Just Okay Is Not Okay

Commercials are designed to move consumers to action. One commercial caught my attention recently because it made me laugh. AT&T’s Just Okay Is Not Okay shows a concerned couple in a hospital room waiting to meet the surgeon. They ask if the nurse has ever worked with the doctor. The nurse replies, “Oh yea, he’s okay.” The couple gets a concerned look and says, “Just okay?” The commercial concludes with “Just okay is not okay, especially when it comes to your network.” Want a good laugh? Watch the commercial.


You rely on experts every day and just okay is not okay. Sometimes you’re very aware of the need for expertise, like finding the right surgeon before an important procedure. Other times you don’t think as much about the level of expertise. Calling a plumber or finding an auto mechanic might fall into this category.

How do you tell the difference between? You don’t choose a surgeon based on his or her fees. Your concern is more about the reputation of the surgeon. What people have to say means far more than cost. However, when it comes to a plumber, mechanic or electrician quite often people will get several quotes and price is a big factor in the decision make process. You assume expertise because it’s likely the plumber, mechanic or electrician knows more than you but you’re not as nearly concerned with reputation.

Over my lifetime I’ve heard many people talk about their surgeon saying, “He’s great, one of the best in the area,” or “She’s been in practice for more than 20 years.” Not once have I heard such statements about a plumber, mechanic or electrician. Nope, it’s usually, “They did a great job and they weren’t a lot less than the other quotes I got.”

When the stakes go up you naturally become more concerned with reputation and less with cost. People will pay almost anything to get healthy but not to unclog a drain or have their brakes replaced.


But expertise by itself is not enough. The AT&T commercial highlights this when the doctor says, “Guess who got reinstated?” What? Why was he suspended? Who cares because you’d never feel good hearing that and whatever you might learn wouldn’t make you feel comfortable.

So, you don’t hire people on expertise alone. Whether it’s someone in home repair, investments or health care, if you hear anything negative about regarding trustworthiness you’re not likely to take a chance on the individual or firm.

For example, Bernie Madoff may know more about markets and investing than you or I but I’m confident you would never trust him with your money. In much the same way that reputation becomes more important as the stakes go up, so does the trust factor.


The commercial is a bit over the top but it’s funny because it’s true. You want to work with people who are great – not just okay – at what they do. And, you want those same experts to be trustworthy. That’s a powerful combination to justify doing business with someone.

To Do This Week

Let’s bring this back to you. What are you doing to increase your skills so you’re viewed as an expert? The law of averages says not everyone is great. Most are average and some are below average. Neither of those categories should be acceptable to you because they won’t be acceptable to someone who’s considering hiring you. One great way you can upskill is leveraging LinkedIn Learning. There are nearly 14,000 courses on almost anything you can imagine. Check it out, decide what you want to get better at then avail yourself of all the resources they offer.

What are you doing to build your trust level with people? Doing great work won’t be enough if you don’t deliver it when you said you would. You can reinforce your trust with simple phrases like, “As promised,” or “I wanted to get this to you early.” Those simple prompts will remind people you’re a person of your word.

Bottom line, set your sights on becoming a trusted expert and your ability to ethically persuade others will go up significantly.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, 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 and persuasion.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by almost 90,000 people around the world!

Truthfulness Matters…A Lot!

Ever since I was little I’ve been a truth teller. My mom used to joke that I couldn’t lie. I don’t recall telling the truth as something that was routinely hammered into my sister and me, so I’m not sure where my emphasis on the truth came from. And, despite a serious look I naturally display, I have no poker face. I think it’s an example of my body aligning with the core belief that telling the truth is important.

This jumped out at me when I watched a news segment recently where Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren was in an impromptu conversation with a Chicago resident about school choice. The resident said while people like Warren had the option of sending their kids to private school most people don’t really have that choice. Looking somewhat uncomfortable (like most politicians when they go off script) Warren responded saying her kids went to public school. Not an entirely true statement.

