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Missed Learning Opportunities

Last week I had the privilege of attending the 2018 Learning Conference put on by Elliott Masie in Orlando, Florida. It was actually my third time attending and second as a breakout session presenter. If you’re in the learning field I encourage you to attend! The conference typically hosts 1700-1800 people from around the world, offers hundreds of breakout sessions and features keynote presenters like John Lithgow, Leslie Odom, Jr., Dan Pink, Anderson Cooper, Laura Bush and Michell Obama.

The lens I view much of life through is the psychology of persuasion – how can we ethically move people to action. I view learning through that same lens because learning is about more than sharing information. Learning is about getting people to take in new information then act on it.

This is where persuasion comes in. The conference presenters were bright people who’ve done well in their careers and work for reputable companies. Unfortunately, many missed opportunities to use persuasion and pre-suasion to make for better learning experiences. I’ll share a few examples.

Pre-suasion Engages Audiences

In a storytelling session the presenter asked for a volunteer to share with the larger group. There were no takers so she asked, “Don’t we have any brave souls?” Eventually a hand went up. If she had understood a little about pre-suasion, how to arrange for an audience to be receptive to a message before delivering it, she would have approached the situation differently.

A better approach would have been to ask if there were any brave or adventurous people in the audience. That non-threatening question undoubtedly would have seen many hands go high into the air. Then it would have been easy to get a volunteer simply by asking, “Would one of you brave or adventurous souls be willing to share…” Once people had self-identified as brave or adventurous it would have been easy to tap into the principle of persuasion known as consistency to get volunteers.

It’s Common Sense

After one session on behavioral economics someone seated at a table with me and a handful of others remarked, “This is really just common sense.” I’ve heard that too many times to let it go so I chimed in that while it may appear to be common sense most people fail to use that common sense.

The example I shared with the small group was how people instinctively know more people will take action to avoid a loss versus gaining something. Despite that understanding people still go back to what they’ve always done – point out all the positives when trying to get someone to buy their product or service – rather than highlighting what someone may lose by not acting.

Application, Application, Application

In real estate there’s a saying that selling a property is all about location, location, location. In learning we could say it’s all about application, application, application. You cannot assume your learners will make the connection about what’s being taught and how it applies to them or their business.

Having taught influence for more than a decade the #1 piece of feedback I get is to give more examples. Learners never seem to get enough. Help them connect the dots and they’re far more likely to put into practice what they’ve just learned.

Your Next Learning Event

As you plan your next learning event give thought to these three things:

  1. What you will ask people to do? Once you know this ask yourself what frame of mind you want people in. Then do whatever is necessary to put as many people in that frame of mind as possible. This may be through written text, questions, visuals or some other method.
  2. To help avoid, “I already know this” or “This is just common sense,” address it up front with a good example or two. This might be what’s needed to change people’s thinking and have them focused on your message.
  3. Finally, for every major point you share give clear, concise application. Whatever you share might be interesting but the rubber meets the road when people understand how to use it in ways that will help them professionally and/or personally.

Do these three things and your audience will be in the right frame of mind to learn and take that learning home with them in ways that will make a difference.

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.

Our Hypocritical Selves

Most mornings I eat breakfast and watch a little news before I head out the door for work. I typically flip between MSNBC and Fox so I can get both ends of the political and cultural spectrum. It’s amazing how the very same story can be interpreted so differently. And make no mistake about it, most of the “news” is actually interpretation because a few facts are shared then “pundits” spend most of the time giving their opinions. As I watch and listen I can’t help but think about our hypocritical selves. Saying we – me, you and everyone else – are hypocritical to some degree might sound offensive but please stick with me.

We like to believe we’re rational creatures who occasionally act irrationally but that’s the exact opposite of reality. Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and best-selling author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely would both vigorously contend human beings are irrational creatures who occasionally act rational. Their assertions are back up by scientific research in their books Thinking, Fast and Slow andPredictably Irrational.

Human hypocrisy is seen best in the media and politics. Below are examples.

  • Fox constantly bashed Obama for playing so much golf during his time in office but has no trouble defending Trump consistently going to his Mar-a-Largo resort to play golf.
  • When Bill Clinton said “It’s the economy, stupid,” during his 1992 presidential campaign democrats loved it and he won. When conservatives point to how great the economy is doing now the other side says, “Yea, but…” and will try to convince you despite the lowest unemployment in 50 years things are not as good as they seem.
  • Immigration, now here’s a doozy. When Bill Clinton was for strong borders and enforcing our laws and the democrats cheered. Today Trump is vilified by that same group for trying to enforce the boarders and laws that have been in place for decades.
  • Recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted a passage from the Bible to defend the administration’s current immigration stance and the separation of children from parents who are illegal. If that had been said by Eric Holder I’m sure conservatives would be pointing to verses about the need to take in and care for strangers as Jesus commanded.

