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Man, this sucks! Sucks compared to what?

Across most of the nation, and much of the world, people are self-quarantining. In some cases, the quarantine is imposed by government order. In either case, some people are complaining, “Man, this sucks!” I’d like to offer a different viewpoint and ask, “Sucks compared to what?”

Nelson Mandela

The late Nelson Mandela, statesman and leader of South Africa’s movement to abolish apartheid, spent 27 years in prison. That’s a long time to be quarantined! Early on some of his imprisonment was isolation in an 8×7 ft cell where he slept on a straw bed on the floor.

Mandela spent much of his time studying, writing and continuing to advance the cause for freedom and equality for blacks in South Africa. Perhaps we should adopt the same stance regarding our free time right now and do things to actively improve ourselves.

Viktor Frankl

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ve undoubtedly seen many references to, and quotes from, Viktor Frankl. That’s so because his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is one of the most impacting books I’ve ever read.

Frankl spent three years in Nazi concentration camps. How did he survive the horrors? By focusing his mind. He believed one day he’d be a free man and chose to imagine dinners with his wife, giving lectures on what he learned, and to appreciate the beautiful things in life like flowers and sunsets.

Despite his incarceration he came to the realization that everything could be taken away from him except the freedom to choose where he would place his thoughts. And with that core belief he suddenly realized he was freer than the guards who monitored his every move at the concentration camps. We’d all do well to adopt Frankl’s mindset.

John McCain

Senator John McCain was shot down during the Vietnam War and spend five and a half years as a prisoner. At first, he wasn’t even given any medical treatment for the injuries he sustained. Soon thereafter he was subjected to torture.

McCain had an opportunity for release less than a year into captivity but refused unless all the men he was imprisoned with were released too. That meant nearly five more years of imprisonment.

Consider this; we’re told to simply stay apart for our own well-being and the well-being of our fellow citizens. McCain chose to stay with his fellow soldiers at a great personal cost to himself and those who wanted him home. That’s a hero.

Our “Imprisonment”

Frankl, Mandela and McCain are extremes when it comes to imprisonment but they are hardly alone in the course of history. They could not access any of the comforts so many of us enjoy at this very moment.

  • Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and other television apps afford us 24x7x365 entertainment of any kind.
  • We have access to news, books, games, email, work and countless other things to occupy our time, educate ourselves and in some cases, continue working.
  • Zoom, Skype, Google Meets and other technologies allow us to communication face to face with each other.
  • We still have access to goods and food delivered to our doorsteps.

Conclusion

For many reasons the global pandemic sucks. The biggest reason is that people are dying who otherwise may have lived much longer lives. Millions are getting sick which, even when they recover, presents its own hardships. And the economic toll – lost jobs and businesses – across the globe is terrible.

But, considering what many people have endured over time, what we’re going through doesn’t suck so much in comparison.

To Do This Week

Take stock of what you have, not what you’re missing, and be thankful. Use your time wisely. Here are a handful of easy things you can do:

  1. If you have family at home use this is a unique opportunity to spend quality time together. Don’t waste it! Jane and I have made it a point to take walks together every day. What are you doing differently?
  2. Get on LinkedIn Learning, Coursea and other online providers to sharpen your skills. Download a book or start listening to podcasts. You have more time so how will you use it?
  3. Use this time to reconnect with people. I’ve reconnected with my friend Marco Germani who lives outside of Rome. Once a week we jump on Zoom and keep each other up to date about what’s going on in our parts of the world. What person would you like to reconnect with?
  4. Give thanks. Despite the self-isolation you can still order food and other goods as noted earlier. Imagine how much harder this would seem without Amazon and other home delivery! What are you thankful for in the midst of this?
  5. Get creative. People are having virtual cocktail parties using technology. I’ve participated in a few and they’re fun. Jane and I give each other silly gifts every day and post of Facebook so our friends can laugh. What’s one creative thing you can do to pass each day?

Compared to earlier this year, things seem like they suck. Stepping back and looking at what others have had to endure, things don’t seem so bad. Make the right comparison and you’ll feel much better about where you are right now.

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 90,000 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.

