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The First Day of My New Career and the Rest of My Life

Today is the day – the first day of my new career and the rest of my life!! In September I announced a huge change was coming and it’s finally here. After 28 ½ years I’ve left State Auto Insurance to pursue Influence PEOPLE as my fulltime endeavor.

When I decided to make this move back in September my feelings were primarily a mixture of fear and excitement. As each day passed and I began to see the future more clearly the fear subsided and my excitement grew. While there are no guarantees in life all I see is opportunity ahead.

One thing that’s really stood out with my career change is this – if you truly come to like and enjoy the people you support (principle of liking) and do whatever you can to help others (principle of reciprocity) you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many people will want to help you before you even ask.

Not only is this a career change, it’s a life change. I told my wife I’m going to look at everything I do – when I get up, how I work out, where I do my work, when I work and so on – and see what changes I want to make. I feel like I’ve moved into a new house and the opportunities to make it my dream home are endless.

With Thanksgiving soon upon us this is a good time to give several big THANK YOUS.

To all the State Auto employees, former employees, and agents who have reached out to ask how they can help me – THANK YOU! Your willingness to support me gives more even more confidence that I’ve made the right decision.

To my friends at INFLUENCE AT WORK – Bob, Greg, Bobette, Cara, Eily and Jandy – THANK YOU for your support and  encouragement.

To all of you who’ve been loyal readers of Influence PEOPLE over the years – THANK YOU! When I started blogging nearly 10 years ago I never imagined I would gain a following across the country and around the world. You also give me confidence in the choice I’ve made.

As I close I will be so bold as to ask for a couple of favors:

  1. If you’ve enjoyed the blog and have found it useful on a professional and/or personal level would you share it with friends and coworkers?
  2. If you think your organization could benefit from influence training, coaching or consulting would you share Influence PEOPLE with decision makers?

One last time – THANK YOU!

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed 150,000 times! The course will teach 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 Huge Life Change is Upon Me!

I have some exciting news to share – I’ve decided to leave State Auto after 29 years to pour my heart and soul into Influence PEOPLE on a full-time basis. November 16 will be the last time I walk out of 518 East Broad Street as an employee. This is one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made and certainly the biggest career decision. I put it on par with getting married, buying a home and deciding to become a parent because all were scary/exciting adventures into the unknown.

Choosing to leave State Auto was not easy. I’ve been blessed to work for someone who has been a great boss, close friend and big supporter. I loved what I did and believed I helped people in the process. On top of all that, I enjoyed the people I worked with beyond measure! If you have a great boss, love what you do, enjoy the people you serve and are paid well, then you’re a lucky person. I was, and remain, very fortunate in all regards.

The friendships mattered most. As you might imagine, when you spend 29 years with one company it feels like family. There have been times when I traveled and stayed with coworkers because we were that close in our friendships. I’ve been to weddings, funerals, seen children born, seen some pass away, traveled to wonderful places, cried and laughed with coworkers. I could go on and on but you get the picture. More than anything else I will miss the people.

When I was trained under Robert Cialdini on the psychology of persuasion I knew it was what I would eventually do full time. Everything I’ve done over the past 10 years with the business, blogging, networking, speaking and social media has been for this moment. If I said I wasn’t a little bit scared I’d be lying. But, with each passing day, as I take more steps in this new direction fear is replaced with excitement. One of those steps will be finishing a book I started many years ago so keep an eye out for that.

As I look to the future I’m so excited share what I know about human behavior and the psychology of persuasion because I believe with all my heart I can help people enjoy more professional success and personal happiness through Influence PEOPLE.

I want to close with something I wrote more than 25 years ago in my personal mission regarding my career:

I want Christ to be the centerpiece for all that I do at work; I want to give my best effort to whatever task is laid before me; be remembered for making my workplace better for having been there in both a productive and personal sense; obtain satisfaction from my chosen career; be fair and honest while remaining firm and decisive; remember the people involved; earn the trust, respect and confidence of those I work with; continue to develop personally and seek new challenges. Last, I need to remember that I work to live — I don’t live to work. Therefore, I will never sacrifice my spiritual, personal or my family’s well-being at the expense of my career.

