A Final Remembrance, Finally Clarity

On Saturday, September 19, we laid my father, Brian Ahearn, Sr., to rest. In case you missed it, he was the focus on my post last week, Fathers and Sons – It’s Complicated. As you might expect, the last seven days have been unlike any before them. It’s been a whirlwind and suddenly it’s Monday, time to post again. I woke up at 5 am, looked at old photos and decided to write one more time about this experience. It’s cathartic for me to do so and I was overwhelmed by the responses to my last post. Perhaps sharing a little more will help me, you and some others.

What you’ll read below is my final remembrance of my father, which I shared at his memorial service. It tied up many loose ends for me. Reflecting on my dad’s passing and all we went through finally helped me see him clearly and gave me clarity about myself. I think he would be pleased to know that and I believe he would have been proud to hear what I learned about the two of us.

Brian F.X. Ahearn, Captain, USMC 1962-1969

I woke up Wednesday morning wondering what I’d say today about my father, Brian Ahearn, Sr. There were tears in my eyes as I got out of bed. I sat down with a cup of coffee and immediately started to write in order to capture my unfiltered thoughts and emotions.

I speak for a living but this will be the hardest message I’ve ever had to deliver. I ask that you be patient with me as I work through some raw emotions. I want to share a picture of my father, what we wrestled with and the good place where we ultimately landed.

I wrote something recently and called it Fathers and Sons – It’s Complicated. That summarizes my relationship with my dad.

As a boy and young man, I admired my dad. When I was 10 or 11, I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t he run for president?” I thought he was the smartest, toughest man in the world. As I reflect on that now, I know he was pretty darn close on both accounts. If you spent any time with him then you knew he was really smart, a sort of renaissance man because he seemed to know something about everything. However, I don’t think you really knew the depth of his toughness.

My relationship went from admiration to extremely difficult when I turned 30. I was married, had a child, was growing and changing a lot. I wanted to understand my dad more – the good and the bad – because I was becoming aware that his history shaped me. To say that he didn’t want to go there would be an understatement. When I pressed him on matters of faith during a phone call he blew up, told me, “I don’t care what you or anyone else says, I’m not a bad person,” and hung up on me. 

It was never my intention for him to feel that way but everything changed in an instant and we started down a really rough road for a number of years. I was so angry I wanted to drive to his place and tear him limb from limb. If I’m honest, at 54 he would have kicked my butt up, down and sideways because he was still that tough.

Sometime later we met at a restaurant to talk. He just couldn’t understand why I wanted to delve into the past. I felt there were things that needed to be addressed so I could understand him better and myself. Things were said during dinner that didn’t go away quickly.

You know my father served in the Marines during Vietnam but you may not have known he wasn’t drafted, he volunteered. He said the greatest experience of his life was being a Marine and leading men in combat. He was a warrior and I never saw him back down from anyone. I always felt like perhaps I didn’t fully measure up to him because I didn’t serve. That’s part of the father son dynamic. Sons want to show their fathers they’re better and ready to take the mantle. Most of all we want our fathers to be proud of us. Now that I’m older I realize fathers don’t want to admit to themselves that they’re no longer the biggest, the strongest or most capable. That’s the natural tension between fathers and sons. 

As I reflect on this, if my dad were here right now I’d tell him, “Dad, like you, I’m a warrior. I didn’t fight for our country, I fought for something more important…I fought for you and me. I was willing to put up with the intensity of your anger and unwillingness to talk at times in order to have a closer, deeper relationship with you. I wanted to learn things that would help me understand you and help me be a better son, a better husband and a better father.” 

The more I’ve learned about the trauma of war the more I understand why my dad didn’t want to rehash any of the past. He wanted to put everything behind him and just enjoy the moment.

He instilled such a strong sense of right and wrong in me that my wife called me a Boy Scout when we started dating. Although my dad knew the difference between right and wrong, having been raised Catholic, he struggled. He knew his Bible and I have no doubt he understood what Paul meant when he wrote, “The good that I want to do I don’t do and the bad that I don’t want to do, I do. What’s wrong with me?” My dad wrestled with certain parts of his past so much so that he once asked a friend, “Do you think I’m going to go to hell for what I’ve done?” 

I know what was wrong with him and it’s the same thing that’s wrong with me, you and every other person who ever walked this planet; it’s the sin within us that causes the broken relationship with God.

Fortunately, our broken nature and bad choices are not the defining factor in God’s eyes. In the Bible, King David is called a man with a heart after God’s own. David wrestled with his sin and so did my dad. But, I think God looked at my father and said in his deepest place, his heart is after mine. I want to share a story that illustrates this.

