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It’s All About The Data…Or Is It?

Until last November, my entire career was in the insurance industry. The industry has been slower to change than many others. This is due in large part to legacy mainframe systems, state regulations, and no sense of urgency. However, over the last five years the pace of change has accelerated. The reason; new competitors threatening to disrupt the status quo.

Big data is one factor that’s making a huge impact. In the past, insurance companies were limited on the data they could capture and mine from their old mainframes. Whether it’s insurance or any other industry, the more data a company has, the better it can do when it comes to predicting customer behavior.

That could lead you to think it’s all about the data. Or is it?

Less is More

Generally, more data is better…at least to a point. Research shows, given too many options people end up making fewer choices. This was born out in a well-known study conducted by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper using jam displays in a store.

People entered the store and either saw a selection of two dozen types of jam or six choices. People were attracted to the larger selection, with approximately 60% of shoppers stopping to peruse the table with 24 choices. But, only 3% of those shoppers bought a jar of jam.

Far fewer people, only 40%, stopped by the table with six jams. However, 30% of those people bought a jar. If you do the math, the table with only half a dozen choices sold nearly seven times more!

On the surface this seems counter-intuitive. But, it makes sense when you realize the struggle humans have with discriminating between items when all the choices appear relatively similar. The same thought process applies when too much data is presented for consideration; it can cause analysis paralysis.

Not The Whole Story

Data is limited in that it’s only as good as what can be collected and it rarely tells the who story. Have you ever used a dating app? I know many people who have. Rarely is it the person who seems to be a perfect match on paper who ends up being the love of their life.

Having lots of data is good but just like a dating app has its limits. The data points are like still images taken from a video. You may get a strong sense of what’s going on by looking at the right pictures but you might also jump to the wrong conclusion if important pictures are missing.

What’s Your Message?

Perhaps most important is what you do with the data you have. At some point communication has to happen between people. It may come via a website, an email, a phone call or face-to-face. Good data will be worthless if the person using it doesn’t know how to communicate.

For example; if there’s a problem – people not voting, kids cheating, citizens not paying taxes – you will hurt your chances of changing that behavior by normalizing it with big numbers.

Normalizing it might go like this; it’s terrible that more than 60% of college students cheat (I made that up). If you understand the principle of consensus, people are more inclined to follow the lead of similar others, then you know the statement above may encourage more students to cheat! “Hey, if more than half of the kids are cheating I might as well too,” goes the thought for some students.

I’ve also seen companies use verbiage on collection notices and cease and desist letters that do nothing to help them achieve their goal. Often it makes the person who receives the intimidating communication dig their heels in more! Humans are funny that way. It’s not uncommon for people to forego what’s best for them in order to teach the other person or organization a lesson if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly.

To Do This Week

Think about all the data you encounter and attempt to use to move your organization forward. How can you maximize the effectiveness of that data? At some point you’ll use data when interacting with other people. This is where the rubber meets the road; getting or not getting what you want. Consider the following:

  1. Less is more. Don’t overwhelm people with charts, graphs and numbers. Think about the data that will help reach your objectives and discard what’s not essential.
  2. Account for limitations. Data is good but it’s not the answer, only a tool to help you get answers. Think of it like a map; it’s helpful but it’s not the actual terrain. What might be missing that could help make a better decision?
  3. Manage your message. Don’t share big numbers to impress. Consider the psychology it will trigger in those who encounter it. Will it move people in the direction you want? If not, rethink what you’re going to share and how you plan to share it.

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

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

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

Peer Pressure – None of Us Fully Escapes It

When you were a kid did your parents ever say, “If everyone decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge would you?” Okay, perhaps they used something other than the famous bridge as an example but you get my point. They were trying to warn you against mindlessly going along with the crowd. Their concern was even greater when the crowd was doing something potentially harmful.

Call it peer pressure, social proof or consensus, but each describes the same thing; humans are pack animals. As such, we are heavily influenced by others; what they’re thinking, feeling and doing. Each impacts what we think, how we feel, and what we do. Sorry, but there’s no getting around it.

