You’re Sure You’re Right? Really Sure?

No doubt you’ve heard Donald Trump is running for president. It seems as if The Donald has said he might run each of the last four presidential races but he surprisingly took that step this time. The bigger news story came with his remarks about illegal aliens, especially people coming from the Mexican-American border, and the fallout with several organizations he did business with.

Trump’s remarks were incendiary and not worth repeating but now with the death of a San Francisco woman at the hands of an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times, Trump’s views have people talking even more. No doubt many people will take the killing as “proof” of Trump’s claims but is that viewpoint accurate?

There are two psychological concepts at work right now between Trump and this murder story: confirmation bias and the recency bias. Confirmation bias occurs when someone seeks information that only confirms what he or she already believes to be true. Recency effect bias occurs when our attention is drawn to something – like recent news stories – and we give more weight to that information than it deserves.

For example – the chance of being killed by a shark are incredibly small compared to the odds of dying in an automobile accident. However, with the recent shark attacks dominating the news (recency effect bias) many more people will stay away from the ocean than will stay away from cars. Each time another shark encounter is mentioned in the news people say, “I told you so” (confirmation bias).

The same phenomenon is taking place with Trump’s comments and illegal aliens. The comments are mentioned multiple times each day (recency effect bias) and the San Francisco killing is proof (confirmation bias) for many people that Trump is right. The danger is giving undeserved credibility to Trump’s racially insensitive remarks, which only perpetuates the problem of racial tension in our country.

We are all subject to the effects of confirmation bias and recency bias but unfortunately too often we’re unaware of it. He is another example – global warming / climate change. For the majority of people their experience dictates their view on the issue. A couple of very cold winters make many say, “Global warming is a farce. We’re experiencing record colds here!” On the other hand, people in parts of the country experiencing drought or unusually hot temperatures will take that as “proof” that global warming exists. In neither case can you prove or disprove the issue based on your limited experience. Each instance only confirms the bias many people already have on the issue.

So you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with me?” or “Why is this of any importance?”

If you happen to go before a jury wouldn’t you hope the people making a decision in your case would not be swayed by evidence solely because it confirmed what they already believed? Sure you would.

Would you want people making public policy decisions on something as important as global warming based on how hot their summer was or how cold their winter was? Of course not!

Making the best decisions possible entails understanding how our minds work. Sometimes the shortcuts we rely on don’t always lead to the right conclusions because more critical thinking is necessary. It’s hard work but when the stakes are high it’s a worthwhile investment of time and energy.

A Persuasion Trump Card

Are you a fan of Donald Trump’s show “The Apprentice?” When it first aired I watched it religiously because I learned some business tips but I don’t watch it so much anymore because there’s usually too much drama and too few tips. That said, I was watching an episode recently where Donald Trump’s new cologne, “Success by Trump,” was introduced. Each celebrity team’s challenge was to design an in-store display and come up with a slogan for the new fragrance which will be carried by Macy’s. The teams were judged by Trump and Macy’s executives on the creativity of their slogan, their brand messaging and the in-store display presentation they developed.

Aubrey O’Day, project manager for one team, suggested the tagline, “Trust your instinct.” Almost immediately Arsenio Hall found a Donald Trump quote online where The Donald asked, “Do you trust your instinct?”

At that very moment I knew Aubrey’s team would win the task. How did I know? I knew because I understand the principle of consistencyand it is very apparent Donald Trump is a pragmatic when it comes to personality type. Allow me to explain how these two facts led to my immediate conclusion.

Let’s start with one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence, the principle of consistency, sometimes known as “commitment and consistency.” This principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure to remain consistent in word and deed. Most people feel bad when they say they’ll do something but then back out, even if their reason for backing out is completely legitimate. That’s why people go to great lengths to keep their word.

In addition to that aspect of consistency we need to remember people are more easily persuaded to do something when it aligns with what they’ve already said or done. In other words, tying your product or idea to what someone has already publicly stated will make the persuasion process much easier. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Several years ago I did a survey with my blog readers on personality types and influence approaches. Using a basic four quadrant DISC model (pragmatic, expressive, amiable, analytic) I had people self-identify then take a short survey so I could find out if there were influence approaches that worked best with certain personalities. My data clearly showed there were, and when it came down to it, for the pragmatic consistency was one of the three principles that worked best.

Pragmatics are described using these terms: action-orientated, decisive, problem solver, direct, assertive, demanding, risk taker, forceful, competitive, independent, determined, thrive on challenges, strong intrinsic motivation to succeed, practical, focused, results oriented, direct and straight to the point. Doesn’t that sound like Donald Trump to you?

Let me ask you a couple of questions about persuading someone like Donald Trump.

  1. Do you think he will be more persuaded by someone trying to buddy up to him using the liking principleor will he respond more to potential lost opportunities using scarcity? I vote scarcity every time.
  2. Do you think he will be more swayed by what everyone else is doing using consensusor more by the presentation of hard data using the authority principle? I’ll go with authority in this case.

As soon as Aubrey O’Day came up with the tagline and Arsenio Hall tied it to Trump’s own words it was a sure bet The Donald would love it. It was also a sure bet if he loved it the Macy’s executives would not try to change his mind. When both teams went to the board room I was proven correct.

What does this mean for you? In your attempt to persuade others you’ll certainly be more successful when you understand the psychology of persuasion and how to ethically leverage it. However, using a shotgun approach with the principles is akin to mass marketing which will never be as effective as target marketing that considers the specifics of the audience. In the same way, knowing the type of person you’re trying to persuade allows you to look for legitimate opportunities to use principles that will be most effective for that personality type.

Sure, Donald Trump likes to be liked and is somewhat interested in what others are doing, but if you rely on those to persuade him you’ll never be as effective as you could be by tapping into principles as I outlined in the questions above.

Here’s my advice: next time you go into an influence situation give thought to the personality type you’ll be dealing with then consider the best principles of influence to use. If you do so you’ll have a persuasion Trump card. To find out more about how to do this click on each of the personality types below.


Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.