When my dad finally started to open up he told me when he was in Vietnam they’d captured a Viet Cong soldier. He was wounded and it was clear he was going to die. The South Vietnamese commanding officer kept kicking the dying man trying to get information out of him. My dad told me he couldn’t take it any longer so he pulled out his revolver, put it to the CO’s head and said, “If you kick him again I’ll blow your head off.” Then he sat with the man under a tree until he died. Nobody wants to relive moments like that but those are the moments that define us because God is so clearly with us. I know He was with my dad at that very moment. 

God’s word says, while we were enemies He sent Jesus to us and He died for us. My dad put his military career and life on the line when it mattered most…for a man who was his enemy. That’s the heart of God, no greater love, and I believe it was the core of my father. If you really knew my dad then you knew it wouldn’t matter who needed help, he would jump into the fray because it was the right thing to do. As hard as it was for him to share that experience with me, that’s the man I needed to know in order to understand him and myself better. That’s the man I’m proud to call my father.

If he were here today this is what I’d want him to know – that whether or not he realized it, he had a heart after God’s own. In the same way he volunteered to fight and endured unspeakable things in Vietnam, his willingness to fight again and endure emotional pain later in life helped me, my family and countless others. I hope by sharing this each of you got a glimpse of my dad that you didn’t have before. I’m sure God’s already told him, “Well done, you were Semper Fi, enter into the joy of your master.”

God rest his soul. 

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

 

 

 

Fathers and Sons – It’s Complicated

My father, Brian Ahearn Sr., passed away unexpectedly this morning. I’m still pretty numb but writing is one way I try to process my thoughts and feelings. My dad was asked at a dinner party what was the greatest experience of his life. He said without hesitation, “Being a Marine and leading men in combat.” And, I’m sure that’s how he wanted to be remembered. Semper Fi!

The last text I received from him read, “By the way, I came across the letter you sent me on my 70th birthday. It was beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. I have been around for a long time and have had some wonderful experiences and memories. You and Carey (my sister) are among them. Have a great day.”

I think the best thing I can do to honor my dad is to share with you what I wrote in that letter. Maybe your relationship with a parent is complicated. If so, I hope this helps. Either way, if you can, give them a hug today. If not, I’m sure a phone call will be appreciated. There will come a day when you want to do one or the other but cannot.

 

Dad,

Happy 70th birthday! Because I’m fairly good at math I’m pretty sure this one only comes around once so enjoy it to the fullest. I know you’re competitive so if life is a race then every year that goes by gives you a better and better chance of winning.  ;  )

Sorry we are not there to celebrate with you but I’m glad we’ve been making it a point to spend some Christmas’s and vacations together in recent years. I got you the funny card, like always, but also wanted to take time to write you a note.

The more time goes by the more I appreciate what you did for me. I remember taking Jane to Miami University for my 10-year reunion and she was floored because it was so beautiful. I was too because it was even better than I remembered. Like many things in life, that time at college was special but I didn’t fully appreciate it in the moment. Without anything to compare it to it’s hard. I try to teach Abigail to appreciate things in the moment because all too fast the moment is gone and we look back and wish for just one more day. Thanks because I am very fortunate to have gone to that school.

Speaking of school; had I not yielded to your advice about business it’s very likely that I would not have worked for The Travelers, met Jane and there would be no Abigail. What seemed like an insignificant decision was far bigger than I could have imagined.

I also remember you telling me to treat school like a business. Go to class and do my homework from 8-5 and I could do what I wanted with the rest of my time. I don’t know if you knew it but that’s what I did. School work was always done by dinner then the night was reserved for lifting.

I’ve made mistakes in my life but I think more than most I had a strong sense of right and wrong. To this day I never tried recreational drugs. Like all college kids I drank – thus the urination incident – but I steered clear of the potentially bad stuff even though many of my friends indulged. As I said, I had a pretty strong sense of right and wrong and I got that from you and mom.

The discipline I have towards all the things I do came mostly from you. When I tell people about me something I mention early on is that I’m the son of a Marine. That explains an awful lot to them. My friends still tease me and one said, “We lifted weights but you had to be a bodybuilder. We took up jogging but you ran marathons. Now you get your black belt.” Something you may not know but during the time when we were more involved in church as I read through the Bible I began to put down my thoughts. The document ended up being a thousand pages. Whatever I did, I wanted to do it to the best of my ability and I believe that came from you.