Do you see what I mean? Every four or eight years each side flips the script. I’m politically agnostic because I’ve come to the point in life where I see power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I just don’t believe most politicians truly have our best interests at heart.

Why are we hypocritical so often? Here are a few things play into our hypocrisy:

  • Confirmation bias. Most people look for evidence to confirm what they believe, not to disbelieve. It’s not easy to look yourself in the mirror and acknowledge long held beliefs might have been wrong because our beliefs are such a large part of our self-identity.
  • The principle of consistency. Human beings feel better about themselves when they act in ways that are consistent with what they’ve said and done in the past. This tendency gets stronger the older we get. It’s easier to keep doing what you’ve always done rather than seeking new approaches to life and issues.
  • Anywhere from 85%-95% of what you think and do in a given day is driven by your subconscious according to science. That means the vast majority of the time we “think” and act without consciously considering what we’re doing, saying or believing. The human brain is programmed to do this and before you realize it you may be many decades into life with thoughts, beliefs and habits that are very hard to change.

We’ll never get rid of the reality that some of our beliefs and actions will conflict with one another. But, we can make a more concerted effort to challenge our beliefs, thinking and actions. It only takes a moment and it will be a moment well spent, especially if you grow in the process.

I’ll end with something I heard Zig Ziglar say in response to someone who said church was full of hypocrites. Zig replied, “Come join us, we’ve got room for one more.” He wasn’t being cynical and he didn’t try to defend himself because he knew he, and all other human beings, have beliefs, conscious and unconscious, that are sometimes hypocritical. It’s part of being human and no of us is immune. The best we can do is stop fighting it, acknowledge the truth, then be open to the possibility that maybe each of us has room to grow.

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 nearly 135,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Getting Help When You Need It Most

Getting help when you need it most can be the difference between success and failure, between being productive or unproductive. Over time it may make the difference between a good raise and a poor one, between being promoted or overlooked.

Let’s say it’s Monday the 4th and you need to get a report to your boss by next Monday, the 11th. Your philosophy is “If it’s got to be it’s up to me,” but in this case you need some info from a coworker in another department to get the job done. This is important because your report, after being reviewed by your boss, will be incorporated into the CEO’s quarterly board report. How are you going to get help when you need it most? How you make your request to your coworker might make all the difference.

With more than 30 years in the business world my bet is most people would fire off an email that’s straight to the point, “John, I need the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday.” Unfortunately, that approach is doomed to fail quite often. How can you start recreating your communication to ensure success?

Let’s start with this; instead of telling, try asking. The principle of consistency tells us people are far more likely to do something that’s in line with something they’ve previously said or done, so a key to success is to get the other person to commit to what you need. To do this simply ask for help rather than telling. Your message would change to, “John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Friday?”

Your request has gone from a statement to a question. If John says yes, your odds of success just went up significantly. After all, people feel good about themselves when their words and deeds match so John will probably try a little harder to make sure he lives up to what he committed to.

But what if John is a busy guy and despite being very nice he feels he’s too swamped to help you? His knee jerk response might be, “I’d love to help but I’m just too busy right now.” — and your heart sinks. Good news; there might be a way around this potential problem! You’d be better off asking, “John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday?”

Why is asking with a small buffer a better tactic? The rule of reciprocity alerts us to the reality that people feel obligated to give back to those who give first. If John says no to Wednesday then you’d want to come back immediately with something like this, “I understand completely, it’s never been busier around here. Could you possibly get the numbers by Friday?” Studies show when you make a second request, offering a concession immediately after someone says no, the other person is very likely to concede a little in response. This means you might get a yes to your second request.

There’s one more strategy you can employ; using the word “because.” You’ll recall from previous blog posts, when you use the word “because” and give a reason it’s almost like an automatic trigger for people to comply. Here’s how a master at persuasion would approach this situation:

“John, would you be able to get me the quarterly sales numbers with profit by Wednesday because I need them for the board report?”

Using “because” gives you the best chance of getting the help you need and mentioning the board report adds weight to your request. This request is in a question format which engages consistency, upping the odds that John will follow through when he does agree to help. But, should he say no, you have an opportunity to engage reciprocity by making a concession when you fall back to Friday.

Could John still say no to Friday? Sure. But think about the person who regularly asks for help as I’ve laid out vs. someone else who just tells people what to do with no strategic thought about timing or reason. Who do you think will be successful more often? The savvy communicator and that savvy translates into getting more work accomplished on time and very likely under budget. Someone who uses this approach is probably in line for a raise or promotion because work is about achieving results. Now you can be that person because you know the keys to getting help when you need it most.

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 nearly 135,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

 

Systems Plus Persuasion Equal Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership, Authority and Influence are All Intertwined

I’ve spent a lot of time the past six months immersing myself in leadership material from Focus 3 because it’s really good stuff. They’re called Focus 3 because they focus on three things: leadership, culture and behavior. Their overarching view is this: leaders create the culture within an organization which drives the behaviors that lead to results.