I believe I fulfilled the mission at State Auto and now it’s time to move on. In this next chapter I look forward to fulfilling that mission across the country and eventually around the world.

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! If you’ve not watched it yet click here to see what you’ve been missing. The course will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Influence is all about PEOPLE

When I speak to groups I always emphasize this point early on – Influence is all about PEOPLE. I say that because we can’t persuade things. I’ve been teaching influence for 15 years and realize no matter how good I am at this skill I cannot talk my lawn mower into cutting the grass on a hot summer day. However, if I’m good at influence I might be able to persuade my wife or daughter to tidy up the yard. Dale Carnegie hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you’re in business.”

When it comes to PEOPLE I encourage you to think about the about the following: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. Let’s examine the PEOPLE perspective in more detail.

Powerful: Who says influence is powerful? Take a look at what these well-known people from history had to say about persuasion.

  • “Persuasion is often more effective than force.” – Aesop
  • “If I can persuade, I can move the universe.” – Frederick Douglas
  • “Persuasion is the art of getting people to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” – Aristotle

In addition to those highly intelligent individuals, we now have more than 70 years of data from social science and behavioral economics to prove just how powerful persuasion can be when it’s done right.

Everyday: Unless you’re Tom Hanks in Castawayyou interact with people every single day. In your communication with others quite often you make requests, hoping to hear “Yes!” Nobody goes it alone, especially highly successful people. Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO was clear about this when he said, “Nearly everything I’ve done in my life has been accomplished through other people.”

Here’s something I love about persuasion; what you learn is beneficial at work and it applies equally well at home. That’s because influence helps with your parents, significant other, children, neighbors and anyone else you come in contact with. It’s truly a 24x7x365 skill.

Opportunities: Virtually every time you communicate with others there are opportunities to do seemingly little things to reap big rewards. For example, applying a little psychology of persuasion helped the Cancer Society increased their volunteer rate 700% in one area of town and Easter Seals doubled the number of donors! In each case small things led to big changes.

Lasting: Sometimes your interaction with another person is “one and done” but many times it’s part of an ongoing relationship. When that’s the case you don’t want to go back to the drawing board time after time, persuading someone about the same thing over and over. No, you want to communicate in a way that changes people’s thinking and behavior for the long haul. That’s possible when the other person’s self-identity is impacted in the process.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood the power of persuasion to create a lasting effect when he said, “I would rather persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.”

Ethical: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary one definition of manipulate is, “to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner.” That isn’t so bad but another part of the definition means, “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage.”

Manipulation makes most of us bristle because it conjures up images of taking advantage of unsuspecting people. I’ve never met anyone who liked being manipulated and I’m certain the vast majority of people don’t want to be known as good manipulators either.

I love the following quote from The Art of WOO by Richard Shell & Mario Moussa because it captures the essence of ethical vs. manipulative persuasion, “An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affections. So does the cad who succeeds to take advantage of another’s heart. But when the cad succeeds, we don’t blame the flowers and candy. We rightly question his character.”

Make no mistake about it; understanding influence and persuasion is powerful and in the wrong hands can lead to taking advantage of others. But I think it’s reasonable to say the people who would do that would also try to manipulate others apart for learning persuasion techniques. It’s important that you understand the psychology of persuasion because not only will not only help you ethically move others to action, it will help you avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been more than 135,000 times! Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Robert Cialdini, Friend and Mentor

This week I’d like to highlight my friend and mentor, Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. I won’t go into details on how I came to know Cialdini because I shared that story last year in a post I called My Chance Encounter with Robert Cialdini.

Cialdini has been associated with the psychology department at Arizona State University for more than three decades and helped the department receive world-wide recognition. On Cialdini’s recent birthday the ASU psychology department released a video to thank him and his wife Bobette for their generous donation “to help push ASU psychology forward as a national leader.”

You need to understand when it comes to this field of study Cialdini is a rock star! In fact, he’s the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to the science of influence and persuasion. His books Influence Science and Practice and Pre-suasion are both New York Times best-sellers. He also co-authored Yes: 50 Scientifically Ways to be Persuasive and The Small Big. If you want to understand how to ethically move people to action these four books are must reads because they’re the gold standard when it comes to influence and persuasion.