Something you shared about your Marine experience that stuck with me was the time the Vietnamese soldier was being kicked by your CO trying to get info as he lay there dying. You said you pulled your gun on the CO to get him to stop then cradled the man till he died. Any time I shared that with someone it would make me tear up just like it did as I typed this letter. Of all the things you’ve shared with me that makes me proudest because that took unbelievable courage. To me that epitomizes what’s at the core of you.

If I had something to do over in life I think I would have chosen to be a Marine. I loved the camaraderie football gave us and that’s why I’m such good friends with Russell, so many other high school buddies and coach Alles. There was something about being under the lights on Friday night with those other 10 guys that can’t be explained. I’m sure basic training and combat multiplied that infinitely. When I see you meet other Marines, especially those who served in Vietnam, I sometimes think you’re closer to them than you are me. I’m not jealous, I admire it.

I’m happy for you that you and Jo have found so much happiness together. It’s been nice to see you grow and change because of her. She’s been good for you. And it’s been wonderful that Jane loves you both too. That’s something Jane and I have been blessed with – each having in-laws we really enjoy being with.

I’m sorry we had some rough times around my 30th birthday. Now that time has passed I hope you can understand from your relationship with your own dad that I hit a period where I had questions and just wanted to understand things. I’ve tried to use mistakes you and mom made to learn from. You once told me, “I don’t care what you or anyone else says I’m not a bad person.” I honestly never thought you were so I apologize if I said or did things that made it seem that way.

As a kid I didn’t dwell on what you and mom were going through, I just immersed myself in football and Janis. But as I got older and tried to figure out why I was the way I was I knew that period had a huge impact on me so I just wanted to get a handle on things. Again, I hope you can understand. Just so you know, I’m still trying to figure out a lot of things but I feel I’ve mellowed in my approach.

So, while you’re celebrating 70 we’ll be in Chicago celebrating what I hope is a new chapter for me with the blogging and speaking. The days in Chicago were good days when you lived there. What stands out to me was taking Jane to meet you then getting engaged. It was a great period so hopefully we can catch a little of that magic this weekend while you catch some with Jo and friends. We’re looking forward to having you up this summer.

Love,
Breen

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

Hiring for Kindness

Over the long weekend I caught an episode of the podcast Without Fail hosted by Alex Blumberg. His guest was Ron Johnson. If you’re a loyal reader of this blog then Ron Johnson might be a familiar name to you. He was the brains behind the iconic Apple Stores and their Genius Bars. He also had a notable public failure at JC Penney’s. I wrote about that in early 2012 and included the story in my book: Will J.C. Penney’s New Business Strategy Positively Influence Sales?

I didn’t know much about Johnson but found myself liking him as he talked about his experiences at Apple and Penney’s. I liked him even more when he spoke about his latest venture, Enjoy, a company that’s committed to reinventing the shopping experience. What I appreciated was that he said one of the cultural pillars of Enjoy is kindness. He told listeners Enjoy hires for kindness and trains the technical aspects of the job.

What is Kindness and Can You Measure It?

I love the premise but wondered how you would hire for kindness? Your definition of kind could be very different than mine or someone else’s. Many years ago, I learned the importance of defining words, especially within an organization’s culture. It’s critical that everyone understands what’s meant when someone talks about going on a sales call, providing great customer experience or treating people with kindness. Only once you’ve defined something can you train people and hold them accountable.

When it comes to how I treat other people I hold this thought in my mind: How would I want someone to treat my mother or father, brother or sister, spouse, son or daughter?

For most of us that encompasses the closest relationships we have. However you’d want someone to treat those you love the most – service, kindness, respect, gratitude, etc. – that’s probably how you should treat others. I would venture to say, if we all adopted that frame of mind we’d treat each other better and the world would be a better place.

When it comes to kindness I can offer two things to focus on to ensure people are doing a better job in this area: liking and reciprocity.

Like the People You Serve

The principle of liking tells us it’s easier the say yes to people we know and like. Most of the time we focus on liking to make it easier for someone to do what we want. But, engaging this principle to like the person you’re interacting with will help you be kinder. After all, I’m willing to bet it’s easier for you to naturally be nice to people you know and like.

If you’re a leader you probably want tangible ways to measure this. Simply ask your people what they’re doing to connect on what they have in common with customers. Teach them questions they can ask to make this happen naturally and quickly.

Another focus would be compliments. Make it a priority for your folks to look for the good in people and catch them doing good. Once they’ve noticed something good, have them pay genuine compliments. This too makes it easier for people to be kind.

Be a Giver

The other principle to engage is reciprocity. Go out of your way to do something kind to help people. They’ll feel good about you and be more likely to do whatever you need in return.

But, something else is taking place when you do good for another person. That rationalization machine we call a brain will generate reasons why your actions were right and that the other person deserved to be treated well. The more you believe someone, customers and coworkers, deserves to be treated well, the more likely you are to treat them well.

