Persuasive Selling – My Story

The following is the opening to my new book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents. It’s my story about getting into insurance immediately after college. I hope you enjoy and consider getting a copy of Persuasive Selling for yourself and/or someone you know.

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 finishing my college degree, Travelers Insurance offered a job in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio. 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 well-suited for my analytical mind. Travelers paid me to make its risk selection decisions for homes, autos, jewelry, and other personal items. Within a few years I’d moved to the commercial side of the house, making underwriting (risk selection decisions) for 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.

My career progressed to the sales department. This was quite ironic because truthfully, I thought sales was a bunch of crap! I’d been beaten down for years by insurance agents over price and had come to believe all that mattered was price.

Fortunately, I met John Petrucci, who was the VP of Sales. John eventually ascended to an Executive VP role at State Auto Insurance. My learning went into overdrive. I learned more about sales in one year from John 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 a sale.

During my first decade in the industry I came to know 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 moves throughout local communities: 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…

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 science of ethical influence.

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

A Path to Real Change

There’s been lots of talk about a “new normal” when we emerge from the Covid-19 quarantine. Some people long to go back to the way things were just prior to the pandemic. That’s understandable because in the United States unemployment was near all-time lows, the stock market was at record highs and the economic outlook was promising. That doesn’t necessarily mean things were hunky dory for everyone.

Many of the jobs people had didn’t pay a living wage which meant working two or three jobs to make ends meet. It’s a safe bet the multitudes who barely made enough to pay their bills were not beneficiaries of the bull run in the stock market. This is evidenced by the financial hardship so many have encountered during the pandemic because of little or no savings.

You can’t legislate generosity so most employers only do what they’re legally required to do even though they may have the capacity to do more. But, maybe there’s a better way to real change than legislating it.

Reward vs. Reciprocity

Rewards and reciprocity are two well researched ways to influence behavior. But, they are very different ways to approach behavior change.

Rewards are commonplace in business because they’re contractual. Think of the contractual nature of rewards this way, “If you…I will…” For example, your boss tells you if you hit your sales numbers the company will pay you a bonus. If you don’t reach your goal, the company doesn’t owe you anything beyond your normal pay. Once you hit the goal you may not owe the company anything more either. In a sense, negotiated rewards bring closure to relationship.

By contrast, reciprocity isn’t contractual, it’s relational. Reciprocity can be view like this, “I have…will you…?” I have helped you, will you do me a favor? There’s no guarantee you will do the favor I want. I have to trust the rule for reciprocity which says people feel some obligation to give back to those who have first given to them.

You may think you’ll be taken advantage of if you do and do and do for people. It’s true that some people won’t do anything for you in return. Fortunately, most play by the rule. And here’s some good news; quite often when you engage reciprocity you can do much less and still have people very willing to help you when you need it. In other words, small acts of generosity don’t go unnoticed and can produce outsized responses.

A Better New Normal

I came across a story recently that got me thinking about this. Larry Connors, a Dayton, Ohio, real estate CEO, recently earned a whopping $1.6 million in the stock market in just eight days! How fortunate is that, especially during this time when the stock market has dropped more than 20% in just a few short months. Some people have all the luck and the rich just keep getting richer. But there’s a twist to this story of good fortune.

Larry Connors is giving away all $1.6 million to his employees. That’s right, each employee will get a gift of $2,000 – $9,000. Click here to read more.

While the article calls the payout a bonus, I intentionally use the word gift because usually bonuses are based on the reward mentality. They’re negotiated in advance. In this case nothing was negotiated and Connors was under no obligation to pay any of that money to his people. It was an unexpected gift during a time when people needed it most.

When is Enough Enough?

While a rising tide does raise all boats, with the economic tide some boats seem to catch much bigger waves and the income disparity in this country has continued to grow for more than four decades. According to the Economic Policy Institute, since 1978 CEO pay has risen 940%, but the increase for the typical worker was just 12%.