Warren’s daughter went to public school and so did her son but only through fifth grade. After that he attended private school. Warren’s answer gives her wiggle room but it was not an entirely true statement. I’m sure that Chicago resident would have pushed back had she known Warren’s son had a private education sixth grade through high school.

“Truth Telling”

This approach to “truth telling” is by no means limited to Warren. There are plenty of fact checks daily on President Trump’s statements. We saw it when President Obama said dozens of times that people would be able to keep their current doctor under Obamacare. President Bush made many statements about the war in Iraq that were less than truthful. And let’s not forget Bill Clinton wagging his finger at the television cameras as he told Americans, “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman,” referring to Monica Lewinsky.

Forgive me if I tell you, I hardly believe a word that comes out of politician’s mouths these days. After 55 trips around the sun I’m very jaded when it comes to what people will say and do when power is on the line.

Lying by Commission

This takes place when you knowingly tell a falsehood. It doesn’t matter what your motive is, lying is lying. When you stretch the true as a means to your own ends, say what you will but you’re a manipulator.

Some do this because they think people can’t handle the truth. That’s a lack of respect. Imagine someone saying to you, “I would have told you the truth but I didn’t think you could handle it.” How would you feel? What you do with the truth, how you handle it, is up to you.

Lying by Omission

This is when you know something would impact a person’s decision in a way you don’t like so you decide not to bring it up. In other words, you knowingly omit the truth.

Let’s say I’m selling my house and there’s a big crack in the basement floor. Knowing this might change your decision to buy, or at least reduce the price you offer, I put a huge area rug over the crack and hope you don’t ask about it.

How will you feel if you buy the house then discover the crack? If you confront me about the crack and I say, “You didn’t ask about it,” I doubt you’ll think I was truthful. No matter what I might tell myself, I know deep down I wasn’t truthful because the truth would have changed your decision.

Truth Telling, Trust Building

When you admit a weakness or shortcoming in your offer, you can actually gain credibility because you’re seen as trustworthy. After admitting a weakness, the key is to then transition to something positive. In the case of Elizabeth Warren, she could have answered the Chicago resident as follows:

“I understand your frustration with public education. I say that because my daughter attended public school through high school. My son did so through fifth grade then we decided to put him in a private school. Because of that experience I’m well aware of the difference between a public and private education. I agree that it’s not fair only a select few can get a better education. My pledge is to change that.”

To Do This Week

Don’t lie. Instead, commit to being a truth teller. When there’s something that might be viewed as a weakness in your offer, bring it up early. After that, segue to the best parts of what you have to offer. Do so and you’ll feel better about yourself, gain credibility, and be known as a person with good character. I’ll leave you with a quote from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international speaker, 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 when it comes to the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – has been one of the top 10 selling Amazon books in several insurance categories and cracked the top 50 in sales & selling.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses have been viewed by more than 85,000 people around the world! His newest course – Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalities – is now available through LinkedIn Learning.

5 Trust Essentials Because Trust is so Essential

Trust is essential in any relationship, business or personal. The late Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, put it this way, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

It won’t matter how skilled you are in your profession if the people you interact with don’t trust you. And once trust is lost, it’s very, very hard to earn back. I often hear people talk about trust without every mentioning what you can do to build trust. I’m going to take as a given that you’re truthful. By that I mean, you tell the truth and don’t hide the truth. Beyond truth telling, let’s look at five trust essentials.

Give Back

Giving back after you’ve been given to is a trust essential. It’s playing by the rule of reciprocity. Breaking the rules in society, at work, in games, or just about anywhere else is a surefire way to lose trust.

Reciprocity is such a common norm that social scientists agree; every human society raises its people in the way of reciprocity. Giving and getting in return allows people to accomplish far more in life because resources are shared.

When people don’t play by the rule we call them takers. Nobody wants to be around takers let alone give to them. Don’t be a taker! When people give to you, make sure you look for ways to return the favor.