Conclusion

Culture isn’t just a bunch of words a company puts on a poster board. Ultimately culture is the experience customers and employees have with your organization. That experience comes primarily from the interactions with your employees. That means how employees behave matters a lot!

Liking and reciprocity, when engaged correctly with the right mindset, become self-reinforcing when it comes to kindness.

Liking and reciprocity can be measured by the actions they promote. Train people to those appropriate behaviors and kindness can become a cultural pillar for your organization.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

The Catalyst to Vegetarian

I’ve been reading The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Wharton Professor Jonah Berger. Good book, I highly recommend it. As I’ve been reading it’s caused me to consider why I made the switch to vegetarian last November.

My wife Jane has been a vegetarian for more than 25 years. She made that decision because she loves animals. She’s technically a pescatarian because she will eat fish. I tell people, if it walks or flies it’s off limits but if it swims it’s fair game. She must not have had goldfish growing up!

For most of those 25 years Jane has encouraged me to try vegetarianism. She was not overt, just subtle things as in, “Try this, you’ll like it,” or “I bet you’d like being a vegetarian.” My standard responses were, “I would never order that if I could get a steak instead,” and, This would be perfect if there were some chicken in it.”

I joked with people that we both loved animals: she loved saving them and I loved eating them. Knowing this, why would a guy who runs every day, lifts weights and does martial arts give up meat?

My catalyst for change was watching a Netflix documentary called The Game Changers. A UFC fighter was injured and looked into diet as a way to speed up his recovery. He was floored by what he learned about a plant based diet. He featured strength athletes, endurance athletes, mixed martial artists, football players and others who successfully made the switch.

I love my wife and I know she has my best interests at heart. During her years as a vegetarian she went through a pregnancy, ran two marathons, competed in triathlons and became an awesome golfer. But, there’s always that spousal rub. You know what I mean. Your spouse might suggest something and you contend with it but when someone else says the same thing, well it’s the best idea since sliced bread! Sad, but true.

Truthfully, the catalyst for me was the athletes. Because I had, or continue to participate in most sports I was intrigued by their results. When it comes to influence there was consensus, liking, authority and scarcity. A bunch of people (consensus) like me – athletes – (liking) had successfully made the switch. There was empirical data from doctors and other researchers (authority) to back up the claims. I wondered what I might be missing if I don’t at least give it a try (scarcity).

Believe it or not, I haven’t missed steak or chicken. You might think, “No way, I could never do that.” I’m with you because that’s what I would have said too. More importantly, what have I noticed since making the switch?

  • Although many people lose weight when they go vegetarian I’ve not lost or gained any weight. Mind you, I ate pretty good, much better than the average person to begin with, and worked out a lot.
  • I can’t say my athletic performance has improved but at 56 I don’t expect to run farther or faster than I used to because I don’t train like I did when I competed. The same goes for the weights. My goals are different now.
  • My annual physical was great! Cholesterol along with every other indicator were very good. Health, not athletic performance, is my number one goal now.
  • Jane’s life is much easier (that’s what I live for) because she no longer has to consider cooking meat or chicken when she makes dinner. I must say her cooking, which was very good to begin with, has gotten even better because she feels free to try new things.
  • When we go out we can split dishes now. This is particularly good because it seems like most meals these days can feed two or three people!

Bottom line for me, no big health or weight changes but given our lifestyle the switch has been good. That’s my diet and I’m sticking to it.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

 

Book #2 is Almost Finished!

I’m excited to tell you I’m almost finished with book #2. I shared an unedited version with some trusted contacts in the insurance industry for feedback and should have a final copy to my editor by mid-September. The book will be called Persuasive Selling and should be available before year end. It will focus on helping insurance professionals apply the science of influence throughout the sales process. If you’re not in insurance but you’re in sales you’ll want to check it out too because what I write about transcends all types of selling. Below is an excerpt (unedited) from the opening chapter of the book. I hope you enjoy it and consider getting the book when it comes out later this year.

My Story

I’ve never met someone who said, “When I was a kid all I ever wanted was to be in the insurance industry.” Not one, including me. So how did a kid who grew up dreaming of playing pro football or becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger end up spending more than 30 years in the insurance industry?

As I was getting ready to graduate college I was offered a job in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, with The Travelers Insurance Company. I knew nothing about insurance but liked what I heard during my interviews. The late Dean Williams, a Regional Vice President at the company, was so passionate about insurance that he reminded me of my high school football coach. I wanted to work for someone like that! Although I still knew next to nothing about insurance, the more I thought about staying near family, friends and the girl I was dating, the more appealing the opportunity became.

