A Wealth of Information Creates a Poverty of Attention!

Multi-tasking is a fallacy. Despite what you might believe, our brains cannot consciously focus on multiple tasks. Studies show when you try multi-tasking you’ll take longer and make more mistakes than you would have if you’d tackle one thing at a time. Sure, you can walk and talk but walking doesn’t take conscious thought most of the time. However, when something requires your attention, like avoiding stepping into the street into oncoming traffic, your ability to focus on the conversation, or anything else for that matter, is temporarily diverted.

In the world we live in some estimates say you’re bombarded with 3000 to 5000 marketing message a day. The late Herbert Simon, an economist, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, said this about information overload, “…information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Your “poverty of attention” creates the inability to focus and is due in large part to the overstimulation of daily life. But it’s not just marketing that causes it. Your cell phone is part of the problem. Google “cell phone addiction” and you’ll get millions of results! According to an article on Health.com, smartphones have lots in common with Vegas slot machines and they’re altering our brains.

As a persuader you’re competing against this overstimulation and lack of attention. What can you do? By thoughtfully incorporating the principles of influence into your communication you can bypass a lot of the noise.

One big reason using the principles work so well is due to human evolution.  Over the course of history, the principles enabled humans make better decisions faster which increased our survival rate. Travel back in time and consider:

  • Someone who looked, sounded and acted like you could probably be trusted without giving it much consideration (liking).
  • There’s a rustling in the woods so everyone takes off running…and you do too, with very little thought (consensus).
  • There’s not much Wooly Mammoth left so you quickly get some because you don’t know when the next kill will be (scarcity).

These are just a few examples where the psychology of persuasion prompted actions that generally led to good results. Our world is vastly different than the one our ancestors occupied but we still face psychological threats and the wiring of the human brain hasn’t changed.

  • You get a new boss and you have many things in common. You immediately like your boss (liking) which makes working with her easier and less threatening.
  • You’re in new job and realize on day one that you’re not dressed like everyone else. That night you head to the store to make wardrobe adjustments so you’ll fit in a little better (consensus).
  • Things are changing at work but despite the fact that you’re not in agreement with everything you don’t speak up (scarcity).

We face a different environment than our ancestors but we’re using the same brain. The more you look for opportunities to tap into the principles of persuasion the easier it will be for your message to cut through the information overload.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! The course teaches you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

Human Resources Respond to Human Psychology

If you’re a human resources professional you know you have a tough job, one that comes with huge responsibilities. Your decisions impact entire departments, divisions and often the whole organization. Those decisions include setting corporate policy for paid time off, merit increases, education reimbursement, retirement savings and the biggie today – health insurance.

The larger the company the easier it is to forget the individuals who make up the departments, divisions and organization. Never lose sight of this reality; a company is no more than the people who choose to work there. It can be extremely dangerous to focus so much on the big picture that individuals become an after thought. You won’t get emails or phone calls from a department or division but you’ll get LOTS of communication from individuals when decisions come down that are perceived to negatively impact them.

In the highly competitive business environment we’re currently in it’s often necessary to make decisions to reduce costs to keep the organization competitive. What’s an HR professional to do when caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place? This is where human psychology comes into play because human resources respond to human psychology. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that can make all the difference.

For more than seven decades social psychologists, and more recently behavioral economists, have been studying the decision-making process (science of influence and psychology of persuasion) and they’ve gleaned many insights that can help when it comes to communicating HR decisions.

In psychology there’s something known as the contrast phenomenon which describes the reality that you can change how anyone experiences something by what you present first. Perhaps you’re announcing merit increases will be limited to 3% in the upcoming year. If the national average is only 2% then you’ll want to mention that first because 3% will seem to be a good bit larger by comparison. Here’s how you might approach a conversation with an individual:

Bob, you may not be aware but according to Towers-Watson the industry average for merit increases this year is only 2%. However, because we’re doing well we’re giving 3% across the board. I’m sure you wish it were more but here’s the reality; that’s 50% better than most people are getting in this industry. If we keep doing well thanks to contributions from people like you that additional increase adds up to quite a bit over time and it’s what allows us to attract and retain top talent like you.