Admit Weakness

Newsflash: nobody is perfect, no product is perfect, and there’s no perfect service. Acting as is if you or your offering is flawless is another surefire way to lose trust. Why? Because any prospective client you interact with knows nothing is perfect.

If you want to gain trust, admit any weakness or shortcoming early. Doing so gains you credibility because you’re viewed as honest. Another benefit of dealing with a shortcoming early is, it usually takes it off the table so you can focus on your product or service strengths.

A wonderful example of admitting weakness is my long-time friend Al. Our first conversation more than 30 years ago started with him telling me he’d just gotten out of a six-week alcohol rehab facility. His admission let me know I could be completely honest with him in return. His admission was a trust builder. And great news – Al never drank again!

Keep Your Word

While you know your heart, people only see your actions. This is important to remember because people judge you not by your intent but by your deeds. If you say you’ll be somewhere or commit to doing something with someone but fail to follow through you lose a little bit of trust. Do it too often and trust erodes quickly.

One way to highlight you’re keeping your word is to occasionally say, “As promised…” then mention what you’re following through on.

  • “As promised, here’s the report you asked for.”
  • “As promised, I placed the order for you this afternoon.”

It’s human nature to notice and remember when things go wrong so people are likely to remember your failure more than the times you followed through. Using a phrase like, “As promised…” reminds others you’re a person of your word.

Take Responsibility

In his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie wrote, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” More than 80 years after Carnegie penned those words his advice still applies.

You gain trust when you step up and admit a mistake before anyone knows about it. Who would you trust more: a) the person who owns up to a mistake proactively or b) the person who knew about a mistake but did nothing about it until confronted? The answer is pretty obvious.

If you’re unaware of a mistake but it’s brought to your attention, own it. The more you try to deny, justify or shift the burden the more you’ll lose trust. I’ve generally found people to be far more forgiving than my irrational fears might have led me to believe. Don’t give in to fear.

Offer Help

Helping when you don’t have to, when you will gain nothing, earns trust. Too often people are seen as helping so they can get something in return. When you have the capacity (time, skill, relationship, etc.) to genuinely help another person do so.

Why would someone help when they don’t have to and they get nothing in return? Most likely because they’re a decent human being. We tend to trust caring people more than those who engage in quid quo pro actions.

Earlier I mentioned don’t be a taker. Now go one step further and be a giver.


Trust is essential for good, strong, productive relationships. It’s too important to leave to chance so be proactive in building and maintaining trust. While there are more things you can do beyond what I’ve noted, these five things are a great starting point.

To Do This Week

Focus on what I’ve shared, consciously trying to implement each:

  1. Give back
  2. Admit weakness
  3. Keep your word
  4. Take responsibility
  5. Offer help

Do so and you’ll become an even more trustworthy individual.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international speaker, 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 when it comes to the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – has been one of the top 10 selling Amazon books in several insurance categories and cracked the top 50 in sales & selling.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses have been viewed by more nearly 80,000 people around the world! His newest course – Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalities – is now available through LinkedIn Learning.

I’m Sorry

Last week I wrote about the importance of saying, “Thank you.” It’s always appreciated and might make someone’s day. This week we’ll go to the opposite end of the spectrum to focus on, “I’m sorry.” Saying you’re sorry is hard but it can also make someone’s day a little brighter and make you more influential in the long run.

This post was inspired by someone I met in June when I was the opening keynote speaker at the S.I.T.E. Conference in Memphis, TN. Meg McKeen and I struck up a conversation over dinner then connected on LinkedIn. She’s an insurance agent in Chicago and recently posted about her car getting sideswiped. Being an insurance agent, she’s properly covered. However, the person who damaged her car didn’t take responsibility. No note, no “I’m sorry,” no nothing. She said that stung and I get it.

