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A Huge Life Change is Upon Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Lynda.com 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.

Persuasive Coaching: To Lead Learn How to Follow

Over Christmas my wife and I got into Game of Thrones. We’re a little late to the “game” but managed to plow through nearly four seasons of the show! One scene in particular caught my attention. Jeor Mormont, the old, gruff commander of the men of the Nights Watch, said to Jon Snow, the impetuous bastard son of nobleman Ed Stark, “You want to lead one day, then learn how to follow!”

The reason this caught my attention was because of the coaching we do at State Auto Insurance. We developed a 2-hour workshop for all employees called Coaching U and Your Career. During our time together we focus on why the company moved from performance management to a coaching culture, how to be coachable and what coaching can do for an employee’s personal and professional goals.

Something we emphasize during the training is this: when you learn to be coachable you’re also learning many of the same skills it takes to be a good coach.

For a moment think about great coaches you’ve had, whether in sports, business or some other area of life. What qualities did they display? If you’re like people who attend our workshops many of these words might have come to mind: patient, good listener, teacher, trust, care, friend, team player, expertise, knowledgeable, communicator.

Now consider this. If you were a manager charged with coaching your team, what qualities would you want people to display? These are the words we hear quite often: trust, vulnerable, listen, team player, eager, care, patient, confidence, open-minded, communicator.

Do you see the overlap in traits? About half of the words – trust, listen, team player, care, patient and communicator – appear on both lists. When you’re coachable you’re learning what it takes to coach.

Here’s the good news – each of these traits is a skill which means with concentration and practice you can get better at each. Work on being more coachable and you’re laying the foundation to be a coach.

In business, everyone needs to be coachable because, depending on the environment, we all experience times when we’re in subordinate positions. Even CEOs report to the board of trustees in the organizations they lead so they need to be coachable too.

In much the same way that Jeor Mormont admonished Jon Crow, “You want to lead one day, then learn how to follow,” if you want to coach one day then learn how to be coachable.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 110,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Persuasive Coaching: Conclusion

This is the final installment of the persuasive coaching series. After an introduction we looked at the need for the right relationship with the right coach, building rapport, gaining trust, good questioning, and how to be a listening STAR.

Coaching can be an incredibly effective way for people to grow professionally and personally. Do people need a coach? Most don’t think they do. It reminds me of people who go to the gym but never work with a personal trainer. Too many have just enough knowledge and self-confidence to think they don’t need a fitness trainer. However, those who hire a trainer usually make more progress and do so much faster because they get expert advice, increase their motivation, and establish an accountability relationship. Why do you think the greatest athletes in the world continue to work with coaches? Because no matter how great they are a good coach can help them get even better.

As a coach, you need to help those you coach by giving them expertise they might not have access to otherwise. With trained eyes and ears you may notice things the coachee is blind to. Your expert advice might be what’s needed to break a bad pattern or limiting belief. After all, if someone keeps doing what they’ve always done they can’t expect to change for the better.

Motivation is also key because we can all get stuck in a rut every now and then. It’s easy to lose the passion we had when we first met our spouse, started a new career, or embarked on a new hobby. Having someone to help us rekindle that spark and maintain it is huge because it can become an important source of energy that’s used to reach your goals. It’s also especially important to help coachees persevere through tough times.

Accountability is the kick in the ass many of us need to follow through. Knowing someone will ask us if we did what we said taps into the principle of consistency. As I noted in previous posts, most people want to feel good and look good so they work hard to keep their word. When a coach asks, “So by next week you’ll do X?” and we answer, “Yes,” most of us will go out of our way to do X. If the coaching has been good and is moving us towards our goals then we’ll be thankful for the accountability.

I’ll close with this in regards to coaching and accountability; the late Tom Landry, Hall of Fame football coach for the Dallas Cowboys, put it this way, “My job is to get men to do the things they don’t want to do so they can accomplish what they’ve always wanted to accomplish.” If you can motivate people to do what they need to so they can reach their dreams then the sky is the limit for you as coach.

Persuasive Coaching: Listening STARS

Last week we explored the necessity of asking good questions if you want to be a persuasive coach. You’ll recall the right questions can be effective because they tap into the principle of consistency. It won’t do much good to ask lots of questions if you don’t spend focused effort listening. This week we’ll explore five tips to help you grow in this area.

There are several levels of listening and the two you should shoot for as a coach are attentive and empathic.

Empathetic listening is where you seek to put yourself in the place of the other person. You not only understand where they’re coming from, you have a strong sense of how they feel. Empathy is different than sympathy.

Imagine someone tells you they lost their job. You might feel sympathy for them because you know intellectually it must be difficult and scary. The person who empathizes wouldn’t just acknowledge those feelings, to the best of their ability they’d allow themselves to feel the anger, hurt, and scariness that come with losing a job.