Another application of contrast might come up with regard to health care. According to the Kaiser Foundationout of pocket health care costs for employees have risen eight times faster than wages! Citing an organization like Kaiser taps into the principle of authority because people believe information more when it comes from perceived experts. As an HR professional you’ll blow a persuasive opportunity if you don’t weave that into your presentation to employees.  Here’s how you might communicate this change:

You’re all aware that the cost of health care is skyrocketing. In most cases what you pay out of pocket has gone up eight times faster than your wages according to the Kaiser Foundation. We find that unacceptable. While we cannot afford to increase your wages at the same pace that health care costs are rising what we’ve done this year is go with a plan that caps your individual and family deductibles at amounts that are less than half the national average.

Another bit of psychology to remember is scarcity. People are more averse to loss than they are to gaining the same thing. In other words, losing $100 hurts more than the joy of winning or finding $100. Let’s continue on with the previous example:

We could have gone with a higher health care deductible this year and paid you a little more because we saved some money. However, the savings would have barely been noticeable in your bi-weekly pay and the reality is you probably would not set aside that small amount in case you needed it for your deductible. According to our health care provider, by going with the lower deductible many of you will avoid paying thousands more on health care bills this year.

The move from traditional vacation/personal/sick time to paid time off (PTO) which allows employees to use their time off any way they see fit can be tricky. Once PTO is in place, as new employees come to the organization they know what they’re signing up for so it’s not a big deal. However, introducing PTO to an organization can be challenging because of the perception of loss. Let’s say you had three weeks of vacation and five sick days available for a total of potentially 20 days off. The move to PTO might give you 18 days but you can use them however you want. Most employees don’t use all of their sick days and some don’t use all of their vacation days which means the typical worker might have 1-5 more days to use however they’d like under a PTO approach. Here’s how you might share this announcement:

To align ourselves with our competition we’re moving from the traditional time off model to PTO. The reason most competitors are going to PTO is because of the flexibility it gives employees. It’s not escaped our notice that some of you may perceive you’re losing time off. Recognizing that we’ve looked at our stats and less than 8% of you used all of your vacation days, personal days and sick time over the last three years. However, 80% of you used fewer than two days of sick time during that period. What that tells us is the vast majority of you will have more days at your disposal to use however you see fit. Many of you will take extra vacation days and that’s okay because that’s what PTO is for.

Will you still have some disgruntle employees? Sure, and you always will no matter what you say or do. After all, some people are only “happy” when they’re unhappy and others will always look at the downside rather than the potential upside. However, by framing your conversations using your understanding of social psychology and behavioral economics you’ll win over more people in the long run which means dealing with fewer calls and email from employees who don’t like change.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! The course teaches you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet?  To see what you’ve been missing click here.

It’s The Economy, Stupid

A theme for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Have you ever paused to consider what skills you need the most in daily life? Which will get you ahead at work? Which ones you use more than others? This post is intended to open your eyes to one that’s used every day but seldom studied and practiced even less. No, I’m not talking about listening skills, although that would be a good guess. I’m talking about the ability to persuade; to move people to action, to change hearts and minds, to ultimately hear “Yes!” I would argue it’s a persuasion economy but I won’t call you stupid to make my point.

Every day, all day long, you engage with others and quite often you’re hoping to persuade them in some way. Aristotle said persuasion was the art of getting someone to do something they would not normally do if you didn’t ask. Getting people to do what you want can be challenging because it involves behavior change. On top of that, they can’t read your mind, don’t know what you want and, oh by the way, they have their own priorities.

But learning how to ethically persuade people is worth the time and effort, especially if you want to have more professional success and personal happiness.

Deirdre McCloskey, Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, researched persuasion’s impact on the U.S. economy in the 1990s. In Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics she built the case that this one skill is responsible for 25% of our national income. More than 20 years since her book came out, with the proliferation of the internet and all the changes that came along with it, some estimate that figure at closer to 30% now.

If that’s not enough to convince you, consider what Daniel Pink, author of To Sell is Human, has to say. In his book he cites a survey of more than 7,000 businesspeople in non-sales roles. He wrote, “People are now spending about 40 percent of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.” If you’re reading this and happen to be in sales I’d venture to guess that percentage is probably greater than 70% for you. What this means is the typical worker spends anywhere from three to six hours a day using persuasion skills.

As society places less emphasis on manual labor and more on knowledge and idea generation it’s no wonder Carmine Gallo, author of Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great, says, “Mastering the ancient art of persuasion—combining words and ideas to move people to action—is no longer a ‘soft’ skill. It is the fundamental skill to get from good to great in the age of ideas.”