A Story with a Moral

When my daughter Abigail was 10 years old my wife had gone out of town. She asked that I take Abigail to Walmart to pick up her new glasses. Abigail was excited to get her new glasses just in time for the movies that night.

We walked into the eye care section of the store and were helped right away. Unfortunately, the person helping us could not locate the glasses and said they must be at another store. I explained that my wife had taken Abigail to that particular Walmart because it was very close to our eye doctor.

Finally, a manager came over and tried to help but to no avail. He said the glasses were at another store on Morse Road, about seven miles away. To his credit, he did everything right. Nonetheless, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t do or say anything I would have been embarrassed by but had you seen me you would have known I wasn’t a happy customer.

As we left I called my wife to let her know what happened. She said, “You know, I think we were at the store on Morse Road.” My initial thought was, “You made me look like an idiot!” Then I caught myself and thought, “No, I made me look like an idiot.”

Convicted that I could have handled the situation differently, Monday morning I called Walmart and asked for Jason, the manager. We had an exchange that went something like this:

  • Me – “I don’t know if you remember me but I was in last weekend to pick up some glasses for my daughter.”
  • Jason – “I remember you. How can I help you?”
  • Me – “I’m calling to apologize.”
  • Jason – “Apologize for what?”
  • Me – “For how I acted.”
  • Jason – “You didn’t act bad compared to most customers.”
  • Me – “Maybe not but I was upset with something that wasn’t your fault. You did everything right and I should not have been angry.”
  • Jason – “Man, you just made my day. No, you made my week! If you ever need anything please ask for me and I’ll personally help you.”

The Moral of the Story

Most good stories have a moral, something to learn. In this case it was a lesson for me and for my daughter. Later I told Abigail I had called the store to apologize. She asked why and I told her I should not have been upset with the manager. I also let her know mom and dad wouldn’t always be around to prompt her to say “I’m sorry,” that sometimes you just have to step up to apologize without someone telling you to do so.

Apologizing and Influence

Most people don’t enjoy saying, “I’m sorry.” We don’t like to think we’re wrong, have done something wrong or might have hurt someone. But, none of those negates that reality that we might have blown it.

One benefit of admitting a mistake is that you can actually build your authority with others. The principle of authority tells us people pay more attention to credible experts. Part of your credibility is being trustworthy and trust often comes when you admit a weakness. Don’t you respect someone more when they’ve owned up to something like a mistake? I know I do. We’d all be better off if more people said, “I’m sorry,” and took took responsibility.

To Do This Week

Last week I encouraged you to take a moment to thank someone. This week the encouragement is to step up and say, “I’m sorry,” if you’ve made a mistake or hurt someone. You’ll feel relieved, might make someone’s day a little brighter despite what happened and you’ll remove some of the sting from whatever prompted the apology.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach, consultant, and author, 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 when it comes to the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – went live on August 20 and has been one of the top 10 selling Amazon books in the insurance space and in the top 100 in the sales & selling category since launching.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture, have been viewed by more than 70,000 people! Keep an eye out for Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalitiesthis month.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend – Volkswagen Overcoming Scandal

While watching the men’s U.S. Golf Open Championship this past weekend my attention was grabbed by the new Volkswagen commercial “Hello Light.” The commercial is easily the best I’ve seen in years! It’s eerie, dark, and set to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic folk rock song, The Sound of Silence. I encourage you to take a moment to watch it because I think you’ll be blown away.

You may recall, four years ago Volkswagen was embroiled in a scandal. The giant car manufacturer falsified emissions results in the lab for its turbo charged diesel engines. It turned out the engines actually emitted 40 times more nitrogen oxide in the real world than in the lab!

Until that point, Volkswagen had a great reputation with the public. They set themselves apart in the automotive industry in the 1960’s with the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus. However, their stock price fell from around $26 a share to about $10 in the wake of the scandal.

Here we are in 2019, and with the emissions scandal mostly behind them you might wonder why they would bring it up in their commercial. Because it will ultimately help them!