I was hired as an underwriter, a role that appealed to my analytical mind. I was paid to make risk selection decisions for the company when it came to homes, autos, jewelry and other personal items. Within a few years I’d moved to the commercial side of the house and was underwriting businesses of all types and sizes. After four years with The Travelers I jumped ship and landed with State Auto Insurance where I continued on the commercial underwriting side for a few more years.

Eventually I found myself in the sales department, which was a little ironic because truthfully, I thought sales was a bunch of crap. I’d been beaten down for years by insurance agents over price and really started to believe all that mattered was price.

Fortunately, I met John Petrucci, Executive VP of Customer Service at State Auto Insurance, and learned more about sales in one year from him than I had in my first 10 years in the business. I started to realize what you say and how you say it could make a big difference when it came to winning or losing a sale.

During my first decade in the industry I began to see that insurance was a noble profession. I use the word “noble” because we do two very important things: we help people and we help the economy. When it comes to people, we help individuals, families and businesses get back on their feet after something bad has happened. Helping people in that way is a very good thing, something to be proud of.

How does insurance help the economy? The guarantee insurance companies make on behalf of insured clients gives lenders comfort to loan people big chunks of money to open businesses, purchase new homes and buy cars, to name a few. Because of those guarantees a ripple effect takes place where more businesses are opened, homes are built, people are employed, building materials are sold, etc. Indeed, insurance is a noble industry and has become a vital part of our country’s economic prosperity.

Then something life-changing happened in 2003. Another coworker, Nancy Edwards, shared a video with me and John. It was something she’d watched in an MBA class she was taking at The Ohio State University. The video was Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., presenting The Power of Persuasion at Stanford University’s Breakfast Briefings. What Cialdini shared resonated with me for three reasons:

  1. I recognized the psychology he talked about was the underpinning of sales. It gave insight into why all the sales techniques we were taught worked…or didn’t.
  2. Everything he shared was based on scientific research, which appealed to my analytical mind. The research gave me confidence to try and share his findings because I knew the information, if used correctly, could help people.
  3. His focus on ethics, how to move people to action in non-manipulative ways, struck a chord with the ethical part of me.

I started to show the video to people at work. We would discuss the application to their careers, daily tasks and home life. What I was sharing was so well received I ordered other resources from Stanford and that landed me on their mailing list. One day a Stanford marketing flier made its way to my desk. As I flipped the pages Robert Cialdini’s picture caught my eye. Above his picture, in big bold letters, I saw: BEST SELLER

That was no surprise because it was an incredible talk Cialdini gave. However, what I saw next in the advertisement shocked me! Call it influence, persuasion or even manipulation

What?!? Someone at Stanford obviously didn’t watch the video because Cialdini could not have been more clear about ethical influence. Even the person who introduced him referenced “non-manipulative” ways to move people to action. The ethical part of me felt this needed to be addressed so I emailed Stanford and wrote:

“I don’t know anyone who wants to be manipulated nor do I know anyone who wants to be known as a good manipulator. That word cannot be helping your sales but it really could be hurting sales.”

I never heard from Stanford but one day my phone rang at work and when I answered, to my surprise, it was a representative from INFLUENCE AT WORK, Robert Cialdini’s organization. Chris Cibbarelli introduced herself and said she was calling on behalf of Dr. Cialdini to personally thank me. Apparently Stanford notified Cialdini they were changing the marketing of his video because of the email I wrote. How cool was that!

Before we hung up Chris said, “If your company ever needs a guest speaker Dr. Cialdini travels the world to speak about influence.” I replied, “I sit next to the woman who plans our events and books our speakers. Would you like to talk with her?” As fate would have it, Cialdini was in Columbus, Ohio several times in the summer of 2004 to speak to insurance agents who represented the company.

Later that summer, my boss and I went to Arizona to attend Cialdini’s two-day Principles of Persuasion Workshop. Four years later I returned to Arizona to go through the certification process which allows me to teach Cialdini’s material and methodology. Once I was certified, I knew this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my career because I saw the potential to help people professionally and personally. For a decade, while continuing my insurance career, I honed my influence skills in a handful of ways:

  1. Helping insurance agents apply this psychology throughout their sales process.
  2. Working with field sales reps to help them market the company products and services.
  3. Teaching coaches how to use influence in their coaching relationships.
  4. Showing claim reps how settling claims is a persuasive conversation.
  5. Building my presence outside of the organization through my writing, speaking and training under my company, Influence PEOPLE, LLC.