Empathetic listening is something most of us shy away from because it often entails feeling emotions we’d prefer to avoid. After all, who want to feel bad if they can avoid it?

Attentive listening allows you to understand where the other person is coming from but not necessarily feeling all the feelings. If you can’t empathize then attentive listening is the next best thing because at least the other person has been heard and you’re still in a better position to coach them.

How can we listen attentively and perhaps empathetically? Most people never consider how they could be a better listener and very few have view listening as a skill that can be improved. When I teach classes on communication I often share a method to help people become Listening STARS.

STARS is an acronym that stands for: Stop, Tone, Ask, Restate, Scribble. We’ll take a brief look at these five simple steps which, if put into practice, will make you much a more effective listener and better coach.

Stop. First, you need to stop whatever you’re doing when someone is talking to you. Doing so conveys respect and makes the other person feel important. Additionally, you will catch more of what he or she is saying because multi-tasking is a myth. You cannot listen when you’re texting, typing an email, or doing any other activity that taxes your cognitive abilities. Many studies show the best you can do is switching quickly from one task to another which means there are times you’re not listening.

Tone. Paying attention to tone is important because it often conveys feelings. When I ask my wife Jane how she’s doing and I hear, “Fine,” in a short, terse tone I know she’s not fine and wants me to ask how she’s really doing. Much like body language, tone can indicate how someone is really feeling.

Ask. This reminds us to ask clarifying questions. Normally I don’t advise people to interrupt someone when they’re talking but the exception is to get clarification on something that was shared to prevent miscommunication. Another advantage of asking clarifying questions is doing so shows you’re actively listening.

Restate. It’s one thing to think you understand another person but it’s altogether different to actually understand them. Never assume. Instead, take a moment to restate in your own words what you think he or she is trying to convey. If you realize you don’t either ask more questions or have them to tell you their story again.

Scribble. If you can take notes do so. When you do this don’t try to write the next great American novel because you’ll miss too much if you’re too focused on writing. Try to bullet point key concepts that will trigger more detailed thoughts when you reread your notes.

Each of these five steps is simply a choice but don’t fool yourself – listening is hard work. To improve it will take time, energy, and patience. Like most skills you need to succeed in business and life, listening needs to be worked on continually. It’s not easy but the personal and professional benefits are huge.

Persuasive Coaching: Ask the Right Questions

A good coach is a lot like a good salesperson. A good salesperson never makes you feel pressured or sold. Using a combination of questions and a conversational tone a good salesperson helps the prospective customer uncover their needs. Next, the salesperson engages the prospective customer so he or she sees the right service or product to meet their needs.

In a similar way, a good coach will have a conversation where lots of questions are asked so the person being coached – the coachee –  feels like they came up with the solution to their challenges.

People who self-generate their own ideas will always be more committed to them than ideas that come from being told what to do. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, clearly understood this when he encouraged readers to, “Let the other person feel the idea is theirs.”

Why is this approach so effect? Because of Robert Cialdini’s principle of consistency. The psychological principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure as well as external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.

As little pleasure seekers and pain avoiders humans work hard to make sure their words and deeds line up. When we do what we say we’ll do we feel better about ourselves. We also look better to others when we consistently keep our word. Both are strong motivators of behavior.

Being more committed to whatever solution the person being coached comes up with isn’t the only benefit of asking good questions. Asking questions and engaging in dialog also helps shape the coachee’s thinking. The more they learn to critically think and solve their own problems the more self-sufficient they become. That independence usually means they can make more decisions and do so faster.

If you’ve raised kids you know how important it is to help them develop their thinking because mom and dad won’t always be around to answer questions. The same can be said of a coach.

I’ll close with a quote from Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master the Art of Selling. Tom tells audiences, “When you say it they doubt it but when they say it they believe it.” Ask the right questions and the person you’re coaching will believe in the answers they come up with, be more committed to their ideas, and will have learned how to solve their own problems.

Persuasive Coaching: The Right Relationship, The Right Coach

Not too long ago, on a Saturday afternoon I was having a cup of coffee with my daughter Abigail. One of her friends stopped by and as you might expect, the conversation turned to what each of them had done the previous Friday night.

Abigail’s friend talked about how she and her boyfriend played pool. Her friend said she’s not a good pool player and her boyfriend tried to “coach” her. If you’re thinking, “I bet that didn’t go too well,” you’re right.