In the study of influence there’s a principle of persuasion known as authority. It describes the reality that people are more willing to follow the lead of people or companies that are viewed as authorities. Volkswagen enjoyed that status for many decades but lost the public’s trust in the wake of the scandal. That’s important because in order to leverage authority to move people to action you have to have expertise and trustworthiness.

It might seem counterintuitive to mention the scandal but it can actually help Volkswagen. Studies show, when you mention a weakness or own up to a mistake you’re seen as more trustworthy. By referencing the scandal Volkswagen is owning its mistake rather than hiding from it. In doing so they can regain some trust. They do this brilliantly near the end of the commercial when the following appears on screen; “In the darkness, we found the light.”

But you can’t just admit weakness and leave it there. If that’s all Volkswagen did then people would only talk about the emissions scandal. In order to turn the corner, the next step is to segue into a strength. By doing this people tend to remember the strength, not the weakness or mistake. In the case of Volkswagen, they end the commercial telling viewers they’re now making electric cars. With the move from diesel to electric cars the public doesn’t have to worry about emissions and pollution. No more emission producing cars, no more chance for emissions scandals.

Only time will tell if Volkswagen’s approach works but I’m betting it will. For the most part, people are forgiving with the passage of time when an organization or person apologizes. Enough time has passed since the scandal, the company has owned it, and they’re focusing the public on the fact that they’re moving in a new direction. Kudos to Volkswagen on all fronts.


Learn from Volkswagen and science. If you’ve made a mistake don’t try to cover it up, hope people won’t notice, or pray it will just go away. Own it! Make sure you mention your mistake early then use a transitional word like “but” or “however” to segue into a strength. In doing so you’ll be seen as more trustworthy and people will be far more likely to remember your strengths as opposed to weaknesses or mistakes.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence. Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – will be available for pre-sale July 9and goes live on August 20.

His LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by nearly 70,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title 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 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.

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 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.

Perhaps the Most Persuasive Advertisement Ever

Ernest Shackleton might not be a familiar name because his famous expedition to Antarctica took place more than 100 years ago. In one sense it ended in failure but viewed from a different lens it was one of the greatest human achievements ever. To entice men to join him he used perhaps the most persuasive advertisement ever.

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and 28 men boarded the Endurance and set sail for Antarctica. The goal was to be the first humans to cross the continent using sled dogs. Weather conditions not only prevented the crew from achieving their goal, they were stranded for nearly two years on the continent and a small island. Despite the dangers, miraculously everyone survived. I encourage you to watch this National Geographic documentary to learn about this amazing triumph of the human spirit.

Legend has it  that Shackleton took out an ad (no one can find the original) in an English newspaper that read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Take another look at the ad and think about it for just a moment. It starts with bad news and that bad news is nearly three quarters of the message! Why would anyone lead with bad news when it could turn away prospective crew members before they even finished reading it? A case could be made to not share any bad news because it might scare potential crew off. If it had to be shared then at least minimize the bad news and put it at the end. And despite these seeming errors, it was perhaps the most persuasive advertisement ever!

I’ll go so fas as to say, whoever wrote the ad copy was brilliant! Why do I believe that? Because, despite having no research to fall back on from behavioral economics or social psychology, the writer tapped into exactly what the research would have told them to do in order to be persuasive.

First is the ethics. It would have been unethical to try to hide the fact that the trip was going to be extremely dangerous. Being truthful about that most important fact gained Shackleton instant credibility from people considering joining him. After all, if he was truthful enough to address that right away he must be a pretty honest guy.

Second is the magnitude of the negative. As noted above, the bulk of the message (70% with 17 of 24 words) is related to the negative news. Shackleton wasn’t trying to hide the reality that it would be a very dangerous expedition. Only “You will die” would have been worse than “Safe return doubtful.” Shackleton didn’t try to minimize the danger, he actually went out of his way to highlight it!