For all his fame and the pull he must feel from people, he’s always been generous with me when it comes to his time. On many occasions over the past 15 years I’ve had the privilege of dining with him alone or in small groups. I always walk away having learned new things and brimming with fresh ideas to try. I’ll never forget the dinner we shared eight years ago as my daughter Abigail was getting ready to go to high school because he gave me some valuable advice.

For my part, I’ve always tried to encourage Cialdini with stories from the field as I look to implement his life’s work at State Auto Insurance and through my company Influence PEOPLE. I recall one dinner where my boss, John Petrucci, and I told him some things we were doing at State Auto with regard to the principles of influence. As we talked Cialdini had a wide smile, his eyes grew larger and he leaned in to listen. It was so apparent he was genuinely excited to find out how his work was being use in the real world. That genuine enthusiasm plus his stance on ethics are what made me want to be associated with him and his team at INFLUENCE AT WORK.

I hope you’ll join me in wishing him a belated happy birthday and to give thanks for his generous donation to ASU so they can build on his work and continue to help us learn how to ethically influence the world.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and 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.

Speak Metaphorically to Influence Literally

Speaking metaphorically can help you influence people, literally. This post was inspired by the Ted Talk Metaphorically Speaking from James Geary.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary a metaphor isa figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.”

He is my personal example of a metaphor. Several weeks ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was called before Congress because of the impact Facebook, fake news, and user data may have played into the 2016 presidential election. As our elected officials tried to grill Zuckerberg it was apparent they had little to no knowledge of how Facebook and other social media outlets operate. In response to this fiasco I post the following on a few social media sites:

“Imagine horse owners in 1910 grilling Henry Ford about car accidents and you have a picture of what happened the other day.”

People understood exactly what I meant right away. What would the impact on the newly formed auto industry have been if congressmen who rode horses ignorantly questioned Henry Ford about the dangers of automobiles? We might still be using the horse and buggy to get to work or at least set technology back many years if not decades!

For the most part people think in pictures, not words. When I mention an elephant it’s highly unlikely you’ll think “E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T.” Instead you probably have an image in mind. For some people it’s a big African elephant with huge tusks. Others might envision the smaller Asian elephant used in some Indian Jones movies. And other people pictured a cute baby elephant like the one in the movie Dumbo. No matter how people think of an elephant, we all use pictures in our mind’s eye and would likely agree on what an elephant is, despite minor differences.

Metaphors can take a complex subject and immediately make it understandable for most people. I’d guess if you didn’t see any of the Zuckerberg – Congress interaction you got a pretty good idea of what happened based on my 22-word description.

When Steve Jobs wanted people to grasp what a computer could do for them he said the computer was like “a bicycle for the mind.” Bicycles are easy to use and make us much more efficient in getting from one place to another. Most people, upon hearing Jobs, probably thought, “Yea, I get it.”

Much of persuasion is about taking the complex, simplifying it then communicating with people in a way that gets them to say “Yes” and take action. Next time you need to share something complex, don’t talk in technical terms, think about the proper metaphor to share and you’ll increase your odds of success. In other words, speak metaphorically to influence literally.

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.

Don’t Stop Believin’ You can Influence People

Don’t Stop Believin’ by the 80s rock band Journey is one of the best-known songs of all time. It’s not that the song is musically distinct, it’s because the lyrics are easy to remember and it’s encouraging when everything seems to be going against you. Misuse “don’t” and you might hinder your ability to influence people.

“Don’t” is an interesting word. I think about amateur golfers who come up to a hole with water.  When I ask them what they think about as they get ready to play the hole it’s almost always, “Don’t go in the water.” And where do they end up all too often? In the water! Why would that happen when they’re so focused on not ending up in there? Let’s take a quick look at your brain to answer the question.

Your brain is like the engine of your car. The engine is what makes your car go. I bet you know how to drive but probably have very little knowledge about how the engine actually works. The same could be said of your brain. It’s your engine, driving your behavior, but if you’re like most people you probably don’t understand much about how your brain functions even though you use it every day.