After a while I shared with the two of them that in order for coaching to work you have to have the right relationship and the right coach. For example, my wife Jane is an avid golfer. On her best days, she shoots in the upper 70s. I learned the game as a kid, took lots of lessons, and even played at one of the best courses in the United States – Jack Nicklaus’s Muirfield Village Golf Course. Despite my background, I don’t give Jane any advice unless specifically asked. If you’re been married for any length of time you know what I’m talking about. Having shared that, many people – perhaps even you – could give unsolicited advice to Jane and she’d give it serious consideration.

This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to spousal relationships. Why is this the case? Sometimes the more we’re known the more we’re taken for granted. Jesus noticed this an said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (New Living Translation)

Sometimes those most familiar to us, even though they have our best interest at heart, are rejected when it comes to advice. This can happen in business as well as personal life. Someone within the confines of a company can be seen as just a coworker and not an expert even though they may have plenty of expertise.

How can you overcome this? Tap into the principle of authority in two specific ways; create expertise inside the business and establish your expertise outside of your company.

Within the business work on getting one coworker to listen to your advice and try it. Once you’ve done this (assuming your advice worked well) you’ve established beachhead of sorts. With one person won over it becomes easier to win over the second, third and so on. By doing this you gain advocates (the principle of consensus) which makes future opportunities easier because those advocates can “brag on you” in ways you cannot, at least without seeming like a boastful jerk.

Outside of the business how can you establish expertise? You can blog, write a book, give presentations, create videos to name just a few. As you do this and begin to gain some notoriety. When people at work see others paying attention to your expertise it’s likely they will too. That’s also the power of the principle of consensus.

When it comes to persuasive coaching, assuming you’ve done a good job establishing rapport and building trust, people want to know they’re dealing with someone who really knows their stuff – an expert. What are you good at, known for and/or passionate about? Make sure others know that about you and you’ll begin to attract the right people to coach because you’ll have the right relationship and be seen as the right coach.

Persuasive Coaching – The Importance of Building Rapport

When it comes to coaching, building rapport is almost as important as gaining trust. Rapport is essentially that feeling of connection you have with another person. If you’re like most people you can usually tell when you have rapport with someone. However, like most people you probably could do a better job at creating rapport with a little help from social psychology.

Rapport is analogous to what Robert Cialdini calls the principle of liking. This principle of influence tells us it’s easier for people to say yes to us when they know and like us. There are many things we’ll say yes to when a friend asks. On the flip side, we’re usually quite comfortable saying no to someone we don’t know or don’t like. For example, if a friend asked you to go out for drinks after work it would probably be easy to say yes. But, if someone you don’t know asks I bet it would be just easy to say, “No thanks.”

When it comes to coaching, rapport or liking, is important because it’s easier for someone you’re coaching to say yes to your advice if they know and like you. There’re two simple things you can do to engage this powerful psychology. Look for what you have in common with another person and offer genuine compliments.

When you know you have something in common with someone it’s easy for them to like you. For example, if you find out you root for the same sports team, went to the same college, or grew up in the same town, it’s easy to have an immediate connection with someone.

When it comes to compliments, we all feel good when someone pays us to genuine complement. Unfortunately, too often people leave good thoughts in their head rather than expressing them to another person. While thinking good thoughts may positively impact you, you don’t get the same bang for the buck as if you actually shared a compliment with the other person. That’s so because sharing compliments naturally makes other people like you more.

Here’s a very important point; the power of the principle of liking isn’t about getting people to like you. The power comes when you like the other person. When you look for what you have in common and pay attention to things you can genuinely complement you will start to like the other person more. This is where everything changes! When someone senses you like them they’ll be much more open to whatever advice you may share with them.

A big part of coaching is getting people to change their behavior. Coaches try to get those they work with to discard unproductive behaviors and embrace new productive ones. This is where persuasion comes in handy because persuasion is all about changing people’s behavior. How you communicate may make all the difference between yes and no.

If we go back to our definition of the principle of liking – it’s easier for people to say yes to those they know and like – then hopefully you see why this principle is so important in coaching. If the person you’re coaching likes you and knows that you like them they’ll be much more open to any suggestions that you may have to help them improve.

When you’re in a position where you have to coach others, I cannot encourage you enough to build rapport by tapping into the principle of liking. Not only will the person you’re coaching be more inclined to make the productive changes they need, you’ll enjoy the process because you’ll like those you coach much more.

Persuasive Coaching – Competency and Trust, Two Sides of the Same Coin

In order for business coaches to be successful two elements are absolutely essential. First, they have to know what they’re talking about. In a word, they have to be competent. Second, they need to gain the trust of the people they’re coaching.

It’s of little value to be exceptionally intelligent if someone doesn’t trust your advice and direction. On the flip side, it won’t matter how trustworthy you are if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Competency and trust are two sides of the same coin so let’s see how persuasion can help those qualities come to the forefront in coaching.

