we don’t stop flying or driving even though the risks from those activities is far greater than dying from a terrorist attack. Similarly, a poor diet and lack of exercise will kill many more people “before their time” than will terrorist attacks!

Jesus told his followers more than 2,000 years ago it was better to give than receive. Even if you don’t consider yourself a follower of Christ, do you really believe that? I think most people just pay that saying lip service. Very few people get more joy giving than receiving mostly because they stay focused on a “me first” and “looking out for #1” attitude.

One person I know who does get more from giving than receiving is my friend Loring Mellien, also known as Pud to his friends. I saw this clearly on a recent trip to San Diego for his daughter April’s wedding. There’s a world famous golf course in San Diego called Torrey Pines and my wife Jane (an avid, almost addicted, golfer) was intent on playing there. Pud was just as intent on helping her make her dream come true. As Pud and I talked beforehand I told him I thought he might just get more joy out of seeing Jane get the chance to play Torrey Pines than she would actually playing there. Pud is a rare person because he truly gets more joy helping people than he gets from receiving. I also think he gets more happiness from helping others than they get from realizing their goals and desires.

How does this apply to ISIS? Most of the world is living in fear of a tiny group of people when we could do so much more to combat ISIS. I’m not talking about combating them with military forces. I’m talking about combating them with the admonition to love one another and giving, rather than looking to get.

What a message we could send to the world if we all adopted the attitude that you are more important than me! What if we always asked what do you need? How can I help you? The more we do so the more we’ll experience the joy that comes with giving.

How does this relate to influence? Studies form people like Adam Grant show when we help others we do feel better about ourselves (the joy of giving) but that’s not all we’re after. The real value is that when we help others they’re more inclined to help others as a result. That’s the basis of the “pay it forward” concept. Unlike terrorism, which feeds on fear, the more good we do the more good will spread!

If light dispels the darkness and if love conquers evil then we should be able to rid ourselves of the fear from groups like ISIS and others who hate, simply by loving and giving. When I talk of love I’m not talking about the feeling of falling in love but the choice to place another’s well-being above your own and looking for ways to give.

I challenge you this week to look for ways to love and give. Take notice of how you feel and how others respond. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised in both cases and your small part of the world will be better off because of you.