This jumped out a me once again when I read the following from Brian Kight, CEO of Focus 3, in his daily email:

First, you and I are not immune to peer pressure. It doesn’t matter your age, experience, or what group you belong to. Believing you’re above peer pressure only blinds you to how much it drives behavior. Group dynamics don’t decrease as we progress in our careers, they increase. In emotions, complexity, and consequences. Second, peer pressure always pulls you in one of two directions: it propels you forward or it pulls you back. It’s never neutral. Keeping it simple and true accelerates your awareness of how social scenarios affect you.

Brian is right (me and him!). As much as we like to see ourselves as individuals, we bend to the crowd more than we realize on many things. Deep inside us is the sense that “everyone can’t be wrong” and “there’s safety in numbers.” Why? If you go back in history things worked out well more often than not when people followed the crowd.

Now let me acknowledge this; great things usually don’t come from going along with everyone else. Great thinking, amazing inventions and social change usually come about when people choose to break from the pack. But, most people aren’t looking to do such monumental things. Our days are full of many mundane tasks and decisions. Couple that with the fact that a deeper, stronger drive survive and you get a sense of why consensus has such a grip on us. Here are a few examples:

  • You disagree with the strategic direction at work but don’t speak up because everyone else seems to be on board.
  • You’re at an event that’s so boring you can hardly wait for it to end. Despite your boredom, when everyone gives a standing ovation you stand and clap too.
  • A contentious social subject comes up (Trump, abortion, diversity, etc.) and, although you disagree with the majority, you don’t say speak up.

In each case you decided to go along to get along. Oh sure, you’ll rationalize your decision but the fact remains; you went along with the crowd. Going along with the crowd is like swimming in the ocean. You don’t realize how much the current pulls down the beach unless you fix your eyes on a stationary point on shore.

Conclusion

Going along with the crowd the majority of the time isn’t bad. In fact, quite often it’s good because it generally works out well. Indeed, over history those who stayed with the crowd were typically the ones who survived, thrived and passed along their genes.

However, you need to be careful when your gut is telling you otherwise. When you were younger it would not have been good to jump off a bridge just because other kids were doing it. As an adult sometimes you need to speak up, break from the crowd or go against the grain to be true to yourself and for your personal well-being.

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

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

 

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?

Consensus

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?

Scarcity

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.

Conclusion

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.

A Friendless Existence is the Loneliest Kind of Lonely

Aristotle is reported to have said, “No one would choose a friendless existence on the condition of having all the other things in the world.” What good would it do you to have everything but no one to share it with?

I recently made a trip to California and my wife Jane was going to accompany me. The plan was to do some work then extend the time into some vacation. Unfortunately, she badly broke her ankle the week before the trip and the doctor told her no flying because of the change of blood clots.

While California was beautiful and I met up with an old high school friend, a college buddy and finally met a long time Facebook friend it was not the same without Jane. I often tell people, anything I do is better when she is around. She brings out the best in me and gets me out of my comfort zone to try new things. Missing her got me thinking about Aristotle’s quote.

Human beings are social creatures. We function best and did a much better job surviving in groups as opposed to going it alone.  This is why we’re so heavily impacted by the principle of consensus (a.k.a. social proof). It’s natural for us to take our behavioral cues from other people – what they’re thinking, doing or feeling.

It’s a rare person who prefers solitude over multitudes. Sure, there are some people who like to get away from it all on occasion. That might range from 20 minutes of meditation each day, to walks in nature, or solo camping for days or weeks at a time. But very, very few people choose to live in solitude. Why? Because as social creatures being separated from others can be painful.

Robert Cialdini talked about the implications of this when the famous Asch Conformity Experiments were conducted using neuroscience to analyze what was going on inside people’s heads. When we’re at odds with a group it registers in the same brain region where physical pain manifests. I encourage you to take three minutes to watch this video then consider the following situations that have their basis in isolation from groups:

Excommunication from the Church

It used to be that excommunication from “the church” meant separation from God. I’m not sure that’s really the case with institutions run by flawed human beings but certainly excommunication meant no dealings with those who were still part of the church. That would make daily life difficult and lonely because the church dominated daily life in much of the world. And, quite often excommunication meant no more contact with family members lest they be kicked out too.