Competence is simply knowing your stuff. This is important because it’s human nature to be more open to new ideas and change when we know the person we’re interacting with has expertise. That’s Robert Cialdini’s principle of authority in action.

Having expertise doesn’t mean coaches know everything. A coach doesn’t always have to know more than the person they’re coaching although it certainly helps. What’s important is that good coaches have trained eyes and ears they use skillfully to observe situations and behaviors. They may make suggestions based on their observations but the better route is to ask good questions because doing so allows the person being coached to come up with their own solutions. Taking this approach is especially helpful because it taps into the principle of consistency.

Consistency alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and what they do. When someone believes they’ve come up with a solution, as opposed to being told what to do, they own it more because of consistency. A sense of pride comes into play because we all feel our ideas are good ideas. This is why Dale Carnegie encouraged readers of How to Win Friends and Influence People to, “Let the other person to feel the idea is theirs.” Remember, competent coaches ask good questions!

Competence is also displayed through wisdom which is the application of knowledge. It’s not enough to be smart, you have to know how to apply those smarts in ways that help the people you’re coaching. When you know someone has done something for a long time you naturally assume they’re good at it. Something as simple as, “Sally, I’ve been doing this for more than 15 years now and what I’ve found is…” That little reminder of  years of experience makes the coach more credible. Of course, this can also be accomplished with a good bio or third party introduction.

When it comes to trust, credibility can be enhanced by admitting weakness. Nobody has all the answers so sometimes admitting that to the person you’re coaching gains trust because they view you as more honest. “Joe, that’s a great question, one I’ve never considered before. Would it be okay if I looked into it and got back with you during our next coaching session?”

Another way to gain trust is by displaying good character and adhering to consistency can help you. As a coach, when you do what you said you would do you’re more believable and trust grows. In the example above, getting back to Joe in the next coaching session gives Joe a reason to trust you. Little acts of doing what you promised reveal character and build trust over time.

One last way to enhance trust is by engaging the principle of liking. Liking tells us it’s easier for people to say “Yes” to those they know and like. When you engage this principle don’t focus on getting the other person to like you. Instead, engage the principle with the intent of coming to like the person you’re coaching. When someone sees you truly like them you get a whole host of benefits and one big benefit is trust. After all, we naturally assume people who like us want the best for us and will do right by us. In short, you gain trust when someone knows you truly like them.

Remember, competency and trust are different sides of the same coin. You need both to be an effective coach and now you have a few simple ways to enhance them using persuasion when you coach.

Persuasive Coaching – An Introduction

In 2010, the company I’ve worked for the past 27 years, State Auto Insurance, implemented business coaching in the sales area. I had the opportunity to lead that change and actively participate as a sales coach. For a year and a half I was on the phone every month with nearly three dozen sales manages. After that I was assigned to work with a dozen regional vice presidents for the next four and a half years.

Because I was outside the manager’s and vice president’s chains of command I was able to bring a unique perspective to the coaching process. Fast forward to 2016 I was asked to participate in a companywide transformation as State Auto moved from a performance management organization to a coaching culture.

For the next several weeks I’ll share coaching concepts with readers and tie in the psychology of persuasion to the coaching process. Let’s start with some terminology.

What is persuasion? I think Aristotle has the best definition I’ve heard to date. He said persuasion was the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Persuasion is not just about changing minds, it’s about changing behaviors.

What is coaching? There’s no set definition that everyone agrees on but the description I like most is this: coaching is the ongoing process of improving performance and results through continuous feedback. Improving the right skills should lead to better performance and ultimately better results. Make no mistake, you can improve skills and performance but the bottom line is improving results in business coaching. If results don’t improve then circle back to see if the right skills are being addressed.

I believe good coaching helps people improve so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability AND prepares them for future opportunities. A side benefit is that quite often improvements carry over from the professional arena to the personal life of the individual who is being coach.

This is why coaching is so exciting! If you’re being coached well and see you’re having more success in your job, if you feel like you’re also getting ready for future goals, and if you see a positive impact on your personal life then who wouldn’t want to be coached?

Where does persuasion come into the coaching process? In order to improve performance, a coach has to get the “coachee” to develop new skills, improve existing skills, and ultimately implement new behaviors. Helping people break free of old habits and changing behavior is where an understanding of persuasion becomes a huge help.

A business has to have a good product or service in order to compete in the marketplace. Persuasion won’t make a poor product or service good but it can help you sell the merits of your good product or service more easily. Likewise, when it comes to coaching a coach has to possess good coaching skills. Persuasion can help a coach convey his or her good ideas in a way that makes it easier for the person being coaching to buy in, say yes, and make the necessary changes. That’s what we’ll start focusing on beginning next week.