Listening is a skill and, hearing impaired aside, we all come with the same equipment. However, I’m sure you know people who are very good listeners and others who are very bad. Persuasion is similar in that it’s something we all do starting at birth (babies cry to be fed, burped, held, changed, etc.) but while some people become very good at it, others are very bad. If you take the time to study persuasion then thoughtfully consider how to ethically put your knowledge to use you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it will be to hear “Yes!”, change hearts and minds, and to move people to action.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! If you’ve not watched it yet click here to see what you’ve been missing. The course will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

A Huge Life Change is Upon Me!

I have some exciting news to share – I’ve decided to leave State Auto after 29 years to pour my heart and soul into Influence PEOPLE on a full-time basis. November 16 will be the last time I walk out of 518 East Broad Street as an employee. This is one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made and certainly the biggest career decision. I put it on par with getting married, buying a home and deciding to become a parent because all were scary/exciting adventures into the unknown.

Choosing to leave State Auto was not easy. I’ve been blessed to work for someone who has been a great boss, close friend and big supporter. I loved what I did and believed I helped people in the process. On top of all that, I enjoyed the people I worked with beyond measure! If you have a great boss, love what you do, enjoy the people you serve and are paid well, then you’re a lucky person. I was, and remain, very fortunate in all regards.

The friendships mattered most. As you might imagine, when you spend 29 years with one company it feels like family. There have been times when I traveled and stayed with coworkers because we were that close in our friendships. I’ve been to weddings, funerals, seen children born, seen some pass away, traveled to wonderful places, cried and laughed with coworkers. I could go on and on but you get the picture. More than anything else I will miss the people.

When I was trained under Robert Cialdini on the psychology of persuasion I knew it was what I would eventually do full time. Everything I’ve done over the past 10 years with the business, blogging, networking, speaking and social media has been for this moment. If I said I wasn’t a little bit scared I’d be lying. But, with each passing day, as I take more steps in this new direction fear is replaced with excitement. One of those steps will be finishing a book I started many years ago so keep an eye out for that.

As I look to the future I’m so excited share what I know about human behavior and the psychology of persuasion because I believe with all my heart I can help people enjoy more professional success and personal happiness through Influence PEOPLE.

I want to close with something I wrote more than 25 years ago in my personal mission regarding my career:

I want Christ to be the centerpiece for all that I do at work; I want to give my best effort to whatever task is laid before me; be remembered for making my workplace better for having been there in both a productive and personal sense; obtain satisfaction from my chosen career; be fair and honest while remaining firm and decisive; remember the people involved; earn the trust, respect and confidence of those I work with; continue to develop personally and seek new challenges. Last, I need to remember that I work to live — I don’t live to work. Therefore, I will never sacrifice my spiritual, personal or my family’s well-being at the expense of my career.

I believe I fulfilled the mission at State Auto and now it’s time to move on. In this next chapter I look forward to fulfilling that mission across the country and eventually around the world.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! If you’ve not watched it yet click here to see what you’ve been missing. The course will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Just Because Something Doesn’t Grab You by the Grey Matter Doesn’t Mean It Doesn’t Matter

Because I spend so much time studying and teaching persuasion certain things catch my attention more than the average person. But, just because something doesn’t grab you by the grey matter doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. What I’m saying is this; even when something doesn’t register in your conscious, if it hits your subconscious it can still have a big, big impact on your behavior.

The genesis of this post was an Arby’s commercial I noticed this past weekend. The spokesperson said, “Now at Arby’s, you can get 30 gyros for $90. Or, for those who aren’t trying to cater a Greek family reunion, they’re two for $6.” Click here to watch the commercial.

You might be thinking, “Big deal, gyros are $3 in either case.” While that’s true, what you don’t realize is that Arby’s positioning makes you more likely to buy some gyros. Why? Because of the psychological phenomenon known as contrast.

The contrast phenomenon highlights the fact that you can change how someone experiences something by what you present immediately before making your ultimate request.

Here is an example from Robert Cialdini’s New York Times best-selling book Presuasion. He cites the story of a friend who, before presenting a $75,000 contract told the prospective client, “As you can tell, I’m not going to be able to charge you a million dollars for this.” The client agreed and didn’t flinch at the $75,000 fee. This friend of Cialdini’s said such an approach almost always takes price off the table as an objection. Why? Because compared to a million dollars $75,000 seems much smaller than if it were presented outright with no other context.