Liking

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

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.

Reciprocity

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.”

Consensus

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.

Authority

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.

Consistency

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.

Scarcity

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.

Conclusion

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!

The Data Tells The Story…Not!

I was listening to a podcast recently and the guest said, “The data tells the story.” I would contend it’s not the data that tells the story but rather, how the data is presented. Let me share several examples.

Unhealthy Big Macs

In Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath shared a story about how unhealthy movie popcorn was back in the 1990s. A medium sized bucket contained 37 grams of saturated fat. While that sounded unhealthy, people basically said, “So what?” Even when informed it was almost twice as much as the USDA recommended daily allowance of 20 grams, people response was still, “So what?”

It wasn’t until “the data” was put into a visual that people sat up and took notice. During a press conference at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, it was conveyed, along with a visual, “A medium sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-egg breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings – combined!” You don’t have to be a doctor or fitness expert to understand how unhealthy that picture is!

Tax Increases

Several years ago, there was debate over a potential increase in the state tax for Illinois residents. It was a whopping 66% increase according to opponents. However, supporters said it was only a 2% increase. And, as strange as it may sound, both sides were right!

At the time, the state tax was 3% and the proposal was to increase it to 5%. So, it was raising the tax two percentage points. But, looking at the change from 3% to 5% represented a 66% increase in what Illinois residents would pay.

It was literally two sides of the same coin…that the state wanted!

Carbon Emissions

I saw a news story last week with the headline U.S. Sets Record in Reducing Carbon Emissions. Given that we stepped away from the Paris Accord it caught my attention. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA):

“The United States saw the largest decline in energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019 on a country basis – a fall of 140 Mt, or 2.9 percent, to 4.8 Gt. U.S. emissions are now down almost 1 Gt from their peak in the year 2000, the largest absolute decline by any country over that period.”

The counterfactual was as follows:

“It’s true that, according to the IEA’s February 2020 report, the U.S. achieved a greater absolute reduction in CO2 emissions than any other country, in 2019. However, claims that the U.S. therefore ‘led the entire world’ or was a ‘global leader’ in CO2 emissions were belied by the fact that other countries (including Germany, Japan, and likely others) achieved a superior rate of reduction in CO2 emissions. Although not a country, the European Union achieved both a larger absolute reduction and a greater rate of reduction in CO2 emissions than the US did.”

This is analogous to the Illinois state tax. It depends on how you view it; in absolute or relative terms. No matter how you view this one, a reduction is a good thing.

National Debt

Is a million dollars a lot of money? I’m guessing all of my readers would say it is. Is a trillion dollars a lot of money? I know everyone would agree that’s a lot of money! Did you know our national debt is over $23 trillion now? Do you realize how big that number actually is? Probably not so let me give you some perspective:

If the U.S. national debt grew no larger starting today, and we could pay it down by one million dollars a day, every single day, any idea how long it would take to pay it off?

Just over 63,000 years. Yes, you read that right, it would take 63,000 years to pay off the national debt if we reduce it by a million dollars a day. We hear about numbers on the news – data – all the time and have no clue as to what those numbers really mean for us.

Conclusion

I could go on and on with examples like these. I hope you see my point – the data doesn’t tell the story. The presentation of the data tells the story. And, how that data is presented always comes with an agenda.

To Do This Week

Start looking critically at what’s being presented and how it’s being presented, especially in the news. Never forget, every news outlet has a bias so carefully consider what’s being presented and ask why it’s being present the way it is.

We’re coming up on a presidential election, a time when all candidates on both sides make big promises. Do a little research, find out what’s being promised and whether or not those promises as truly feasible. I think in most cases you’ll conclude they’re not.

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!