At the end of 2018, I decided it was time to leave my corporate role to pursue my passion full time. Now I work with individuals and organizations to help them apply the psychology of persuasion in everyday situations. I do this through writing, speaking, training, coaching and consulting. My overarching goal, my “Why” (to use Simon Sinek’s term) is to help people achieve more professional success and enjoy more personal happiness. I hope you’d agree, that’s a pretty good goal.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

Just Stop, Please!

I’m willing to bet you’ve experienced the following: Someone reaches out to connect on LinkedIn, you accept and immediately you’re hit with a sales pitch.

  • Want to impact more people? I’ve helped thousands of people on LinkedIn…
  • Hey, your business is interesting and I can help you reach more people by…
  • You really should consider building a video training platform.

Maybe you’ve experienced a subtler approach. Your new connection will ask you to tell them more about your business or yourself. Excuse me, if you read my LinkedIn profile or bothered to visit my website you’d know all about me and exactly what I do.

This approach is a lazy way to get you into a drawn out conversation by asking you a constant stream of questions. The questions are not to understand you or your business but rather so the person can pitch his or her products or services.

If you’re someone who does this I have some advice as someone who’s worked with salespeople for more than two decades: Just stop, please!

We know LinkedIn is designed for business. We expect to make connections and build networks of people we can help and that can help us. However, trying to make a sale as soon as you connect is as tactless as meeting someone for the first time then asking them to marry you. Maybe you’re not that ambitious so you just shoot for getting them in bed with you. Sorry for being so crass but that’s how yucky it feels when you attempt to “sell” someone as soon as you meet them.

The law of large numbers predicts you’ll land a few (dates or clients) but it’s not likely it will be a long-term relationship. Maybe I’m old fashioned but when I work with a client I want a relationship that persists. I want to have an impact on clients at the office and at home. I want them to enjoy more success and happiness as a result of their time with me. It’s not a wham-bam-thank you for the deal but time to move on.

To Do This Week

If you’re on the receiving end of the pitch here are your options:

  1. Remove the contact. It’s a good bet if you knew they were going to do that you would not have accepted.
  2. Don’t answer their questions. Rude? Perhaps but not any ruder than trying to sell you on the first date.

When you connect with people on LinkedIn

  1. Do not attempt to sell yourself, products or services right away. Let your new connection get to know you. If what you do provides value let them see that through the content you share and because of what others say about you.
  2. Spend time getting to know your connections. Show you’ve paid attention by pointing out what you’ve noticed and how what you do might help them.
  3. Finally, make sure your LinkedIn profile shows who you are and what you do. One of my biggest clients came about because they found me. They had a need, searched LinkedIn and realized I was the person with the skill and experience to help them. Invest in your profile because it’s an investment in yourself.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

Build Better Relationships Using Relational Influence

One key to living a successful, happy life are the relationships we build. The more connected you are at work the better your chances to get ahead. That’s because you have more people that can help you when you need it and more people to learn from.

On a personal level, strong relationships help us live happier, longer lives. That insight comes from a Harvard study that’s been following people for nearly 80 years.

This begs the question: How can we build relationships that can help us at the office and at home? A little influence goes a long way.

Liking

This principle of influence tells us it’s easier for people to say yes to those they know and like. While everyone understands this, the vast majority still go about it the wrong way. Rather than spending time trying to get people to like you, focus on liking the people you meet at work and outside of work.

Below are a half dozen ideas to help you do that. Each will make it easier for someone to like you but more importantly, each will also cause you to like the people you meet.

  1. Common – Find out what you have in common with people then talk about what you’ve discovered. It’s natural for us to like people we see as similar to ourselves. The more you see someone is like you, the easier it will be for  you to like them.
  2. Interests – Maybe you’re having a hard time finding similarities. No problem, make it a point to ask about things you know the other person enjoys. As they talk about people, activities or places they love they’ll associate those good feelings with you. At the same time, you’ll probably find them more interesting and likable.
  3. Compliment – When you look for the good in others and pay genuine compliments they feel good. If you’re authentic and do this regularly people will enjoy being around you. The reason you’ll like them more is because you begin to convince yourself about their goodness as you compliment them.
  4. Cooperate – When you and others put forth effort on something like a project, and have success, everyone tends to think more highly of each other. Knowing this, look for opportunities to work with people you want to build relationships with.
  5. Mirroring – When you make it a point to adopt a posture and mannerisms of someone else it gives a sense of comfort with you. That feeling of being in synch will also have you liking them more.
  6. Matching – Take a similar approach to language. For example: if someone speaks slowly, slow your pace. This is making a conscious choice to adjust yourself so the other person feels comfortable with you. You’ll find yourself feeling more comfortable with them too.