Legislating minimum living wages, capping senior level executive payouts, increasing tax rates and other ideas are always met with stiff resistance. Socialism and wealth redistribution are terms that are kicked around whenever this issue comes up.

But what if more people in positions of wealth, power and privilege willingly took the position of Larry Connors? What if an ever growing number of those folks realized they had more than enough and that helping others share in the pie would be better for everyone over the long run?

Certainly not every senior executive will have such a large windfall over such a short period but it’s so often the case that many get big raises and enormous bonuses that, if distributed more among the average worker at their company would lead to more economic prosperity. After all, sales when it comes to groceries, electronics, cars and other durable goods would increase if more money were in the hands of more consumers.

Why Even Consider It?

What good does it do Larry Connors, or might it do for other business leaders, to consider engaging reciprocity through non-negotiated acts of kindness? The reasons are numerous but below are three that came right to mind for me. I invite you to share a few of your own.

  1. Employee loyalty. Do you really think Larry Connors’ employees will go work anywhere else now? Reciprocity will likely dictate a response in the form of fierce loyalty and lower turnover lowers costs which could result in more competitiveness.
  2. Attracting talent. For many Millennials and Generation Zers money isn’t their top priority. Working for socially conscious companies with good, trustworthy people is. An act of giving when you don’t have to and it’s not expected makes working for such a company a strong attraction for top talent. Top talent usually translates into a competitive advantage.
  3. It’s better to give than receive. If you’re like me, growing up you may have heard it was better to give than receive. I’m not sure kids really believe that but as we grew up we started to realize making the choice to help others does feel really good. Even if nothing comes back your way you can lay your head on your pillow each night knowing you’ve helped people.

To Do This Week

I’m certain most people reading this will not be in the position that Larry Connors was in but it doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Consider the following:

  • Next time you order food, double, triple or quadruple your normal tip. The amount may not be a lot to you but it will probably make your delivery person’s day.
  • If you don’t have much extra to spare then be very generous with your praise. If possible, make sure your praise reaches someone’s boss because it might be the catalyst for a promotion, raise or bonus.
  • Help others by making connections that might benefit both parties in the future.

Each of us is at a unique time in our lives. If we don’t make a commitment to do something different as we move out of quarantine then we’ll find ourselves right back where we started and that would be a shame because it would be like acknowledging that things were good enough. Unfortunately, they weren’t good enough for many people.

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.

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 more than 100,000 people around the world!

It All Started With This…

It was sometime in 2003, Nancy Edwards, a coworker handed a videotape to my boss, John Petrucci, and me. Nancy had seen it during an MBA class she was taking at The Ohio State University. She said she thought we’d really like it. The video was Robert Cialdini presenting The Power of Persuasion at Stanford’s executive briefing. The video changed my career and life.

The Psychology of Sales

As I watched Cialdini talking about ethical influence I remember thinking what he taught explained all the sales training we do. The psychology he spoke about gave insight into why some sales techniques worked and some didn’t.

It resonated with me that everything Cialdini shared was based on scientific research from experiments in social psychology. Good advice is a dime a dozen but research, I could confidently get behind that.

I also appreciated Cialdini’s stance on ethics, non-manipulative ways to move people to action. It was this aspect of the talk that would be the catalyst for the career and life change noted earlier.

I began to use the video in some training around my company. We’d watch it then discuss how we might apply the concepts at work.

Ethical Influence vs. Manipulation

I learned Stanford had other excellent resources so I signed up for 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 wasn’t a surprise because it was great presentation. However, what I saw next in the marketing copy shocked me! Call it influence, persuasion or even manipulation.

What?!? Someone in Stanford’s marketing department obviously didn’t watch the video because Cialdini could not have been clearer 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 basically 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.”

The Phone Call

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, Cialdini’s organization. Chris Cibbarelli was calling to thank me on behalf of Cialdini and the entire organization. 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 this.” I told her I sat next to the woman who planned our events and booked our speakers so I transferred her. As a result, 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 2-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.