Imagine for a moment that same individual saying, “I’d love to only charge you $1 (in a joking tone) but I have to ask for $75,000.” Compared to $1 the fee seems very high and it creates a completely different impression. I know an approach like this would lead to far fewer signed contracts than mentioning a million dollars first.

Let’s go back to Arby’s. It’s not too likely that anyone will spend $90 on 30 gyros but mentioning this makes buying two for just $6 seem much better. What if Arby’s tried to be funny and said, “One-third of a gyro for $1 but we know you’re hungry so why not get two for $6?” With that approach $6 seems like a lot more than $1 so it’s a sure bet their sales would not be nearly as good compared to the approach they’re currently going with.

I point this out to help you in two ways. First, sometimes people focus more on being funny and engaging when they try to get people to take action but only end up hurting their chances when they make the wrong comparison.

Second, what comes first matters. When you want to make your best offer shine, think about a comparison that will do that for you then make sure you position that comparison before you make your ultimate ask. Think $1 million vs. $75,0000, not $1 vs. $75,000.

A strategic approach as I’ve outlined may not grab someone by the grey matter (focused attention) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter because the approach still registers in the subconscious where 85%-95% of all decision making happens.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! If you’ve not watched it yet click here to see what you’ve been missing. The course will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Why is it so hard to…

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to…do certain things and not do others? It’s a good bet that a lot has to do with psychology and conditioning. Your rational brain might be telling you one thing but something deep inside is prompting you in another direction. For example, why is it so hard to…

…say no to a friend? Imagine for a moment a stranger asks you for your last $10. I’m sure it would be very easy to say no but if a friend asked it would be much tougher to resist their request. That’s because the principle of liking is at work on you. It’s often the case that your willingness, or unwillingness, to do something has more to do with who is asking than what’s being asked. One word of advice; be wary of the person you come to like too quickly, especially if they ask for something shortly after meeting you.

…not say thanks to unwanted actions? Many years ago, my daughter and I were walking through the mall. Shortly after entering we were accosted by someone from a kiosk asking if we wanted to try Dead Sea Salt facial cream. I simply said, “No,” and immediately felt Abigail elbow me as she said, “Dad, it’s ‘no thank you.’” I asked her why I should say thank him when I didn’t appreciate being interrupted and wasn’t thankful for what he was offering? She advised me it’s considered polite to say, “No, thank you.” That social norm comes about because the principle of reciprocity conditions us to give back to those who first give. Even when someone’s actions are unwanted reciprocity typically prompts a conditioned response from us.

…go against the crowd? We all felt peer pressure growing up. Parents worry about kids caving to the pressure of underage drinking, sex, drugs and other behaviors that could be harmful. The pressure to conform never goes away but as we move past the teenage years we call this phenomenon the principle of consensus or social proof. All you have to do is observe an office setting to see how people look around then naturally begin to conform to what they observe. Whether it’s a new initiative at work, dress code, or some cultural norm, people find it hard to go against the crowd because standing out might reflect negatively on them as Robert Cialdini explains in this video from Big Think.

…dismiss expert advice? Your friend tells you to quit smoking and you pay little attention but your doctor tells you and resisting the advice becomes tougher. That’s because the principle of authority is working on your brain. In one study (Expert Advice Shuts Your Brain Down) brain imaging showed critical thinking almost comes to a halt when a perceived expert is giving advice! But, that same advice from someone with no credentials is easy to ignore.

…change your mind? The pressure to be consistent in what you say and do (principle of consistency) is HUGE. One reason that’s so because changing your mind might mean you have to admit you’ve been wrong. If you’ve held a particular view for a long time then it’s even tougher despite the reality that you’re always learning, growing and evolving in your views. One could make the case that changing one’s mind shows openness, flexibility and perhaps enlightenment but that nagging feeling of having been wrong is very difficult to overcome.

…resist some sales pitches? Buyer’s remorse is all too common. This happens when shortly after a purchase people regret their decision and wonder why they bought what they did. The pressure exerted from the principle of scarcity – fear or losing – is often the driver. There’s a fear that if you don’t buy that smart phone, new car, furniture, or something else, you might not get that good a deal again. Yet, in a moment of clear thinking you’d acknowledge sales are a dime a dozen. But here’s the problem – you’re not thinking clearly when you encounter scarcity. The following quote from the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much explains why – “Scarcity captures the mind. Just as the starving subjects had food on their mind, when we experience scarcity of any kind, we become absorbed by it. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.”