Winner-Take-All: Small Changes, Big Differences

If you’re a sports fan then you know the margin between victory and defeat can be extremely small. When it comes to victory it’s often the case that small changes, seemingly insignificant decisions in the moment, can make a big difference when it comes to winning or losing. Here are a few examples:

  • It’s not uncommon in football or basketball to see the game determined on the final play or shot after about 60 minutes of competition. That final 1% of the game determines the winner. Having the ball last becomes quite an advantage.
  • In golf the margin of victory can be even smaller. After four days of play, 72 holes, and some 280 total shots, the margin of victory may be a single stroke. That’s a difference one third of one percent. A single decision on one hole can make all the difference.
  • The margin gets even smaller with elite marathoners. The best runners take just over two hours to cover the 26.2 miles and the race may come down to less than ten seconds after all that running. The difference in a race like that might be one tenth of one percent! “Little” choices during the course of the race might be the difference between first and second place.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, wrote in his newsletter: “Situations in which small differences in performance lead to outsized rewards are known as Winner-Take-All Effects. They typically occur in situations that involve relative comparison, where your performance relative to those around you is the determining factor in your success.”

The winner-take-all effect applies to business as well as sports. Small changes in how you approach influence can lead to big differences when it comes to hearing yes. Yes might mean a sale, promotion, funding or the okay for a new project. Here are a handful of examples to show that those seemingly insignificant decisions can have a huge impact:

  1. Using the word “because”can increase your odds of hearing yes by as much as 50% according to one study.
  2. In his NYT best-selling book Presuasion, Robert Cialdini cites a study on the importance of asking the right pre-suasive question. Doing so changed people’s frame of mind and more than doubled the number who were willing to give their email address to a marketing firm.
  3. Making the right comparisoncan make all the difference. In one case, nearly four times more people were willing to drive across town to save $20 versus another group that could save the same $20.
  4. Talking about losing vs. gainingmakes quite a big difference too. According to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, 2.0-2.5 time more people will say yes under loss framing scenarios as opposed to pointing out gains or savings.
  5. Asking instead of tellingcan gain a commitment and significantly increase the odds that someone will do what you want.

Each of the five ideas I’ve shared are small, costless changes to how you might communicate with someone. Despite being “little” adjustments, they can have an outsized impact on your ability to ethically influence people and get to yes. This is why it’s so important that you understand understand how to ethically influence people.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn 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.

Human Resources Respond to Human Psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of Missing Out and the Black Friday Madness

Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping day of the year, is just days away. This year, Friday, November 24th, will be the unofficial start of the Christmas season. Throngs of people will make their way to malls all across the country hoping to get some of the best deals on holiday gifts.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say people will act like crazed fans at a football game or soccer match. The news will show us scenes of people fighting over items, shoving each other out of the way to get to the hottest toys and trampling one another the moment stores open.

So much for the season of giving and the spirit of joy!

What causes normal people will do some very abnormal things in hopes of getting the best deal? Why would someone stand in line for hours waiting for a store to open when they could visit that same store any day of the week? And why to people forego sleep, getting up hours earlier than they have to on their day off? Fear of missing out.

Fear of missing out taps into scarcity, the psychological principle of influence that tells us people value things more when they’re rare or appear to be less available. Scarcity can be triggered by time constraints and competition for a limited number of items.

Black Friday naturally taps into time constraints because it only happens one day each year. Forego this shopping day and you might miss the best deals of the season! But then again, you might not have missed out because sales only seem to better as Christmas approaches and retailers look to unload the last of their holiday merchandise.

Nonetheless, over the years the lure of Black Friday has increased dramatically and retailers have taken advantage of the popularity of Black Friday by opening stores earlier and earlier each year. Some stores will open at midnight because Thanksgiving will be over and it will officially be Friday. If you don’t get there at midnight you might just miss out on some time sensitive deals!

When we hear the word “competition” we often think of athletic endeavors but competition isn’t limited to the sports arena. No, when it comes to shopping competition is alive and well, and retailers play on it in a big way.

Here’s how the competition part of scarcity works – no longer is it good enough to just get to a store because if you are not there when the store opens they might run out of the thing you wanted most. Limited availability is different than limited time so while you might have all day Friday to shop, certain items marked “While Supplies Last” or “Limited Availability” might be gone by the time you arrive at 5 AM or 6 AM. Can’t let that happen now, can you?