And the rest is history.

To Do This Week

I share this because last week I stumbled across the Stanford presentation that changed my life and want to share it with you. I hope you’ll invest 55 minutes this week to watch it because it might have a profound impact on you as well.

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.

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 more than 100,000 people around the world!

The Subconscious; the Dark Matter of our Psychology

Something I do when I’m on the treadmill is read on my Kindle or watch documentaries. I recently finished Quark Science on Amazon and the episode on dark matter grabbed my attention because it reminded me of something from psychology.

What is this mysterious thing scientists call dark matter? According to it is, “Unseen matter that may make up more than ninety percent of the universe. As the name implies, dark matter does not interact with light or other electromagnetic radiation, so it cannot be seen directly, but it can be detected by measuring its gravitational effects.”

As I watched I thought about the dark matter of our minds – our subconscious.

More than 90% of the Universe and Your Being

Dark matter is thought to make up more than 90% of our universe. If it makes up so much you’d think you’d readily see it. If you can’t see it, you may think perhaps it doesn’t really exist. Our subconscious is very similar.

In Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy author Martin Lindstrom looks at the buying habits of people as they pertain to thought, feelings and emotions. Lindstrom contends that 85% of our decisions and/or actions are driven by the subconscious. Leonard Mlodinow puts that number at 95% in his book Subliminal: How Your Subconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.

Let’s split the difference and call it 90%. That means 9 out of every 10 of your thoughts and/or actions are driven by something you’re completely unaware of, something you cannot readily access.

Cannot Be Seen But Can Be Measured

In much the same way that dark matter cannot be seen, neither is your subconscious “seen” in the sense that it’s not accessible to the conscious mind. If it were, then we’d call it your conscious mind.

But we know we have a subconscious even though most of the time we’re completely unaware of it. That’s because we see the effects of our subconscious on what we think, how we feel and what we do.

A Dark Matter Personal Story

Have you ever had someone confront you about something you were completely unaware of? If so, you may have resisted what they had to say. That happened go me and it wasn’t until decades later that I could finally see it.

When I was a junior in high school I was suspended for three days for swearing at a teacher. We had a confrontation in the library and she told me if I didn’t like what she had to say I could leave. A 17-year-old full of testosterone I blurted out, “Fine! I don’t give a damn, I’m gonna get the hell out of here!” I stormed out and she caught me in the hallway. To her credit, she gave me every opportunity to apologize but I was angry and refused. Next came the punishment.

If you would have told me my uncharacteristic angry outburst had to do with my parents going through a divorce I would have denied it. I would have insisted with every fiber in my being that the teacher was the problem and it had nothing to do with my parents. Looking back, I now know divorce has a huge impact on kids, whether or not they realize it at the time.

The moral of the story is simply this; I was unaware of what was driving my emotions and behavior. Based on my understanding of psychology I know I’m not alone.


Most people don’t know why they think, feel and do what they do because seldom do they have time for self-reflection. If asked about their thoughts, feelings and actions, they will come up with a reason – a rationalization – but most of the time it’s not completely accurate because they are unaware of the dark matter that actually drives them.

To Do This Week

Maybe you’re like the millions of self-quarantined people who have a little more time on hand than usual. Take some of that time to do some self-reflection. Occasionally pause and ask yourself:

  • Why do I think that?
  • How come I feel this way?
  • Why did I do that?

Ben Franklin said, “Three things are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” I think knowing yourself is the most valuable of the three.

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.

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 more than 100,000 people around the world!

7 Deadly Sins When Trying to Influence PEOPLE

I just celebrated my 12th anniversary partnering with INFLUENCE AT WORK, the organization headed up by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. Cialdini, sometimes called “the Godfather of influence”, is the most cited living social psychologist on the planet when it comes to the science of influence. I have the privilege of being one of only two dozen people worldwide to have been personally trained and certified by Cialdini to teach his methodology when it comes to influence.