Third is the order of the words. By starting with the bad news even more credibility was gained for Shackleton. More important than that; by ending the with good news – “Honour and recognition in event of success” – potential crew members were focused on the positive. Consider the two paragraphs below then ask yourself which would be more likely to motivate you to join Shackleton’s crew.

  1. “Honour and recognition in event of success. Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful.”
  2. “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

I’m sure the vast majority of readers opted for paragraph #2.

When it comes to recruiting to join you or your organization you may not need people who will risk life and limb but you can take the lessons from Shackleton’s approach to be a more effective persuader.

First, be an ethical influencer and share the downside about what you’re asking. Don’t stop there, make sure you share it in such a way that there’s no doubt about it, no perception you tried to hide anything negative. Next, consider the order of your message. Most of the time you’ll want to start with the negative and end with the positive because people tend to remember what comes last. Finally, something not in Shackleton’s ad that you’ll want to consider is separating the bad from the good with a transitional word like “but” or “however.” Transitional words emphasize the difference even more and make the end more likely to be remembered and acted on.

Simple advice that goes against “common sense” but can help you succeed professionally and personally.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His 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.

Systems Plus Persuasion Equal Success

Something I’ve noticed over time is how much systems contribute to success. It’s not to say that being carefree and creative don’t have value – they do. However, my observation has been with most things – learning, fitness, health, sales, coaching, leadership, etc. – having good systems in place are much more beneficial than winging it. Even with creative endeavors like improv comedy, there’s a system or approach that’s used. It may appear as though those doing the comedy are just going with the flow but there’s a structure underneath their creativity.

Two athletic examples come right to mind when I think about systematic approaches: weightlifting and running.

As a teenager I learned a system for weightlifting that made a world of difference. Before my junior season of high school football, I worked out consistently for a year and only gained 5 lbs. Pretty disappointing! During the offseason before my senior year I learned a system for working out and put on 30 lbs. before the season started. At my peak in college I was 90 lbs. heavier than when I first started lifting.

When I took up running my first marathon was a disaster. I covered the 26.2 miles in four hours and fourteen minutes and “hit the wall” about 20 miles into the race. Then I learned a system for running and eventually cut an hour off of that first marathon time and qualified for the Boston Marathon in the process.

In business I’ve seen this play out time and time again. People and organizations with systematic approaches win consistently. Let’s take leadership, sales and coaching as examples.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning and applying leadership concepts from Focus 3. At a high level their system focuses on three things: leaders, culture and behavior.

In the Focus 3 approach leaders create the culture that drives the behaviors that lead to results. If you want better results you need better behaviors which means creating the right culture to support the right behaviors. That’s why culture is the #1 responsibility of leaders.

When it comes to behavior Focus 3 uses the following formula: E+R=O. In plain English this means Event plus Response equals Outcome. Life happens (events) and we usually have no control over those events in the moment. We can influence outcomes in the direction we want by choosing disciplined responses. These disciplined responses are our behaviors.

When it comes to sales the system is pretty simple. Selling is about building rapport with the prospective customer, overcoming objections they may pose then closing the sale.

Coaching has a system very similar to sales. Coaching also starts with building rapport, gaining trust, then motivating the person being coached to new behaviors. Without relationship and trust it’s not likely someone will follow the advice of a coach.

Where does influence come into these business systems? Every step of the way! According to Aristotle, persuasion is about getting people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Whether you’re leading, selling or coaching, the principles of influence can be used to support the system because they can be used to change behaviors. For example, the principles we call liking and reciprocity are excellent ways to build rapport. To gain someone’s trust or overcome objections the principles of authority and consensus come into play. And finally, to close a sale or motivate behavior change try the principles of consistency or scarcity. Do you have a system in place that will lead you to success? If so, then consider how you’ll execute your system. If your system involves other people at any point then you’ll want to decide which principles of persuasion you can tap into to get a better result.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.