It’s amazes me that people respond as they do because little Johnny probably doesn’t remember that great toy you got him three years ago. You know, the one you stood in line at the mall at 4 AM to get? And sweet Sally probably can’t tell you which American Girl doll you got her when she was eight years old but it’s a good thing you stood in line for several hours to pay for it.

Here’s another eye opener. People will say, “But I saved $200!” Saving money is great but many of those same people wouldn’t drive across town to save $200 on a car because a $200 savings on a $20,000 car by comparison isn’t worth the extra time and effort.

So, they spend four hours negotiating a car deal, could go across town and maybe spend another four hours to save $200, but they don’t. Sure, it’s an eight-hour investment but many of those same people will spend more than 12 hours at the mall just to save $200.

I’m not telling you not to shop. I know for some people, Black Friday shopping has become as much a holiday tradition as Thanksgiving, getting a Christmas tree or sending holiday cards. But I challenge you to consider if it’s really worth all the hassle – the lost sleep, extra time at the mall, fighting traffic, searching for a parking space, the disappointment when someone bought the last item you wanted, etc. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Would I normally respond this way? Do I want to respond this way?” Then decide what you want to do.

If you know you’re going to give into the madness then I’ll help you save some time by sharing with you the Black Friday web site. Go to this site to get a sneak peek at some of the deals that will be out there. Before all the holiday madness starts I want to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving and a safe time no matter what you decide to do.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Eyes Wide Shut

Sometimes we see but we don’t see and sometimes we hear but we don’t hear. What I mean is this; whatever stimuli we take in doesn’t always register in our conscious thought. Despite that, subconsciously many things we’re not aware of impact our decisions and actions.

As you might expect, my wife Jane is pretty good at persuasion having heard me talk about it and having read my writing for more than a decade. She’s put her knowledge to good use and gets her way with me quite often so I thought I’d share a couple of examples.

Many years ago she asked if she could go to Scotland to play golf with my stepmom Jo because it was Jo’s 65th birthday. I said no because if Jane went to Scotland I wanted to go with her and the timing wasn’t right. Just to clarify, if we make it over there she wants to play golf and I want to drink Scotch.

Upon hearing no she asked, “Then would you mind if I go to Florida for a week to play golf with Jo?” I told her that was fine. Sometime later Jane confessed that she never really wanted to go to Scotland but she knew asking for that would make a yes to the week in Florida come much easier. Touché!

Jane effectively used contrast because asking for Florida after Scotland seemed like a small thing by comparison. She also leveraged reciprocity because she stepped in with a more reasonable request immediately upon hearing no. Both are excellent uses of psychology of persuasion.

One other time that comes to mind was a simple question I asked Jane. I’m not always the most perceptive husband but occasionally I notice things. One day I innocently asked her, “Is that a new coat?” She replied, “I got this last year.” End of discussion.

At later date she told me the coat was new. She reminded me I’d asked her that question in January then told me she’d bought the coat in December. Technically her answer was right, she bought it the year before. She answered the question without really answering my question. Touché once again!

I share these stories because even though I teach people about the psychology of persuasion I don’t always “see” how people are trying to persuade me. When I focus I see more than most people however I’m not always focused because that can be mentally tiring. Now consider that most people have very little understanding about the psychology of persuasion let alone the mental focus needed to understand how they’re being influenced. This is a big reason so much persuasion happens at the subconscious level.

Whenever someone is trying to persuade you, especially if there’s a lot at stake, step back from the situation, take a deep breath and focus on what you’re being asked as well as how you’re being asked. Doing so might help you go from eyes wide shut to eyes wide open so you can make the best-informed decision.

What Are You Gonna Do When the Bear Comes for You?

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

Two hikers are walking through the woods when suddenly a bear jumps out from behind a bush and starts towards the frightened hikers. Instinctively both start running for their lives, but then suddenly one of them stops and begins to put on running shoes in place of his hiking boots. His friend says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” He replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you!”

The story is a classic example of “Compared to what?” All too often we fall into the familiar, the comfortable, and the easy when it may not be the right thing to do. In this story what do you need to do? Easy, try to outrun the bear! But a master persuader knows that’s the wrong comparison. The master persuader knows to outrun the other person is the right comparison because the bear will be satisfied one it catches one of the two hikers. Your goal is to be the one that’s not caught.