Unity

Unity goes much deeper than liking. Unity is about a oneness or deep connection you feel with someone else. When you experience unity it’s as if saying yes to the other person is saying yes to yourself.

Unity can’t me manufactured but when it’s discovered you need to talk about it. If you served in the same branch of the military as someone else or happen to be the same religious persuasion, make sure you bond over it. Discovering unity sets you in relationship immediately because you almost see the other person as an extension of yourself or somehow related.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity alerts us to the reality that we feel obligated to give back to those who first give to us. This is a relationship builder because when we give to or help others, they naturally appreciate the generosity and the person who enacted it.

The key here is to avoid the “give to get” mentality. If people think you’re only helping to get something it’s very likely they will reject your offer. Instead, give because it’s the right way, the best way, to live life. It’s when people sense your genuine kindness that they appreciate you and what you’ve done.

A few keys to giving that will increase the effectiveness:

  1. Make your giving personalized. They more your giving, or help, is specific to the individual the more it will mean.
  2. More is better. Any opportunity to give or help beyond the minimum will be appreciated even more.
  3. Unexpected giving or help means the most. When you proactively offer to help without being asked, that means a lot.

To Do This Week

If you want to start building stronger, lasting relationships focus on three things:

  1. Connect on liking by focusing on liking the people you meet.
  2. Look for shared identity – unity – and talk about it once you discover it.
  3. Have a giver mentality. Give generously and trust the rule for reciprocation will kick in.

Will everyone respond all the time? No. Will most people respond most of the time? Yes, and this is why you want to authentically engage liking, unity and reciprocity whenever possible.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

My Best Career & Life Choice

I want to share with you the best career choice, actually life choice, I ever made. This was brought to mind when I was listening to Patrick Leddin, Ph.D., host of The Leadership Lab Podcast, interview Karen Dillon. Karen coauthored How Will You Measure Your Life with the late Clayton Christensen.

The conversation brought me back to something I did more than 25 years ago after reading Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey had a chapter called “Begin with the End in Mind.” In that section of the book he encouraged readers to see themselves at their own funeral and then ask; what would I want people to say about me?

How you want to be remembered is the goal. Once that’s established, build a plan – a personal mission statement – that you can use to focus your activities and measure your life against.

I’ve reviewed mine, or at least parts of it, daily for the past 25 years. After that long it’s seeped into my subconscious and almost without thinking, begins to guide my actions.

I also shared it with my wife, my daughter when she was older, my boss and people at work whom I was leading. I gave them all permission to call me out if I was not living up to what I aspired to.

Below is my mission statement, which has only been modified slightly since I originally penned it. Yes, I wrote the original using pen and paper!

My Personal Mission Statement 

MY WHY: When I leave this earth and stand in the presence of the Lord, I hope to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant: you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)

In pursuit of my why, I will focus on my spiritual growth, my family, myself as an individual and my career.

SPIRITUAL: I want an intimate relationship with God through His Son Jesus. I want this relationship to be the priority in my life. I will live a life that’s consistent with biblical principles by looking to Jesus as my example. I will share Biblical love and truth with others in word and deed.

FAMILY: I will make my family my priority second only to my relationship with God. I will love and honor my wife Jane and daughter Abigail, building them up so they can become the people God intends them to be. I want to meet their needs to the best of my ability and help them live happy, fulfilled lives. I will strive to give unconditional love to Jane and Abigail, as well as other members of my family. I want to create a home environment where family members can come to me in times of need and develop to their fullest potential. I want to earn my family’s respect and be the kind of husband and father they can be proud of.

PERSONAL: I want to like who God created me to be; respect myself; maintain a balance between my mental and physical health; live my life with integrity by standing firm on my beliefs as outlined in this mission statement. I want to be open to change and accept when I’m wrong; be a good listener; continue to develop in the areas of loving, learning and relationships; smile, laugh and show my emotions more. I will not allow myself to be controlled by anyone or anything other than God because I have free will and therefore a choice in all matters. I will seek to understand others before trying to be understood. I want to be a leader and role model. I will always strive to be the best I can be at whatever I do by taking the long view, realizing growth comes day by day.

CAREER: I want Christ to be the centerpiece for all that I do at work. I will give my best effort to whatever task is given to me. I will focus on helping others achieve success and happiness. I hope to be remembered for making my workplace better for having been there in 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.

Finally, 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.