Solitary Confinement for Prisoners

When prisoners get out of line quite often their punishment is complete isolation from other prisoners. According to a PBS report, “When corrections officials talk about solitary confinement, they describe it as the prison within the prison, and for good reason. For 23 hours a day, inmates are kept inside a cell that is approximately 80 square feet, smaller than a typical horse stable.”  The article goes on to say, “solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory.”

Rejection from a Group

Whether it’s failure to make the sports team, get into a fraternity or sorority, dishonorable discharge from the military, or losing a job, rejection from a group hurts. The ramifications may not be as serious as solitary confinement but it can still have negative personal and social consequences. While some people can turn that negative into a positive (Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team but went on to great things in the NBA) most people do not.

What are you to do with all this? Two things come to mind:

  1. If you have kids, teach them about the consequences of isolation. Encourage them to be the person who, when they observe another child who is struggling with friendships, to extend their hand in friendship. This could be a first step in stopping bullying and future school violence.
  2. When you notice someone who appears to be a loner, you too can extend a friendly hand. Everyone has good traits and talents, and your friendship offer might be what unlocks that in another human being.

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? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

A Wealth of Information Creates a Poverty of Attention!

Multi-tasking is a fallacy. Despite what you might believe, our brains cannot consciously focus on multiple tasks. Studies show when you try multi-tasking you’ll take longer and make more mistakes than you would have if you’d tackle one thing at a time. Sure, you can walk and talk but walking doesn’t take conscious thought most of the time. However, when something requires your attention, like avoiding stepping into the street into oncoming traffic, your ability to focus on the conversation, or anything else for that matter, is temporarily diverted.

In the world we live in some estimates say you’re bombarded with 3000 to 5000 marketing message a day. The late Herbert Simon, an economist, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, said this about information overload, “…information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Your “poverty of attention” creates the inability to focus and is due in large part to the overstimulation of daily life. But it’s not just marketing that causes it. Your cell phone is part of the problem. Google “cell phone addiction” and you’ll get millions of results! According to an article on Health.com, smartphones have lots in common with Vegas slot machines and they’re altering our brains.

As a persuader you’re competing against this overstimulation and lack of attention. What can you do? By thoughtfully incorporating the principles of influence into your communication you can bypass a lot of the noise.

One big reason using the principles work so well is due to human evolution.  Over the course of history, the principles enabled humans make better decisions faster which increased our survival rate. Travel back in time and consider:

  • Someone who looked, sounded and acted like you could probably be trusted without giving it much consideration (liking).
  • There’s a rustling in the woods so everyone takes off running…and you do too, with very little thought (consensus).
  • There’s not much Wooly Mammoth left so you quickly get some because you don’t know when the next kill will be (scarcity).

These are just a few examples where the psychology of persuasion prompted actions that generally led to good results. Our world is vastly different than the one our ancestors occupied but we still face psychological threats and the wiring of the human brain hasn’t changed.

  • You get a new boss and you have many things in common. You immediately like your boss (liking) which makes working with her easier and less threatening.
  • You’re in new job and realize on day one that you’re not dressed like everyone else. That night you head to the store to make wardrobe adjustments so you’ll fit in a little better (consensus).
  • Things are changing at work but despite the fact that you’re not in agreement with everything you don’t speak up (scarcity).

We face a different environment than our ancestors but we’re using the same brain. The more you look for opportunities to tap into the principles of persuasion the easier it will be for your message to cut through the information overload.

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? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

Why is it so hard to…

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to…do certain things and not do others? It’s a good bet that a lot has to do with psychology and conditioning. Your rational brain might be telling you one thing but something deep inside is prompting you in another direction. For example, why is it so hard to…

…say no to a friend? Imagine for a moment a stranger asks you for your last $10. I’m sure it would be very easy to say no but if a friend asked it would be much tougher to resist their request. That’s because the principle of liking is at work on you. It’s often the case that your willingness, or unwillingness, to do something has more to do with who is asking than what’s being asked. One word of advice; be wary of the person you come to like too quickly, especially if they ask for something shortly after meeting you.