For the most part our psychology and conditioning is good because both are meant to help you survive and thrive in a constantly changing environment. But, your subconscious can’t tell when the situation is life or death so it responds just as it did tens of thousands of years ago and that’s why it is so hard to…do many things.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 145,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

What We Believe Affects How We See Reality

Over the past month one of the best coaches in college football, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, has been in the news regarding allegations of what he knew and didn’t know about domestic abuse from one of his former coaches. Although I’m a big Ohio State fan I’ve not followed the story so closely as to have a strong opinion about the punishment that was recently handed down. However, what has jumped out at me in the social media and regular media spaces is how confirmation bias is driving the discussion.

If the incidents in question had occurred with Alabama’s Nick Saban or Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh I’m sure Buckeye fans would have been crying, “Crucify them!!!” Their ability to find fault would have come quickly and easily. But all this has happened to their coach so they dissected the situation and defended Urban in an almost lawyer-like fashion.

Again, I have no strong opinion on the whole subject because I’ve not read all the new stories. For all I know Urban may have been overzealously pursued because of his name, his position and/or the sensitivity of this subject in light of the #metoo movement. My point here is this; no Buckeye fan would have gone to a fraction of the lengths to make such a defense if the accused had been Jim Harbaugh or Nick Saban. Why? Confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to look for information to support, or confirm, existing beliefs. People don’t have to work at this because it occurs naturally. Over the course of human existence this bias probably helped us survive as a species. For example, if there was a rustling in the woods it was probably safer to assume it was a threat and run rather that thinking it might be friendly and sticking around to check it out.

On a personal level, when was the last time someone you knew, looked up to, or loved was accused of something? How did you react? I’m willing to bet whatever the case you started looking for information to confirm your existing beliefs about the person in question. Rare is the individual who says, “I’m going to go against my existing belief to see if I can prove to myself he or she did it.”

On the flip side, Alabama and Michigan fans, indeed perhaps all non-OSU fans, likely started off with this mindset, “Guilty until proven innocent!” The confirmation bias of those fans is working in exactly the opposite direction as Buckeye fans. I have a hard time imagining any of those fans looking for ways to exonerate the coach of a rival.

Unlike the days of our ancestors, what we believe is seldom a matter of survival. That means we’re afforded the luxury of time to try our best to set aside our biases and look to make a more rational, thoughtful decision. While life and death may not be at stake, there’s still potentially great harm to ourselves and others when we simply cave to default thinking on serious issues.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

10 Observations from the Other Side of the Pond

 On August 2nd Jane and I left for a trip to Scotland and Ireland. It was to celebrate our 30thwedding anniversary and we were gone for nearly three weeks. If you’ve been reading Influence PEOPLE regularly then you know this led to a short hiatus from my blog writing so we could focus on each other and having fun. (If you’re reading this in my weekly email and don’t see the pictures, click here and you’ll experience a bit of Scotland and Ireland.)

 

The trip was AWESOME! If you ever get the chance to visit either or both countries do so! Planning such a big trip can be overwhelming so we used Marri Petrucci to plan our travel. She did and amazing job for us! Contact me if you’d like her information for your next big trip.

As I get back into writing I thought it might be fun to share 10 observations from our time on “the other side of the pond.”

Service. The service is very different than in the States. People in Scotland and Ireland are happy to take tips but they don’t work for tips like they do in the U.S. From my perspective there’s less incentive to give good service so I decided to get around that by tipping up front and chatting up our servers so we’d all have fun.

Here’s a funny service example. At the car rental place in Dublin, Ireland I set my bags near the door of the Enterprise van that was going to take us to the car rental lot. The driver looked at me and said, “Those your bags?” I told him they were and he said, “Well they ain’t gonna get in the van by themselves.” Wow!

Driving. Driving on the other side of the car on the opposite side of the road can be challenging! Throw in roads that are very narrow (single lane at times) along with roundabouts and you really have to concentrate on driving. Having shared that, the drivers were much nicer than in the States. Rarely did anyone honk at us and most people willingly let us into traffic. That was quite refreshing.

Countryside. Stunning! Driving through places like the Isle of Skye and Loch Lomond in Scotland were unbelievable. At times I felt like I was in Game of Thrones because it was so majestic.