During my years working with people I’ve run into countless times where I’ve seen salespeople, marketers, leaders and many others incorrectly use the principles of influence. Here’s why it’s a big problem – when people use the principles incorrectly they don’t see the results they expect. That failure leads to, “Yea, it sounds good when he says it but it doesn’t work in real life.”

Trust me, used ethically and correctly, the principles of influence will move more people to act. There’s seven decades of research to back up that statement. To help you avoid that pitfall I want to share the 7 deadly sins – one for each principle – I see when people attempt to use the psychology of persuasion.


We all know it’s easier to say yes to those we know and like. Whether you’re in sales, coaching or leadership, the more someone likes you the more likely they are to follow your advice.

  • Mistake. Knowing this, people work too hard to get others to like them. They end up coming across like a desperate salesman who will say or do anything to close the sale.
  • Solution. Stop trying to get people to like you. Instead, try to like the people you’re with. As others sense you genuinely like and care for them, they will be far more likely to say yes to you.


Unity is about shared identity. We when see another person as one of us, saying yes to them is like saying yes to ourselves.

  • Mistake. People think this is the principle of liking on steroids. With that thought, they try harder than ever to connect on what they have in common.
  • Solution. Unity isn’t always available but when it is, tap into it. Do some homework to find out if you share something deep with the others person. It may be that you served in the same branch of the military, were in the same fraternity or sorority, or happened to share the same cultural heritage.


From the time we’re young we’re taught that when someone does something for us we’re expected to do something in return. Help someone first and they’re likely to help you in return.

  • Mistake. I see marketers blow this one all the time. They encourage people to give a free gift after someone does something like sign up for a newsletter. That’s not reciprocity, that’s offering a reward as inducement and there’s a big difference.
  • Solution. Encourage people to take advantage of a free offer then, after they’ve done so, you can ask for something in return. “I hope you enjoy the free article! In fact, I hope you enjoy it so much you’ll want to sign up for our newsletter to learn even more. Click here to do so.”


Humans are pack animals. Over the course of history, we’ve learned there’s safety in numbers and “everyone can’t be wrong.” Generally, it works well for us to follow the crowd.

  • Mistake. Thinking highlighting a big number is all that’s needed. For example, telling incoming college freshman 65% of students cheat (I made that up) in order to highlight the problem only encourages more cheating, making the problem worse.
  • Solution. Think about the behavior you want then emphasize stats that will encourage the desirable behavior. “College cheating has been on the decline each of the last five years,” would be a good message to encourage less cheating and get the behavior you’re hoping for.


People will listen to perceived experts, and follow their advice, far more often than they will someone whom they know nothing about.

  • Mistake. Don’t wait until the end of your talk or meeting to highlight your expertise. By that time people may have tuned you out.
  • Solution. Whether it’s a presentation or running a meeting, let people know your credentials up front. If possible, have someone introduce you for even more credibility. This approach causes people to listen more closely early on and likely throughout your presentation.


People tend to feel better about themselves when their words and deeds match. As little pleasure seekers and pain avoiders this is a powerful principle.

  • Mistake. Too many people tell others what to do and think they’ve engaged the principle of consistency. When you tell someone what to do you’ve not triggered the psychology of wanting word and deed to match.
  • Solution. Stop telling people what to do and start asking. When you ask and someone says “Yes” they’re far more likely to follow through on their word because they don’t want to feel bad and look bad.


It’s a natural human tendency to want we can’t have or whatever might be going away. We hate the thought of having missed out on something.

  • Mistake. Manufacturing false scarcity will hurt your credibility. Don’t use the worn out line, “If you sign today I can save you 15% but I can’t offer you this deal after today.” Seldom is that true and people have learned to see through it.
  • Solution. If scarcity isn’t available, don’t manufacture it. If it is naturally available use it but don’t come across in a fear mongering, scare tactic way. “I’d hate for you to miss out on this opportunity,” is more effective than, “You really should take advantage of this deal.” It’s a subtle difference that can make all the difference.