Here’s some insight – your brain does not focus on the “don’t” but it does focus on the object that follows. There was a classic episode in the television show Frasier that perfectly illustrated this. Frasier and his younger brother Niles were intellectuals and both grew up to become psychiatrists. As nerdy kids all they did was study so they never learned to ride bikes. As adults they decided it was time to figure out how to pedal a two-wheeler for fun and exercise. Frasier was afraid of running certain objects so he’d make sure to keep an eye on them so he could steer clear. What do you think happened? He’d run into whatever he kept his eye on every time! He was like a moth drawn to a flame.

I experienced this phenomenon firsthand when I began running many years ago. If I saw a rock in the road I’d keep my eye on it so I wouldn’t step on it. You know where this is going – I stepped on a lot of rocks until I realized what was happening!

I share this because when you’re trying to change someone’s behavior, trying to influence people, quite often you want them to stop doing something. Whatever captures our attention commands our focus so when you tell someone “Don’t…” all too often they forget the “don’t” and end up focusing on the thing you wanted them to stop! For example, if I tell you, “Don’t think of an elephant,” I’m sure you briefly thought of an elephant.

The better strategy is to redirect a person’s focus to something you want them to do. The golfer who sees water on the right side of the fairway should make it their focus to hit the ball to the left. It’s not a guarantee they won’t end up in the water but it’s a sure bet they’ll end up in the drink a lot less.

One area we really miss the mark when it comes to this psychology is texting and driving. Accidents due to texting and driving has become an epidemic. In addition to damaged vehicles, injuries and deaths, it has a big impact on the insurance rates you pay, even if you’re a good driver. Driverless cars will help alleviate this problem but having roads full of driverless cars may be decades away. We cannot afford to wait that long because too many lives will be lost in the meantime. When we say, “Don’t text and drive” we’re setting up too many people to focus on “text and drive.” We need to direct people’s attention to what we need them to do – pay attention to the road so everyone is safe.

Here are some examples of rephrasing:

  • Instead of telling your teenager, “Don’t stay out past midnight,” tell him or her, “Be home by 11:45.”
  • When talking to an employee avoid, “Don’t be late with the report,” and instead say, “Make sure you get me the report by Wednesday.”
  • If it’s operating a car replace, “Don’t text and drive,” with “Always keep your eyes on the road.”

Having shared all this I should point out there might be times when you use “don’t” before an object because you want the other person focused on the object. That’s what Journey did with Don’t Stop Believin’. “Don’t stop” is a double negative so the words cancel each other out leaving you to focus on believin’ which is exactly what you want. In my industry we won’t stop believin’ that we can influence people to change driver behavior in order to save lives and heartache.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and 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.

Fear of Missing Out and the Black Friday Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s What She Said but Not What He Heard

If you were a fan of The Office you know Michael Scott, the manager of the Dunder Mifflin paper supply office in Scranton, PA, was fond of saying, “That’s what she said.” Michael’s references usually had a sexual overtone but don’t worry, that’s not where I’m going. I’m also not going to talk about miscommunication between men and women although, according to some people we’re from different planets.

I’d like to talk a little about the sender-receiver model of communication. This is important because two people can say exactly the same thing and get entirely different results. In the most basic sense we can break down verbal communication as follows:

Sender

  1. What they actually said (words)
  2. What they think they said (words + tone + body language)

Receiver

  1. What they actually heard (words)
  2. What they think they heard (words + tone + body language + prior experiences)

If you want to become a master of persuasion you have to understand the sender-receiver dynamic and be able to adjust accordingly or else you’ll fail more than you need to. Let me lay out a scenario.

You’re in the airport and have a tight connection for your next flight. If you miss it there’s only one other available flight to get you in on time for an important business dinner. The gate agent has just informed everyone your flight is delayed by 30 minutes. You have to make a decision about whether or not to gamble and stay on your assigned flight or try to get on the other flight. You’re stressed as you approach the gate agent and say:

“I have to get to [city] today so what are my options?”