This may be a silly, and slightly gruesome example, but it reveals the need to make the right comparison if you want to succeed. When you make the wrong comparison you waste time and energy. Here’s an example that might hit closer to home – sales.

My wife Jane has a golf buddy who also happens to be the sales manager at a BMW dealership in town. He said the toughest sale is the guy who owns a Honda and can finally afford a BMW because making the jump from a Honda to a BMW is steep and the pain of paying is significant.

Trying to sell someone on the benefits of a BMW over a Honda is the wrong comparison to make. If the typical buyer considers the price tag, cost to insure and maintain, gas mileage, etc., they would be hard pressed to choose the BMW over the Honda. But do people who can afford a BMW place more weight on those factors or the prestige of owning a BMW? I think it’s the latter.

The smart salesman will congratulate the prospective buyer on his great taste and good fortune. From that point forward the comparison has to be the BMW versus other luxury automobiles like Mercedes or Audi. Do you see the point here? Too much focus on the move from Honda to BMW might make some car buyers hesitant. It would be like trying to run from the bear – a waste of time and energy that might not end well. It would be much easier to assume the prospective car buyer will want some kind of luxury car so making those comparisons is like putting on running shoes.

Next time you have to make a comparison to drive home your point don’t settle for the familiar, comfortable, or easy, because that may not lead you to the comparison that helps you get to “Yes.”

Last Year We Lost $3.77 Billion, However…

“Last year we lost $3.77 billion” was the message Warren Buffett had to personally deliver to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders at the 2002 annual meeting. What’s a CEO to do with news that’s as bad as that?

I first learned about this in the summer of 2004 when Robert Cialdini was a guest speaker at several State Auto agency partner meetings. As Cialdini talked about influence and how to frame a message he shared the Buffett story with us.

As many of you know, Warren Buffett is one of the richest men in the world and Berkshire Hathaway has recovered quite nicely from its disastrous 2001. Nonetheless, having to tell shareholders their company value decreased by nearly $4 billion (6.2% in total value) was not something Buffet looked forward to. Fortunately he and his long time partner Charlie Munger were huge fans of Robert Cialdini and his work on ethical influence.

Let me lay the groundwork for how Buffet delivered his message: From 1965 through 2001, the overall gain in “annual percentage change in per share book value” of the S&P 500 was 4,742%. Not bad! Over the same time period Berkshire Hathaway’s gain was 194,938%!! Yes, you read that correctly, 194,938! (Click here to see the 2001 report). Put another way, if you had invested $1 in the S&P 500 in 1965 it would have been worth $48 by 2001. However, that same $1 invested in Berkshire Hathaway would have been worth $1,950 by the end of 2001. Wow!

So how did Buffett address shareholders? Paraphrasing, he said the following:

“Last year the value of your company went down by $3.77 billion. However, I’d like to remind you that the management team that’s been in place at Berkshire Hathaway for the past 36 years has outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 190,000%.”

Unbelievable! You’re left not focused on the company loss but rather the incredible long-term success of Berkshire Hathaway. What if Buffett had said this?

“I’d like to remind you that the management team that’s been in place at Berkshire for the past 36 years has outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 190,000%. However, last year the value of your company went down by $3.77 billion.”

Ugh! You can feel the difference. Now you’re focused on the loss, not the incredible long-term success of the management team.

I hope you realize the words and facts are the same in both cases. What Buffett realized, and few people pay attention to, is this: people remember what comes after transitional words like “but” and “however.” You know it’s true because you just felt the difference.

If you want to be a master persuader you have to understand this truism and always be conscious of what you want your audience to remember. There are times you want them focused on the negative to prompt action and there are times you want them focused on the positive. How you order the information makes all the difference.

The next time you have to deliver good and bad news think about what you want the audience to remember. Then think about the comparisons that will make your message shine. Last, be sure to order the information correctly. Following these three tips might not make you the next Warren Buffett but they can make you much more persuasive than you are today. Who knows, that might be your first step towards Buffett-like success!