BONUS! Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast isn’t actually one of the 7 principles of influence. It’s a psychological concept that’s always available because people are always making comparisons. Knowing this, it deserves mention.

  • Mistake. Too often people make the wrong comparison. In sales this happens when people try to “upsell” customers. The problem is, once you’ve seen a low number it becomes an anchor and all other numbers seem bigger by comparison as you try to upsell. Not exactly what you want when trying to close a sale.
  • Solution. Present your best solution, product or service first. You never know, the other person might just say yes. If they don’t, you have options to retreat to and when you do so, the price on those options looks better by comparison.


The principles of influence describe how people typically think and behave. Consider them communication tools and, like any tool, they’re only as good as the person who wields it. You may know how to use a saw and hammer but that doesn’t make you a carpenter. The same goes with the principles. Knowing and wielding them correctly (and ethically) are two different things.

To Do This Week

  1. Give these mistakes thought.
  2. Ask yourself if you’ve made any of these mistakes.
  3. Commit to keep learning and growing.

Do those three things and you will have more people saying yes to you more often.

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 more than 90,000 people around the world!

Persuasion: Your Key to Professional Success and Personal Happiness

Persuasion is more than changing hearts and minds, it’s about changing behavior. Aristotle said as much when he told the world persuasion was, “the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” Whether you want someone to buy from you, your boss to approve your project, get a promotion, or just get your kids to do their homework, persuasion is the skill that can help you achieve those goals and more.

We Need People…

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said, “Nearly everything I’ve accomplished in life has been with other people.” It didn’t matter how good Jack’s vision or strategies were if he couldn’t persuade people to execute. People are vital to your professional success and personal happiness so understanding how to ethically influence people is an essential skill.

But There’s a Catch…

Okay, you need people but things aren’t always so easy. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, told the world more than 85 years ago, “Dealing with people is the biggest challenge you will face, especially if you’re in business.” You need people but they’re your biggest challenge. This is why understanding how to ethically persuade is critical to your professional success and personal happiness!

Three Hours a Day!

In To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink cites a survey of more than 7,000 business people when he wrote, “People are now spending about 40% of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.” This means the average worker spends more than three hours a day trying to persuade others. If you’re going to spend that much time on one activity doesn’t it make sense to learn how to do it well?

Persuasion is a Skill

Make no mistake a about it, persuasion is a skill. However, unlike hitting a 300 yard drive, dunking a basketball or running a 5-minute mile, it’s not something only a chosen few are capable of. Persuasion can be learned, practiced, and perfected by anyone. My focus is teaching you how to use the principles of ethical influence to change people’s behavior. For a short introduction to these principles watch this video from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., and Steve Martin, CMCT,

Want to Learn How to Influence People?

I’ll teach you the science of persuasion and more importantly, how to apply that knowledge to ensure your professional success and personal happiness. Are you looking for a speaker at your next event? Do you  need one-on-one coaching or consulting? How about training for your team? Whatever it is, I’m ready to help you and your organization. Contact me today and we’ll explore how we can begin working together.

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 incorporating persuasion into sales and coaching have been viewed by 90,000 people around the world!


Stop! I mean, Go! Confused?

Mixed signals cause a lot of confusion. In business confusion in communication often leads to errors, delays and lost opportunities. It’s like telling someone to stop, then go, then stop. Do that and they will be confused. “But I thought you want me to…?”

This was top of mind recently when I was working on a presentation around the ideas of pre-suasion. Pre-suasion focuses on things you can do before you make a request of someone to increase the odds of hearing yes. A couple of examples include:

  1. A man sending flowers to a woman before asking her out. Flowers boost the chance of getting a date because they prompt thoughts of romance.
  2. Playing upbeat music later in the day. This will lift the mood and energy at a training event or conference. If you want people to say “Yes” to you then your chance goes up significantly if they’re feeling energetic and positive.