The words are not in dispute but how you said it, taking into account tone and body language, can come across quite different than you might intend. You may have thought you were calm and polite when in reality you came across as angry and demanding. There’s what you “think” you said and what you actually said.

But that’s only half of the equation. What about the gate agent (receiver)? This person has their own filter. He or she might have just started their shift so they’re rested and calm. If that’s the case, and he or she maintains a positive attitude, they will probably “hear” you as someone who is expressing some nerves and in need of help. It’s likely the gate agent will be polite and helpful.

But what if the gate agent is at the end of a long shift, has dealt with several other delays and is tired of angry travelers? Under those circumstances they might be at the end of their wits. Through their filter you’re just another angry, demanding traveler who verbally abuses gate agents even though they have no control over what happens with planes.

As you can see, there are lots of ways this can play out depending on what you think you said and what the other person thinks they heard. The only thing you can control is yourself so taking a moment to make sure you’re calm, collected, positive, and clear about your needs is your best bet.

What about the gate agent? You don’t know what their filter is but a little empathy goes a long way if you hope they “hear” something different from you. Acknowledging they have a tough job might make all the difference. It could be as simple saying, “I bet it’s been a rough day with another delay to deal with,” before sharing your needs.

Never forget, beyond the words and principles of influence you use there’s more going on than meets the eye. Taking a moment to consider how you’ll come across and how the other person might receive you is always a good investment of your time.

Everyone’s Doing It: The Impact of Consensus

“Usually, if everyone else is doing something then it’s probably the right thing to do.” I posted that in a graphic on my social media networks a few weeks ago. Several people disagreed with my statement so I thought I’d address it in this week’s post.

Let’s start with a quick review of what consensus is when it comes to persuasion. The principle of consensus, sometimes called social proof or peer pressure, tells us people’s thinking and behavior is heavily impacted by how other people are thinking and behaving. Those other people who influence us could be the masses or sometimes they’re just a few people who are like you or me. Either way, what others are doing has some degree of influence on me, on you, and on others.

Why is this psychological principle relied on so heavily? Over the course of evolution going against the crowd could have led to bad things. Consider the tribes people lived in long ago. If the majority decided to head south for the winter or move to a new location on the river, then deciding to not go with the larger group could have meant for a quick demise for an individual or small band of people. While we may not live in times where that’s the case, that psychology still applies to us today because the human brain is essentially the same as it was tens of thousands of years ago.

As I noted in the opening, a number of people disagreed with my statement. First let me say that you can never fully explain something in 140 characters or less so I’d like to point out a couple of things. Notice my statement starts with “usually.” That means not always and there are exceptions. For example; usually people who eat well and exercise outlive those who don’t eat well and exercise. But we can all think of exceptions to that rule where someone did all the right things and still died prematurely.

I also used the word “probably” because even when everyone is doing something that doesn’t mean it’s always the right thing. For a person with a bad heart running or other forms of exercise might be the worst thing they can do. And sometimes groups do things that aren’t very smart. We need not look any further than peer pressure where young kids experiment with drinking, drugs and sex.

One friend pointed out that most people used to believe the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. No disagreement from me that the masses were wrong on those examples. There are many more we could point to as well like this one from The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism by John C. Bogle, “17 of 18 analysts rated Enron a buy just a month before its collapse.”

We know lots of people lost lots of money following that advice. But let me ask this – if you had to bet tomorrow on what stock to buy would you feel more comfortable going with 17 of 18 experts or would you roll the dice on the one lone wolf? The lone wolf will be right some of the time but I’d venture to guess the person who consistently goes with the majority (consensus) will come out on top far more often than the investor who rejects the majority.

We’ve seen the rise in popularity of “the wisdom of the crowds” because we know two heads (or many more) are usually better than one. This is a big reason we still seen consensus routinely at work in our lives. In the information overloaded society we live in we don’t always have the time, skill or energy to do all the research for every decision so we rely on mental shortcuts to help us. Following the crowd is one of those shortcuts because it works out well most of the time. Having said that, if time and time again we realized the majority of people were wrong we’d stop paying attention to what everyone else was doing…but that simply isn’t the case.