Tim Kight, the founder of Focus 3, did a presentation on How Leaders Achieve Great Results and during that talk he said something that resonated with me. He told the audience, “Leadership is not authority based on a position you’ve been given. It is influence based on trust you’ve earned.”

Are you a leader? Leaders have followers. You may have the title and corner office but that’s no guarantee that people will follow you. Even if they follow, are they doing so enthusiastically or begrudgingly? If they’re only following because they have to then they’re not much better than those who don’t follow.

Getting people to follow you is where influence comes in handy. Influence, when used correctly and ethically, can help build relationships and trust as well as motivate people to action.

How do you build relationships?

Engage the principles of liking and reciprocity and you’ll find it a bit easier because when people like you they’ll be more inclined to do what you ask. But the key isn’t to try to get them to like you. Rather, you should make every effort to come to like them. Pay attention to others and look to connect on what you have in common.

Your other opportunity is to have the mindset that you want to catch them doing what’s right. When you do so and pay the person a genuine compliment it also works on your mindset. After all, don’t you generally think more highly of people you compliment?

As a leader, do you actively look to help your people grow and develop?

The second way to build relationship is by engaging the principle of reciprocity. When you coach them, provide resources and help them achieve their goals they’ll appreciate you and naturally look to repay the favor. When your team knows you have their best interest at heart it builds relationships.

Are you an expert and do you use it to help others?

It’s one thing to be good at what you do but it’s quite another to use your competency to help others get better too. The other half of the equation is trust. It does little good to be some kind of expert if people don’t trust you. Much of your trust comes from your character. Do you do what you say you’ll do? That’s why Aristotle said, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”

Finally, a leader needs to get people to take action.

The most effective way is by using the principle of consistency. Instead of telling people what to do (this doesn’t engage the principle) try asking. The big reason this is so effective is because once someone has agreed to do something they feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to follow through on their commitment. This is why I always encourage audiences to stop telling, start asking.

Becoming an effective leader isn’t rocket science but there is a science to it. When ethically looking for opportunities to engage the science of influence you’ll build relationships, gain trust and move people to take the actions necessary to ensure success.

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.

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.

Fan Psychology and Your Favorite Sport Team

This past weekend college football officially kicked off its season and Thursday night the NFL will do the same. There were some big games (#1 Alabama vs. #3 Florida State) and amazing comebacks (UCLA down 44-10 late in the game came back to beat Texas A&M 45-44). There are few things in life that people are more passionate about than their favorite sports teams. Football is king in the United States but in the rest of the world soccer dominates the landscape.

With passion comes some interesting psychology. For example, people will like others who cheer for their team with virtually nothing else to go on. That’s the principle of liking in action. When we find one thing we have in common with someone else, especially when it’s something we’re very passionate about, it’s easy to like them because we view them as being like us.

The principle of consistency comes into play when people make public statements about their team then feel pressure to back up those statements no matter what the facts may be. For example, I have a relative who is a big Michigan Wolverine fan. I happen to be a huge Ohio State Buckeye fan. The two teams have one of the longest, most heated rivalries in all of sports which culminates in “The Game” every November.

When the Maize and Blue dominated the Buckeyes throughout the late 80s and all of the 90s my relative insisted it was because Michigan was a better team and program. The tables have turned since those days and over the past 15 years OSU had owned Michigan, winning 13 times. My relative can’t bring himself to admit Ohio State simply has a better program at this juncture. Instead he chalks up the OSU wins to cheating, poor officiating, rule breaking, luck and just about anything else he can think of. To be sure, there can be bad calls and an element of luck, but it’s hard to argue your team is better when they’ve been so thoroughly dominated for so long.

My relative isn’t alone when it comes to defending his team at all costs. As I noted earlier, to remain consistent it’s normal for people to vehemently defend their team and position at all costs.

One other bit of psychology you’ll see on full display, especially on game day, is confirmation bias. This psychological concept tells us people will search for evidence to confirm their position while denying evidence that contradicts their position. We’re all susceptible to confirmation bias when it come to our teams. Consider how often opposing fans will dispute calls despite clear evidence on instant replay.

Consider the following study cited in The Person and the Situation by Lee Ross, Richard E. Nisbett, and Malcolm Gladwel. The authors wrote, “In this study, Dartmouth and Princeton football fans both viewed the same film of a particularly rough gridiron struggle between their respective teams. Despite the constancy of the objective stimulus, the opposing partisans’ assessments of what they had viewed suggested that they ‘saw’ two different games. The Princeton fans saw a continuing saga of Dartmouth atrocities and occasional Princeton retaliations. The Dartmouth fans saw brutal Princeton provocations and occasional measured Dartmouth responses. Each side, in short, saw a struggle in which their side were the ‘good guys’ and the other side were the ‘bad guys.’ And each side thought this ‘truth. ought to be apparent to any objective observers of the same events.”

