Winner-Take-All: Small Changes, Big Differences

If you’re a sports fan then you know the margin between victory and defeat can be extremely small. When it comes to victory it’s often the case that small changes, seemingly insignificant decisions in the moment, can make a big difference when it comes to winning or losing. Here are a few examples:

  • It’s not uncommon in football or basketball to see the game determined on the final play or shot after about 60 minutes of competition. That final 1% of the game determines the winner. Having the ball last becomes quite an advantage.
  • In golf the margin of victory can be even smaller. After four days of play, 72 holes, and some 280 total shots, the margin of victory may be a single stroke. That’s a difference one third of one percent. A single decision on one hole can make all the difference.
  • The margin gets even smaller with elite marathoners. The best runners take just over two hours to cover the 26.2 miles and the race may come down to less than ten seconds after all that running. The difference in a race like that might be one tenth of one percent! “Little” choices during the course of the race might be the difference between first and second place.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, wrote in his newsletter: “Situations in which small differences in performance lead to outsized rewards are known as Winner-Take-All Effects. They typically occur in situations that involve relative comparison, where your performance relative to those around you is the determining factor in your success.”

The winner-take-all effect applies to business as well as sports. Small changes in how you approach influence can lead to big differences when it comes to hearing yes. Yes might mean a sale, promotion, funding or the okay for a new project. Here are a handful of examples to show that those seemingly insignificant decisions can have a huge impact:

  1. Using the word “because”can increase your odds of hearing yes by as much as 50% according to one study.
  2. In his NYT best-selling book Presuasion, Robert Cialdini cites a study on the importance of asking the right pre-suasive question. Doing so changed people’s frame of mind and more than doubled the number who were willing to give their email address to a marketing firm.
  3. Making the right comparisoncan make all the difference. In one case, nearly four times more people were willing to drive across town to save $20 versus another group that could save the same $20.
  4. Talking about losing vs. gainingmakes quite a big difference too. According to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, 2.0-2.5 time more people will say yes under loss framing scenarios as opposed to pointing out gains or savings.
  5. Asking instead of tellingcan gain a commitment and significantly increase the odds that someone will do what you want.

Each of the five ideas I’ve shared are small, costless changes to how you might communicate with someone. Despite being “little” adjustments, they can have an outsized impact on your ability to ethically influence people and get to yes. This is why it’s so important that you understand understand how to ethically influence people.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed by more than 50,000 people! His latest course, Persuasive Coaching, just went live. Have you watched them yet? If not, click on either course name to see what you’ve been missing.

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Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC. A dynamic keynote speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant, he specializes in applying the science of influence and persuasion in business and personal situations. He is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer® (CMCT®) designation. This specialization in the psychology of persuasion was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to the science of ethical persuasion. Brian’s passion is helping people achieve greater professional success and enjoy more personal happiness. He does this by teaching people how to ethically move others to action through the science of persuasion.
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