Lastly, I will point to more than seven decades of research from social scientists on the impact of consensus. Despite my information overloaded life this is an area I have spent quite a bit of time studying and the data is clear – consensus is powerful because far more often than not, following the lead of others works out well for us.

Ask Yourself a Better Question

I like to write about whatever is top of mind. Sometimes it’s sales, leadership, coaching, social issues, and at other times it’s parenting. Quite often I write when I’ve learned something I want to pass along and that’s what this post is about – asking yourself better questions.

Over the years I’ve read a lot about self-improvement. That leads me to books on how our brains work, how fitness helps our bodies and minds, ideas for success, and so on. I believe one of the most important things we can do in life is to reflect on our own thinking so we can improve our response to the situations life throws at us.

On the recommendation of two people I highly regard I picked up a copy of Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams, Ph.D. I learned something unexpected so I want to share it with you today.

One principle of influence that is most impacted by the use of good questions is the principle of consistency. This principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Bottom line; we usually feel better about ourselves when our words and deeds align.

Most people fail to engage this principle because they tell people what to do rather than asking. When you tell someone what to do you’re not gaining a commitment. Consequently, when it comes to questions I often share this with audiences: Stop Telling, Start Asking.

When I started to read Change Your Questions Change Your Life I expected to build on the use of consistency. However, what stood out to me was not the questions I ask others but the questions I ask myself.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say you have an employee named Pat. He’s been with your company and part of your department for a year and a half. You brought him in with high hopes and initially were very pleased. But over the last four months his performance has dropped noticeably. Work quality has slipped and he’s missed some deadlines. Because of many factors you’ve not been able to spend as much time with him as you did early on so you’re not sure what’s going on with Pat. Recently he missed another deadline by two days which meant you had to work over the weekend to make sure everything was ready by Monday morning for presentation to your boss. Needless to say, you’re not happy about feeling rushed and working over the weekend.

What’s the first thought that goes through your mind? Consider these possibilities:

  1. What the hell is up with Pat?
  2. Did I make a mistake when I hired Pat?
  3. Pat has so much potential. I wonder what’s going on with him?
  4. I wonder if Pat’s performance drop is because I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him in recent months?

As is the case with so many of us it’s easy to quickly go negative because Pat’s declining performance hurts your team and is a negative reflection on you as his manager. If you go into the next conversation with Pat focused on questions like 1 and 2 how productive do you think that conversation will be? Will Pat feel like freely sharing if he senses negativity and/or a hostile tone?

Now consider questions 3 and 4. Do you think you’ll have a more productive conversation with these questions driving your thought process? I’m sure you can see Pat will be more open to sharing if he believes you still see potential in him and are concerned with his career.

The first two questions, or any negative and judgmental questions you may stew over, will send you down a rabbit trail looking for answers to confirm those questions. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it’s easy to find mistakes if you look hard enough.

What the hell is up with Pat? This is an exasperating question that will probably leak anger and frustration. While those emotions might be legitimate would you rather turn around his performance or get rid of him and start all over again with a new employee?

Did I make a mistake when I hired Pat? Our memories are short and our attention spans are even shorter. It will be much easier to focus on Pat’s recent performance and build a case in your mind that it was a mistake to hire him as opposed to reviewing the body of his work. Again, I ask, would you rather to turn around his performance or get rid of him and start all over again with a new employee?

Pat has so much potential. I wonder what’s going on with him? This acknowledges Pat has performed well in the past and seeks to find out what might have caused the recent change in performance.

I wonder if Pat’s performance drop is because I haven’t been able to spend as much time with him in recent months? While his drop may not have to do with your one-on-one time this is a less threatening opening than laying all the blame on him.

I hope you see the difference. The questions you ask yourself about people and situations impact your emotions, thinking and ultimately your behavior. This week I encourage you to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself. When you do, see if you can understand how they’re driving your behavior. Is it the behavior you want? Is it the most productive behavior?

Seldom can you change other people but you can change yourself. It begins with how you view and think about people and situations. Will you give it a try? What do you have to lose? What might you lose by not trying?