Much of persuasion and pre-suasion take place at the subconscious level which means, most of the time people are unaware of the impact. Something that affects your thinking is color. For example:

  1. Green has positive associations for most people. It conjures up thoughts of “Go” because of traffic lights. In the United States it makes people think about money because that’s the color of our printed currency. And more recently, it prompts thoughts of the environment.
  2. Red is usually experienced in a more negative way. When you’re losing money, you’re said to be “in the red.” Red signals to “Stop!” because of traffic lights and stop signs. It’s also the color of aggression – think Tiger Woods in Sunday in his trademark red shirt. And then there’s blood!

Sometimes marketers, advertisers and others forget these associations and hurt their efforts when it comes to moving people to action. This came to mind when I was on the New Yorker Magazine site recently. A pop-up box appeared to encourage people to subscribe to the monthly magazine and the “Sign me up” button was red. As I looked around the site I found another instance of the same thing.

The website designer probably thought the color stood out and would get attention. While it does that, it also subconsciously is telling your brain to stop. The magazine would be much better off having a green box because it signals “go” as in “Go ahead and sign me up!”

On the flip side, if you wanted someone to stop doing something it would be unwise to incorporate the color green. Doing so will cause confusion because the subconscious will think “Go!” and end up working against the conscious.


You might think what I’ve just described is insignificant but it matters. Despite a very good economy businesses are always looking for ways to impact the top and bottom line. If something as simple – and costless – as aligning the right colors with the actions you want people to take can reduce expenses or increase sales why wouldn’t you take advantage?

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 LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedbackhave been viewed by more than 65,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.

Luck is Where Preparation Meets Opportunity

Like so many people, a coach had a huge impact on my life. For me that person was Todd Alles, the head football coach at Dublin during my high school years. Among the many things he said that stuck with me was this – “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

Whether or not we want to admit it, much of success has to do with luck. One definition for luck is, “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”

It’s the chance part that’s outside your control. For example; being born into your family, growing up where you did, the opportunities (sports, music and other activities) afforded you, and so much more had very little or nothing at all to do with your choices or skills.

Sometimes it’s randomly meeting a person who gives you a big break. Maybe it’s being fortunate to have a teacher or coach who took special interest in you and changed your life.

Chance has impacted me in numerous ways over the years. I’d like to share with you a couple of random events changed my life forever.

On a personal level luck…

led to my marriage. Having accepted a job before graduation college, I still decided to go to one last interview. The Travelers, a national insurance company, was looking for an underwriter and I only went to the interview because the job was in Columbus, Ohio, my hometown. My family and friends were in Columbus as was a girl I was dating so I thought it would be nice if I could stay in town. I got the job and on my first day I walked into the HR on boarding session and laid eyes on Jane, the woman who would become my wife.

On a professional level luck…

changed the course of my career. While at State Auto Insurance a good friend, Nancy Edwards, gave a video to me and my boss. She thought it would hit home with us because of our sales training. The video was Robert Cialdini presenting research on ethical influence at Stanford’s Breakfast Briefings. What he shared resonated with me on many levels so I began using Cialdini’s concepts in my sales training.

Even more random was an email I sent to Stanford sometime later when their marketing referred to Cialdini’s training as manipulation. I never heard from Stanford but that email led to a phone call from a representative at INFLUENCE AT WORK. She called to thank me on behalf of Dr. Cialdini for pointing out Stanford’s mistake. Because of my email Stanford changed their marketing of the video and it led to a relationship with INFLUENCE AT WORK that’s now spanned more than 15 years. Were it not for that email it’s very likely I would not have pursued the career path I’m on and you certainly would not be reading my blog right now.

Where was the preparation?

In both cases opportunities presented themselves and I was prepared to seize them. When it came to the job interview, if I had not worked hard in school, gotten good grades and interviewed extensively, it’s very likely I would not have gotten the job…and never met Jane. Travelers is a fine company and I’m sure many college grads would have loved the opportunity to work for them but I was the one who was prepared.