 

In Ireland we took a jaunty ride (horse carriage) through the Gap of Dunloe and the sites were breathtaking. Because both countries are so much smaller than America you can take in so much in just a few weeks.

 

Whisky. Jane and I love Scotch so we visited lots of distilleries. It was fun and informative. The one I would recommend most is Macallan because it was so different than the traditional older distilleries. It felt like walking into a spaceship and the tour was high tech. Some people don’t like the modern approach but it’s so different you have to experience it if you do some tours.

 

By the way, people asked if we brought lots of Scotch home. No. Believe it or not, Scotch was more expensive in Scotland. That was mostly dues to the taxes. Throw on top of that the exchange rate and sometimes as bottle was 40% more expensive than what we’d pay at home! I love Scotch but the rational part of me couldn’t justify the prices to we just tried LOTS of different ones at the various pubs we visited.

Food. The food was okay. There’s a tendency to overcook meat by American standards.  We learned this was due to food scares in the past with things like mad cow disease. In Scotland and Ireland, they don’t use many spices and I really enjoy hot food (I put red peppers on most things) so it may have been more a function of my particular tastes.

Golf. Jane had the opportunity of a lifetime when she played at St. Andrews, the home of golf and many British Open Championships. She was more excited than a little kid on Christmas Eve. By American standards many of the courses are not pristine but that’s how the Scottish meant for the game to be played. It’s as much about dealing with the elements as it is the course.

 

I walked a couple of the courses as Jane played so I could take pictures and video and the scenery was spectacular. It was neat to know we were walking, and she playing, where people like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and so many other legends walked and played.

Small World. While in St. Andrews we randomly met a couple from Westerville, Ohio, our home town! On a distillery tour we talked to a couple from Powell, Ohio, which is one town over from where we live. And in the Toronto airport we bumped into Mike LaRocco, the CEO of my company, State Auto Insurance. The world is indeed getting smaller.

Time. Our trip was August 2-20 and while that seems long, it was so wonderful I could have easily stayed another two or three weeks. During that time, I let it be known I would not be replying to voicemail and email. I held true that and the world didn’t end! I encourage you to do the same if at all possible – extend your time away and leave everything behind if you really want to relax and enjoy yourself.

Castles. They say a man’s home is his cast and while the castles we saw were incredible I don’t think I’d want the upkeep and Jane would not want to clean them. The Edinburgh Castle was beautiful from all parts of the city and allowed us to orient ourselves no matter where we were.

 

We spent the night in the Dromoland Castle in Ireland. It was spectacular! We were treated like royalty but Jane refused to call me king even though I treat her like a queen. Strolling the grounds gave us a glimpse at how the top 1% must live. Incredible!

 

America. The people we met loved America. The talked about all the opportunity the see here. They are amazed at how big and diverse the land is. They seemed to have more questions for us than we had for them. Many want to come here to work and live. Ans believe it or not, the people we met were very intrigued by President Trump and most of the comments were not negative.

As I said at the top, the trip was AWESOME so if you ever get the chance to visit either or both countries don’t pass it up! It certainly wet our appetite to see other parts of the world and our own country.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 145,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

 

Taking a Short Break

This “post” is to inform you that I’m taking a short break from writing. It will be the first time in nearly 10 years that I’ve not put a new article online each week but there’s a good reason. Jane and I are visiting Scotland and Ireland for three weeks to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary!

While we’re on the “other side of the pond” she will be playing several ancient golf courses and together we plan to visit lots of Scotch distilleries. Aside from those two worthy goals we will be enjoying food and drink with the locals, taking in the beauty and history of both countries, and getting away from everything else associated with normal life. It promises to be the trip of a lifetime and that’s all we plan to focus on.

Having shared that news, there will be no new Influence PEOPLE articles until August 27th. I appreciate you taking time to read my posts, commenting on them and especially for passing them along to your colleagues, friends and family.

Sincerely,
Brian

 

Improv Comedy Might be the Key that Unlocks Your Potential

Improv comedy might be the key that unlocks your potential. That’s a bold statement but I truly believe it because there are so many skills you learn with improv that translate into every area of life.

This idea was reinforce when I meet Kelly Leonard at the Chief Learning Officer Symposium in the spring. Kelly has been with Second City improvisational comedy group in Chicago for more than 25 years. We had an interesting conversation because, in addition to loving improv, he’s fascinated by behavioral economics, social psychology and neuroscience. Having done improv comedy with my wife Jane many times over the last four years I was extremely interested to hear Kelly speak as well as read his book Yes, And. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy.