…not say thanks to unwanted actions? Many years ago, my daughter and I were walking through the mall. Shortly after entering we were accosted by someone from a kiosk asking if we wanted to try Dead Sea Salt facial cream. I simply said, “No,” and immediately felt Abigail elbow me as she said, “Dad, it’s ‘no thank you.’” I asked her why I should say thank him when I didn’t appreciate being interrupted and wasn’t thankful for what he was offering? She advised me it’s considered polite to say, “No, thank you.” That social norm comes about because the principle of reciprocity conditions us to give back to those who first give. Even when someone’s actions are unwanted reciprocity typically prompts a conditioned response from us.

…go against the crowd? We all felt peer pressure growing up. Parents worry about kids caving to the pressure of underage drinking, sex, drugs and other behaviors that could be harmful. The pressure to conform never goes away but as we move past the teenage years we call this phenomenon the principle of consensus or social proof. All you have to do is observe an office setting to see how people look around then naturally begin to conform to what they observe. Whether it’s a new initiative at work, dress code, or some cultural norm, people find it hard to go against the crowd because standing out might reflect negatively on them as Robert Cialdini explains in this video from Big Think.

…dismiss expert advice? Your friend tells you to quit smoking and you pay little attention but your doctor tells you and resisting the advice becomes tougher. That’s because the principle of authority is working on your brain. In one study (Expert Advice Shuts Your Brain Down) brain imaging showed critical thinking almost comes to a halt when a perceived expert is giving advice! But, that same advice from someone with no credentials is easy to ignore.

…change your mind? The pressure to be consistent in what you say and do (principle of consistency) is HUGE. One reason that’s so because changing your mind might mean you have to admit you’ve been wrong. If you’ve held a particular view for a long time then it’s even tougher despite the reality that you’re always learning, growing and evolving in your views. One could make the case that changing one’s mind shows openness, flexibility and perhaps enlightenment but that nagging feeling of having been wrong is very difficult to overcome.

…resist some sales pitches? Buyer’s remorse is all too common. This happens when shortly after a purchase people regret their decision and wonder why they bought what they did. The pressure exerted from the principle of scarcity – fear or losing – is often the driver. There’s a fear that if you don’t buy that smart phone, new car, furniture, or something else, you might not get that good a deal again. Yet, in a moment of clear thinking you’d acknowledge sales are a dime a dozen. But here’s the problem – you’re not thinking clearly when you encounter scarcity. The following quote from the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much explains why – “Scarcity captures the mind. Just as the starving subjects had food on their mind, when we experience scarcity of any kind, we become absorbed by it. The mind orients automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.”

For the most part our psychology and conditioning is good because both are meant to help you survive and thrive in a constantly changing environment. But, your subconscious can’t tell when the situation is life or death so it responds just as it did tens of thousands of years ago and that’s why it is so hard to…do many things.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 145,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Systems Plus Persuasion Equal Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Know What to Do but Often Fail to Do It

Something I’ve consistently observed in people is this; quite often we know what to do but too often we fail to do it. Here are a few examples that come right to mind:

  • We know exercise is good for us and yet very few people do even minimal exercise.
  • We know how to eat healthy but still make lots of poor choices because of momentary temptation.
  • We know we should save for retirement but let immediate desires take precedence over our long-term financial goals.

When it comes to persuasion this is often the case too – people intuitively know what to do but don’t act on that knowledge. This important because it hurts your chances for professional success and personal happiness. When I speak to audiences they intuitively know the answers to many of the questions I pose when it comes to human behavior. However, my observation is that very few people act on what they know to be true in their gut. Let me give you examples for each of the principles of influence.

When it comes to reciprocity people know it’s good to be a giver. They know it makes them feel good, makes the other person feel good, and can lead to good outcomes like return favors. But when it comes to trying to change other’s behavior most people reflexively go back to a reward system that isn’t always so effective.