With regard to my career, I could have easily disregarded the Stanford marketing piece that mentioned manipulation but I didn’t because being an ethical person is a core value for me. I felt compelled to address the situation and was articulate enough to bring about change. Again, I was prepared for the opportunity that presented itself.


Sometimes unfortunate opportunities come your way, things that are completely outside of your control that pose a threat or have a negative impact. Even in those cases the question is; are you ready to deal with the situation in a way that lessens the bad outcome or perhaps turns it into something positive?

When it comes to good luck there’s no room for boasting. But there is room for confidence that says, “I’m ready whenever the opportunity presents itself.” There’s a well-known saying on this that’s sometimes attributed to Arnold Palmer, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Make sure you’re prepared for the opportunities that might come your way someday.

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 LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback have been viewed by nearly 65,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.

The Madness of People – Our Irrational Selves

“I can calculate the motion of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.” 
– Sir Isaac Newton

I came across this quote while reading Robert Greene’s latest book, The Laws of Human Nature. Greene has authored many books including The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War. All are excellent reads because they’re well written and Greene weaves history and interesting stories throughout to illustrate his points.

The quote from Isaac Newton came after Greene shared the story of the South Sea Company. In the early 1700s the South Sea Company was supposed to open trade in South America for England. Suffice it to say, their approach was similar to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme when it came to raising funds. It swept up people across England as they invested in what looked to be a sure-fire get rich quick opportunity. Even the brilliant, rational thinker Isaac Newton fell prey to the madness.

How did that happen? How did it happen again with Bernie Madoff? Why will it happen again? Three big reasons – recency bias, consensus and scarcity.

Recency bias

This is the distorted thinking where we give more weight to recent events than they deserve and we prioritize the present ahead of the future. Over the course of evolution giving immediate, focused attention to whatever was in front of us served humans well. That’s so because most dangers and opportunities were in the moment and needed to be acted upon right away to ensure survival.

Survival isn’t always at stake nowadays but our minds still focus far more on the present than the future. This is why so much importance is put on quarterly earnings by Wall Street. This pressure causes many companies to take actions to satisfy “the street” and investors in the short term but often at the expense of better long-term approaches.

In the case of the South Sea Company it was hard for people to resist investing when they kept seeing the stock price rise and people getting rich…even though the company never actually began trading in South America. Sounds a little like the dot com bust doesn’t it?


We’re social animals so it’s natural for us to follow the crowd. This too served humans well when it came to survival. There’s safety in numbers and being part of the group felt more comfortable and safer than going it alone.

We don’t face the same kinds of physical dangers today that our ancestors faced so being part of the crowd shouldn’t be as important. But it is. Studies show exclusion from groups registers in the brain in the same region where physical pain is detected. In other words, there’s very little difference between physical pain and the pain we feel when we’re ostracized from groups.

We still see this mentality today with “hot stocks.” There are always those stocks that everyone seems to flock to which causes more people to flock to them. As this happens stock prices rise even if nothing tangible has been created yet. Sound a little like bitcoin?


The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a powerful motivator to act. Humans are wired to be more sensitive to loss than gain. In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence Science and Practice he quotes social scientists Martie Haselton and Daniel Nettle:

“One prominent theory accounts for the primacy of loss over gain in evolutionary terms. If one has enough to survive, an increase in resources will be helpful but a decrease in those same resources could be fatal. Consequently, it would be adaptive to be especially sensitive to the possibility of loss.”

As people learned about the fantastic gains investors were making with the South Sea Company they couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on their chance to change their lot in life. Many dumped their life savings into the company in hopes of becoming fabulously wealthy.

It still happens today. Bernie Madoff’s stellar investment returns were an example. Smart, wealthy individuals and people with very intelligent investment advisors got sucked in. If those people and someone as rational and smart as Sir Isaac Newton can make the same mistake don’t fool yourself thinking you’re above it.