Later the authors wrote, “This polarization effect, it seemed, occurred because the subjects in both partisan groups tended to accept evidence supportive of their own position uncritically, while at the same time critically scrutinizing and ‘explaining away’ evidence that was equally probative but that ran counter to their position.”

So, what’s the point here? Sports brings out passion in people. You’ll be accepted by those who cheer for your team and reviled by those who don’t…at least on game day. When it comes to “convincing” someone about the superiority of your team save your breath because it’s like trying to teach a pig to sing – you won’t succeed, you’ll upset the pig, and you’ll get frustrated in the process.

A Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Selling

There’s old saying that applies to persuasion and selling, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I don’t actually know anyone who’s ever skinned a cat so I have no idea how many ways you can do it but I’ll trust there are multiple ways. When it comes to persuasion there are many approaches you can use to hear “yes” more often.

What I’ll share this week is directed towards salespeople but the application goes beyond just sales. When it comes to landing a sale, there are a couple of ways you can approach it: top down or bottom up.

Top Down. Sometimes you want to go for it, pull out all the stops and be bold. After all, you have no chance of hearing “yes” if you don’t ask for the sale. Too many salespeople censure themselves with a belief that the prospective client will never go for their top of the line proposal. What they end up doing is reducing their offer…and their chances of making the sale.

I’ll give you an example from my industry – insurance. I can tell you from more than 30 years of experience that far too many people are underinsured when it comes to their homes, cars, businesses, and lives. Here are just a few reasons this happens:

  1. People feel “forced” to buy insurance. The state says they have to insure their car and the bank that holds their mortgage requires them to insure their home.
  2. Laws require business owners to carry certain coverages like workers’ compensation.
  3. Nobody wants to contemplate the end of life so the decision for life insurance is put off again and again.

Because people don’t like to buy insurance they can be quick to dismiss coverages and suggestions from their insurance agent. It’s always in the best interest of the customer that the agent recommends the policy and coverages he or she believes will afford the proper protection. During my time in the insurance industry I’ve never heard someone say after a loss, “Darn! My agent sold me the right coverages and I’m fully protected!” However, many people have said, “Damn! My agent didn’t sell me the right coverage (or amount) and now I’m paying out of my own pocket!”

By offering the right policy and coverages up front the agent risks being rejected and that’s okay. First, never underestimate that some people will buy what’s presented because they recognize it’s in their best interests to do so. If the individual rejects what’s presented the agent has the opportunity to engage what’s known as “reject and retreat.”

If someone rejects your initial offer and you step in with a more moderate offer, one that still affords the essential protection they need, the likelihood that the prospect will say “yes” to the second proposal is higher than if you’d have started with it outright. Why? Because of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. In the case of rejection, when you make a concession, take a step to the middle, quite often people will make a concession too and meet you part way.

My advice to salespeople is always this – don’t censure yourself! Put the proposal on the table that you believe is right for the customer. When you do so, anticipate they might reject it and be ready with reduced offers you can use in case you hear “no.” Anticipating “no” is not pessimistic, it’s strategic because it allows you to strategically engage reciprocity.

Bottom Up. Sometimes it’s best to tackle the situation from the opposite direction. There might be reasons you can’t go for the whole enchilada because it will surely result in hearing “no” without any fallback options. This might happen because:

  1. You don’t have enough experience with the type of account you’re trying to write.
  2. You don’t have a strong enough relationship with the business owner to warrant going after all the policies associated with his or her business.
  3. The main part of the account comes up for renewal at a different time.

Your best opportunity under these circumstances would be to try writing something smaller like the prospect’s home and auto or part of their business account (auto, worker’s compensation, etc.). The reason you want to approach the sale in this manner is to get your “foot in the door.” If you write any business for the prospective customer you become their agent. Assuming you do a good job for them that little step forward will make it easier for them to give you an opportunity on the bigger parts of their insurance package.

The psychology behind this approach is the principle of consistency. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Once you’ve become someone’s agent it’s a consistent next step to see if you can help him or her with their other insurance needs. Now the whole enchilada is within sight!

Persuading a person isn’t always as simple as some would lead you to believe. Due to situational factors and individual differences you can never predict what a single individual might do any more than a doctor can predict which person will live a long life. However, just as a doctor can confidently predict more people will live longer if they live healthy lifestyles, we can confidently say more people will say “yes” when you correctly tap into social psychology. We can make this claim because there’s more than seven decades of research you can rely on to significantly increase the odds that you’ll hear “yes” when you make a request of another person.

So, next time you go into a sale consider whether or not top down or bottom up is the right approach. A little strategic planning could make the sale much easier.