We all know it’s easier for people to say yes to us when they like us. That’s liking in action. However, too often people forego relationship building so they can “get down to business.” They let the busyness of the day get in the way of doing simple things that could help them get more accomplished and enjoy those they work with in the process.

We know there’s power in the crowd (consensus). After all, as the old saying goes, “Everyone can’t be wrong.” Well, the crowd can be wrong but usually going along with the crowd works to people’s advantage. If it didn’t we’d have stopped following the crowd long ago. Even though folks know this they don’t like to “pressure” someone by invoking the principle of consensus despite the fact that what they’re trying to get the other person to do would be in their best interest.

We know experts are believed more than the average person. Despite knowing this I’ve come across very few people who would think of sharing their bio with someone to get a third-party introduction. Even fewer are comfortable personally sharing their background for fear of coming across as a braggart. This is a big lost opportunity.

The principle of consistency can be easily invoked by asking someone to do something rather than telling them what to do. Although people know that they fall back on telling out of habit or a stubbornness. The stubbornness is revealed when a person says something like this, “As a parent (or boss) I shouldn’t have to ask!” Maybe you shouldn’t…unless you want be more effective at changing behavior.

Scarcity it perhaps missed the most. Intuitively crowds I speak to know people are more motivated by what they might lose as opposed to what they might gain. Although they know this they shy away from using legitimate scarcity because they don’t want to come across as negative or some kind of fear monger. If the studies are correct then they could be 2.0-2.5 time more effective if they would legitimately incorporate scarcity into their request.

Each instance where someone fails to act on what the psychology of persuasion has to say (something they quite often know in their gut) they hurt their chances for professional success and personal happiness. Don’t let that happen to you! Learn what the science has to teach you about how to effectively influence people then make the choice to act on it.

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

Hurry Before It Goes Back Into The Disney Vault!

I just returned from Orlando where I spent two and a half days at Coronado Springs, a Disney resort hotel. I was there with more than 1800 learning professionals from around the globe to attend Elliott Masie’s Learning 2017 conference. It was an awesome experience! As I sat in the airport I thought about Disney’s phenomenal brand success.

There are many reason Disney appeals to young and old alike but one that stands out in my mind is the Disney Vault. The mental picture of a vault compels us to buy certain products because it taps into scarcity. This principle of influence teaches us we want things more when we believe they’re rare or going away. With that in mind, let’s analyze the concept of the vault.

The imagery of the vault conveys a secure place where precious item are stored. We use vaults for safekeeping jewelry, money, cash, passports and other valuables. We don’t store everyday items in vaults and neither does Disney.

Disney reserves the vault for its most valuable items – it’s feature length films. Every generation has its favorites such as Cinderella, Snow White, and my daughter’s all-time favorite, Beauty and the Beast. I bet you have a favorite Disney movie that conjures up strong emotions and brings to memory magical times.

When a movie goes into the vault the door is closed, the lock is spun and you can no longer get the movie because you don’t know the combination. Only Disney knows that and only Disney knows when they’ll unlock the vault next.

When items finally come out of the vault Disney does two significant things. First, whatever is brought out is only available for a limited time. After that it goes back in for an undisclosed amount of time. In other words, if you don’t act quickly you might miss out on your opportunity.

Second, when something comes out of the vault it’s not the same as when it went it. Something magical always happens. The movie that comes out might be digitally remastered in Blue-Ray with never before seen extended scenes! Your mind screams, “Holy cow!” You think to yourself, “I have the movie but how much better will it be in this new, digital version? And those scenes, what they are?”

As you ponder these thoughts you can bet your bottom dollar others are ordering so now consensus is at work on you. When we know lots of others are doing something we consider doing it even more. That wisdom of the crowd gives some validation that the new movie version must be worth it.

Between consensus and FOMO (fear of missing out) you psyche is taking a pounding! Maybe that’s not enough to get you to order…this time but it’s undeniable that this Disney approach works like a charm. I write that because marketers are savvy. They test different approaches and measure everything. If the concept of the Disney Vault didn’t work they’d have abandoned it long ago. The fact that you keep seeing it, no matter how ridiculous it might seem to you now, is proof enough about its validity.