To Do This Week

I hope what I shared inspires you to do something similar because it’s such a worthwhile exercise. If it does, here are some steps you might want to consider:

  1. Pick up How Will You Measure Your Life or The 7 Habits.
  2. After reading, set aside time to think and write.
  3. Once you have your document, share it with a few key people. Do this for accountability and to inspire those others to do something similar.
  4. Post the document somewhere you can routinely see it. The act of writing is only the first step. You need to see it continually to serve as a reminder.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

The Intersection of Influence and Change Leadership

I often tell people, influence is the underpinning of selling. If you don’t know how to influence people you won’t be successful in sales. No ifs, ands or buts.

The same could be said for leadership and coaching. Sales, leadership and coaching all follow a predictable path: build relationships, help people overcome uncertainty then motivate people to act.

If you’ve been involved in change management projects you know that same path applies to organizational change. Before you can successfully implement change, you need to build relationships in order to gain trust, help people deal with the fear of the unknown, then get constituents to implement the necessary changes.

My good friend Jim Canterucci, Founder and President of Constituent Hub, asked me to partner with him to create a free video series to help change management professionals navigate organizational change more effectively.

What Jim and I have developed is a series of three videos to be dripped out over a 10-day period to introduce you to the psychology of persuasion and how it can be used throughout the change management process.

Interested in learning more? Click here to get started.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.

Need to Collect a Debt? Persuasion Can Help!

When people think of influence and persuasion they immediately gravitate to sales and leadership. That makes sense because at its core selling is about persuading prospects and clients regarding the merits of your product or service. Leadership conjures up thoughts of influencing people, moving the masses, to forge ahead with goals.

I’ve noticed that rarely do people think about influence in the following contexts:

  • Settling an insurance claim
  • Getting people to adhere to their appointments
  • Working in collections

The reality is, each of those is a persuasive conversation because the influencer is attempting to change someone’s behavior.

U.K. Tax Collections

When Steve Martin, CMCT, head of INFLUENCE AT WORK in the U.K., worked with officials from the U.K. tax office he demonstrated just how powerful a tool persuasion can be when it comes to something as difficult as collecting back taxes.

U.K. residents that don’t pay their taxes on time are sent a standard collection letter in an effort to get any monies owed the government. Usually collection letters use some implied threat of legal recourse to gain compliance. In response to the standard letter 67% of U.K. residents who were behind on tax payments sent in the money they owed. Not bad but the question is: could the do better?

Another group who were delinquent on their taxes received a different letter. This letter incorporated the fact that most citizens paid their taxes on time. The response rate went up 7.5% (67% to 73%) in response to this approach. While that wasn’t a huge jump, it was a very good return for doing nothing more than changing the words on a letter they’d already planned to send.

With a third group the response rate jumped 23.8% (67% to 83%)! That letter let people know that the vast majority of people in their town, people just like them, paid their taxes on time. Scale that increase across an entire county and you’re talking about millions of pounds (British currency) collected each year with no extra effort. Small change, BIG difference! For more details check out The Small Big (Martin, Goldstein, Cialdini).

Ohio Debt Collection

I shared the U.K. findings with a debt collection firm and they were amazed at the results. The firm wanted to see if changes to their collection letters might produce similar result so we started working together.

This particular firm is entrusted with collecting debt (back taxes, liens, etc.) owed to the state of Ohio. The original letters sent to people who owed money relied primarily on coercion: pay or else we will pursue a legal remedy.

We decided to change the standard letters by incorporating a little persuasive psychology. The small changes led to BIG differences for the firm. Below are a few changes in key metrics:

Overall response rate from people who called in or responded by mail jumped 52.5%. Whereas only a quarter (23.5%) of people responded to the original letter, more than a third (35.9%) of people who got the revised letters proactively reached out to the firm. This was significant because making contact is the most difficult part of the collection process.

In response to the new letters, phone calls from debtors increased by 84.6%. Under the old letters only 13.2% of people responded but with the revised letters 24.4% called in. This was especially significant because once the firm has someone on the phone they stand a much better chance of collecting whatever was owed. Even if they were not able to settle the debt in full, quite often they were able to gather enough information to set up a collection timetable.

Finally, the number of people from whom debt was collected increased 89.6%! Using their original letters, the firm only collected debt from one out of every six people (16.9%). However, with the modified letters that incorporated a little influence, one third (32.1%) of people paid off their debt or some portion of it.

When you put dollars to the collections, depending on the size of the firm, it results in tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of additional monies collected. This significant increase is only a result of changing letters. The opportunity to change how debt collectors interact with people can increase the numbers even more.

Conclusion

Don’t fall prey to thinking influence is only for salespeople and business leaders. Any role in an organization where success depends on getting others to do something different can benefit from understanding how to ethically influence people.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.