The wiring of your brain generally serves you well. However, we live in an unprecedented time of change and the pace of change is accelerating rapidly. Your brain on the other hand evolves very slowly and sometimes relying on old mental shortcuts can work against you instead of for you.

Next time something is consuming you, where you sense the pull of the crowd and feel like you’ll miss out if you don’t act quickly, take that as a cue to hit the pause button. If you’ll take time to slow down, consider why you’re feeling the way you are and take a long view, that might be enough for you to make a better, more rational decision. Sir Isaac Newton might not have done it but now you know a little more about the madness of human behavior than he did.


Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker and trainer, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini. Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses, Persuasive Selling  and  Persuasive Coaching have been viewed by nearly 65,000 people! His latest course, Creating a Coaching Culture, will be online in the second quarter. Have you watched them yet? Click a link to see what you’ve been missing.

Before You Know It

I read a lot and for the most part the books I read are good. Every now and then I come across one that’s so good it needs to be shared. Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do by John Bargh, PhD, is one of those.

As the subtitle indicates, Before You Know It is about how our subconscious drives the vast majority of our behavior. I first became interested in the subconscious when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller Blink where he mentioned several of John Bargh’s studies on priming. Bargh’s work in this area is of particular interest for me because it dovetails with many concepts Robert Cialdini covered in his NYT best seller Pre-suasion.

While scientists cannot pinpoint exactly how much of human behavior is driven by the subconscious, estimates I’ve come across during my studies place it anywhere from 85%-95%. That means nine out of 10 things you do every day are done without conscious thought! If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be good to understand more about how your subconscious is formed and what you can do to make it work for you as opposed to just letting it randomly guide you?

In Before You Know It Bargh helps you understand your subconscious and how to harness its power to create more of the outcomes you want. He looks at subconscious drivers from three primary vantage points; the past, present and future.


Over the course of evolution our genes have constantly been filtered for reproduction and survival. The genes that helped us survive and reproduce best are the ones that got passed down from generation to generation.

For example, if running fast was necessary to survive because of predators, slower people would eventually be the ones who don’t make it. Over time the human race would become much faster compared to our ancestors because the fast genes would flourish.

The principles of influence operate at the subconscious level for the most part and have helped humans survive over the course of history. Going along with the crowd (consensus), being loss averse (scarcity) and working together in cooperative ways (reciprocity) come natural for most people and are all good ways to ensure you live another day.

Your personal history also plays a huge role in developing your subconscious and determining who you are. Throughout life you’re constantly learning. When it comes to getting what you want, the things that worked and things that didn’t get stored in your memory. Before you know it, that learning is in the back of your mind driving your behavior in the form of habits that require little or no thought.


This section looks at all sorts of environmental cues that can impact you in the moment. Mere exposure to something can change your thinking and behavior in ways that might surprise you. For example, simply finding out someone was born where you were born, attended the same school as you, or cheers for the same team will make you like that person more without much conscious thought.

What’s interesting is how unaware you are of such stimuli. When asked for rationale after acting in a particular manner, your mind will generate reasons, many of which are actually bogus. Salespeople have known this for decades and have a saying to describe this phenomenon, “People buy based on emotion and justify with logic.”


Your goals, dreams and desires are all in the future. What you want and the problems you need to solve can weigh heavy on your mind. Until they are resolved they can disrupt your sleep and distract you during the day. But there’s good news. You subconscious can help you sort out many of those things without your awareness.

Imagine you shared a goal with a small group of friends for accountability. After sharing you spend some time each day trying to achieve that goal. How cool would it be if those people kept working on your behalf and occasionally texted you with insights and ideas on ways to achieve your goal? That’s essentially what your subconscious does when you’re not consciously focusing on your goals.


If you find social psychology interesting, if you enjoy books like Blink and Pre-suasion, if you’re ready to learn more about why you do what you do and how to harness your subconscious, then pick up a copy of Before You Know It. If you apply some of what you learn, before you know it you’ll take more control of your life.

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