I also encourage you to consider taking improv lessons. In addition to learning a great skill you’ll meet interesting people and laugh a lot. I wrote a post about my improv experience more than three years ago and want to reiterate some points so you’ll consider doing some improv to unlock your potential.

Practice

I can’t imagine reading a few books on improv or following an improv blog for a brief period of time then trying to perform in front of a live audience. That would be like trying to learn how to ride a bike from a book. It just won’t work. Practicing improv in a safe space with a good teacher was a huge confidence builder for everyone in the classes we took. Not only did we learn from our teacher, we learned quite a bit from one another as we observed each other on stage.

Businesspeople traditionally hate anything that smells of role-play. Too many think reading about sales, leadership or coaching is enough. More motivated people might attend a seminar but none of these approaches will give you what you need to succeed. The more you role-play the more likely you are to be ready for the real-world situations you’ll eventually face. Just as is the case with improv, in a good workshop businesspeople learn as much, if not more, from each other during their time together.

Unscripted

Improv is short for improvisational comedy, which is unscripted. When you improvise you’re creating in the moment. It’s all about taking what’s given to you then creating a funny reality. Quite often audience members shout out people, places and things then leave it to those on stage to use their imagination to construct the scene.

You don’t know what will be thrown at you when you’re onstage and it’s the same when it comes to life. You never know exactly what might come up before, during or after a business meeting. If you’re a salesperson you don’t know what objections you might be hit with during a sales call so you need to be comfortable responding in the moment. The longer you’re in a profession the more situations you’ll face and the more comfortable you’ll become dealing with whatever comes your way. Just as more practice and performances help comedians, so it is with people in business.

Study

Great comedians don’t just wing it even though they might improvise. Through study and observation, they learn what makes something funny and why some jokes fall flat. They draw from the world around them so the audience can relate and understand their jokes.

By the same token, good leaders understand their people and their needs so they can speak to both. Good leaders study their craft and learn how to speak persuasively so the team “gets it” just like the audience gets a joke.

Timing

Timing is crucial in comedy. Two comedians can tell the same joke but how they set it up, how they deliver the punch line and exactly when they deliver the punch line can make all the difference between laughter and silence.

Selling is very similar. Two salespeople can say essentially the same thing and for one person it comes across in a natural, conversational way but for another it feels like a pushy salesman. Timing is also very important when it comes to closing a sale. When to close can vary based on many things and there is some “art” as to what you need do to close the deal. Do it too early and prospective customers recoil because they feel like they’re being sold. Go for the close too late and you may have missed your opportunity to make the sale.

Yes, and… 

When people hear improv comedy one of the first things that comes to mind is, “Yes, and…” Improv is much more than this little phrase but it’s one of the first concepts you’re taught. In order to make a scene work you’re told to take whatever is given to you and build on it. Nothing kills a scene quicker than rejecting what someone has said or done.

In business, be it leadership, coaching or sales, shutting someone down, rejecting what they say, insisting you’re right and they’re wrong, is a sure way to alienate people. “Yes, I understand why you feel that way and…” then transition into something to hopefully get the other person to start seeing things differently is a very effective way to communicate.

Team

Improv is a team sport and works best when you make those around you look good. Rarely does improv work when someone tries to go it alone trying to be funny. Scenes work best when those on stage know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Playing someone’s strengths and steering clear of their weakness helps them and the team create a great scene.

Like improv, business is also a team sport. The more leaders know their team the better they can play to each person’s strengths. This brings to mind the former Chief Sales Officer at State Auto Insurance, Clyde Fitch. We left a meeting one day and I thanked him for giving me the space to do what I thought was right. He said, “I might be the best player on the team but I can’t play all nine positions.” That’s a team approach.

Have I persuaded you that apart from just being fun improv can help you come closer to your potential? If you live in the Columbus metro area I encourage you to reach out to Jeff Gage because he was an awesome teacher. It was apparent he loves what he does because, despite having done improv for decades, he laughed as much as anyone during our workshops and shows. Reach out to Jeff to find out when his next classes will be held at the Funny Bone at Easton. I guarantee you’ll have fun, meet interesting people, laugh a lot AND learn a great skill.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLCand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed 140,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.