The 7 Most Common Persuasion Mistakes


When I work with students in the Principles of Persuasion
workshop we talk about three kinds of persuasion practitioners: bunglers,
smugglers and detectives. Here’s a quick synopsis of each:
Detectives are
folks who understand the principles of influence and look for genuine
opportunities to use them in order to create a win for themselves as well as
the person or people they seek to influence.
Smugglers are individuals
who also have some understanding but they look for shortcuts through
manipulation. They find it easier to distort the truth or lie outright in their
use of the principles of influence so they can get what they want no matter the
cost to others.
Bunglers are
people who don’t understand the persuasion process or principles and therefore miss
opportunities to be more effective when it come to persuasion. Or, they might
intuitively know a few things about the principles but don’t understand how to effectively
use them. Unfortunately the vast majority of people fall into this category and
they make predictable mistakes.
In this post we’ll look at some of the most common mistakes people
make when trying to persuade others. No offense, but if you find yourself doing
these things, you’re bungling away persuasion opportunities.
  1. Validating undesirable behavior. There’s a lot
    of bad stuff that happens in society. For example; too many kids try cigarettes
    and cheat in school; far too many people don’t vote; violent behavior seems to
    be on the rise, etc. When you talk about what many people are doing – consensus – you tend to validate the
    bad behavior. This can cause more people to do the very thing you’re preaching
    against! Instead, you want to point out good behavior you want people to emulate.
    This approach was validated in the last two presidential elections where people
    were told to get to the polls early because record turnouts were expected. Those
    turnouts materialized.
  2. Highlighting gain instead of loss. I’ve shared
    in recent posts about homeowners who, when told about energy saving
    recommendations, were informed they would either save $180 by implementing the
    energy saving ideas or that they would lose $180 if they failed to implement
    the ideas, the latter of which is an application of the principle of scarcity.
    Everyone I share that study with correctly guesses more people in the “lose”
    group made the necessary changes. And they’re correct — 150% more people in
    the lose group chose to incorporate the energy saving ideas. Despite intuitively
    knowing this, most people still go out and talk about all the things someone
    will gain, or save, by going with their idea. Perhaps they fear coming across
    as negative but they’re failing to apply the most persuasive approach and they
    won’t hear yes as often.
  3. Confusing contracts with reciprocity. Reciprocity explains the reality that
    people feel obligated to return a favor. In other words, if I do something for
    you you’ll feel some obligation to want to do something for me in return. An
    example would be; I’ll do A and I hope you’ll do B in return. This is very
    different than entering into a contract – I’ll do A IF you’ll do B. Quite often you can engage reciprocity by doing or
    offering far less and still get the same behavior in return.
  4. Mixing up positional authority with perceived
    authority. Believing you’re an authority
    is far different than other people perceiving you to be an authority. Sometimes
    others need to know your credentials. When people rely solely on their position
    to gain compliance it will never be as effective as it could be if they engaged
    people in the persuasion process by highlighting their credentials. It’s one
    thing for me to do something because the boss says so versus doing the very
    same thing because I see the value in doing so because an expert convinced me.
  5. Failing to connect on liking. Effective
    persuasion has a lot to do with relationships built on the principle of liking. It’s not always enough that someone likes your
    product or service. Quite often the difference maker is whether or not they
    like you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a salesperson, manager or someone else, spending too
    much time describing ideas, products, services, etc., without getting the other
    person to like you is going to make persuasion harder. And here’s the gem – make sure you create
    time to learn a bit about the other person so you come to like them and you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make!
  6. Telling instead of asking. Telling someone
    what to do isn’t nearly as effective as asking because asking engages consistency. This principle tells us
    people feel internal psychological pressure as well as external social pressure
    to be consistent in what they say and do. By asking and getting a “Yes” the
    odds that someone will do what you want increase significantly. In the POP
    workshop we talk about a restaurant owner who saw no shows fall from 30% to
    just 10% by having the hostess go from saying, “Please call of you cannot make
    your reservation” to asking, “Will you please call if you cannot keep your
    reservation?” The first sentence is a statement but the second is a question
    that engages consistency.
  7. Failure to give a reason. When you want
    someone to do something, giving a reason tagged with because can make all the difference. As I’ve share with State
    Auto claim reps, “Can you get me your medical records?” will not be as
    effective as “Can you get me your medical records because without them I cannot process your claim and pay you?” This
    approach was validated in a copier study where 50% more people (93% up from 60%)
    were willing to let someone go ahead of them in line when the person asking
    gave them a reason using the word “because.”

So there you have some of the most common persuasion
mistakes. By pointing them out hopefully you’ll change your ways if you’ve made
these mistakes before. If you’ve not bungled like this then hopefully you’ll
avoid these mistakes now that you’re aware of them.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer


Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
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