What’s an unsuspecting shopper to do? First, remember almost everything is available on Amazon or EBay. If you miss your opportunity someone somewhere is selling the latest Disney stuff. And if your patient enough the Disney vault will open again and the same item – only enhanced and better – will come out for a brief time.

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? It will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Why Don’t We Just Listen for a Change

I was inspired to write this week’s post after watching an enlightening Ted Talk from Theo E.J. Wilson called A Black Man Goes Undercover in the Alt-Right. Don’t worry, this post is not to advocate for any particular position on the political and social spectrum. Rather it’s about the lost art of listening and communicating to understand one another. Theo rightly points out things that prevent us from understanding each other and I have added some of the principles of influence that make it easy to happen:

Online Algorithms

These algorithms begin to filter information to us that we already view and believe, an application of the principle of consistency. It’s no different than the Amazon recommendations that pop up based on prior purchase decisions and sites you’ve viewed. Isn’t it someone freaky how you can start to type in a Google search and the choices that appear almost always contain the exact search you need? It’s as if Google read your mind! This curating of information is constantly going on behind the scenes and may be limiting your worldview.

Media Outlets

We make active choices that narrow our worldview such as only watching Fox News or CNN to the exclusion of all other media outlets. We do so because other large groups of people like us – the principle of consensus – hold the same views. I try to watch MSNBC and Fox in equal amounts because it’s like viewing the world from the North Pole and South Pole. Doing so gives me a better view of the entire planet. Make no mistake, news outlets are run by human beings and have their own bias points of view so be wary.

Our Associations

We tend to hang out with like-minded people. This is a natural phenomenon – the liking principle – because we like people who are similar to us and it’s less taxing mentally to have conversations with people who think like we do.

Social Media

Online “conversations” aren’t really conversations at all. They’ve become forums to espouse views then vehemently defend them. This is one way the principle of consistency can lead us astray. For more on this I will refer you to a post I wrote years ago called Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I’m sure you can think of more things that limit our ability to understand each other. Here are some ideas to perhaps change this. By change I don’t necessarily mean your views have to change but, if you come to understand another person, their point of view, and can maintain respect for them, then isn’t that a good thing?

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was different than you, not to convince them of your point of view, but to simply get to know them and their point of view better? I find it’s best to do this in person, over coffee, a drink, or a meal, where there can be dialog instead of monologue.

Have you ever asked someone what it’s like to be them? Two conversations I’ll never forget happened with a couple of African-Americans; a coworker and my best friend. With my coworker, I asked her on a flight from Nashville to Columbus what it was like to be an African-American working at my company. She talked non-stop the entire flight and I had a new, enlightened point of view.

The other conversation was with my best friend after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You cannot imagine the pride he expressed at something he never thought he would see in his lifetime. I don’t believe in either case the conversations would have happened if I had not opened the door with questions. Give a safe place for people to express themselves and you’ll be surprised at what you hear.

What was refreshing in the Ted Talk was hearing Theo acknowledge that many people who held views completely opposite from his were still people just like him. He saw pictures of kids and families. He saw people who enjoyed activities and liked to have fun. They were humans who viewed the world differently. When we lose sight of other people’s humanity we’re in big trouble because we treat them as things to be opposed. We need not look any further than Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to see what people can do to those they consider less than human.

It was also refreshing to hear Theo acknowledge flaws in the thinking of people he more closely aligned himself with. Every side has flaws because they’re made up of human beings, all of whom are flawed.

Someone asked me recently if I thought our country was more divided than ever. My response was no because there was a time we were so divided we plummeted into civil war. We have an opportunity to turn much of our negativity and opposition into something better. In order to do that I believe we need to stop opposing each other, stop shouting each other down and start having real, person to person conversations. Steven Covey encouraged us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That would be a great starting place.  I encourage you this week, reach out to someone who is different than you and start a dialogue.