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Get Your “Behavioral Grooves” on with this Podcast Interview

I was recently a guest on the Behavioral Grooves podcast when behavioral economists Kurt Nelson, PhD and Tim Houlihaninterviewed me about the principles of persuasion and pre-suasion. What a couple of fun guys! It was so enjoyable to speak with them that I decided to share their show notes in this week’s blog post. In addition to reading the post I hope you’ll take time to actually listen because it was an informative, fun conversation. If you want to listen right now click here.

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Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC, and one of only 20 Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world. Brian’s experience with Robert Cialdini’s methods places him among the most experienced practitioners alive. It was a pleasure to speak with Brian and to gain some insight on applying the methods of ethical influence that Cialdini pioneered in his book, Influence with clients in the real world.

We hosted Brian in the Behavioral Grooves studio for our wide-ranging and in-depth conversation. It was a treat because we typically have our discussions via the web on Zoom or SquadCast, but Brian was able to meet us at the dining room table and it was terrific. As a result of being in the same room and sitting around the same table, our discussion on priming, influence and ethics was particularly personal and dynamic.

Brian began our conversation by outlining the six principles of influence: liking, reciprocity, authority, social proof or consensus, consistency, and scarcity, all of which were identified by Robert Cialdini in his first book.  We wandered into a great story about Cialdini’s very humble personality, that Brian conveyed by way of a dinner meeting with the professor. (Note: Kurt and Tim experienced Cialdini’s humility directly when we met up with the good professor in New York City, recently. Bob, as he urged us to call him, was as curious as a college freshman and solicited our thoughts on every topic we spoke about. Truly an inspiring and amazing guy.)

Brian shared his thoughts about Tom Hopkins work on “How to Master the Art of Selling” and the impact that the spoken word has on our beliefs. The ‘what I say becomes what I believe’ was an important reminder that words matter. And in Brian’s case, words are just about everything when it comes to the world of ethical influence. This became clear when he spoke about how he trains insurance salespeople to use primes with their customers when pitching technology. The technology actually helps keep the drivers safer and provides more reliable data to the insurance agencies. Brian trains the agents to say, “…this technology works really well for good drivers like you.” We’re all for being safer on the road.

Of course, we spent a fair amount of our conversation on the subtlety and power of primes. Fortunately, Brian took our musical bait and spoke to how he uses musical playlists to create and deliver his own personal primes. We were happy to hear that he’s created playlists that focus on titles or themes with the words ‘moment’ or ‘time’ in them. And it’s evidence that he takes his own medicine when it comes to the advice he shares with his clients. He’s using music to prime himself and others before meetings! We are always impressed with people, like many of our other guests, who apply these principles to their own lives.

The priming discussion included a great story about how he used reciprocity to engage his daughter in doing some extra chores around the house. Rather than making his request quid pro quo, Brian decided to preempt the request with a raise to her allowance. After the new, upgraded allowance was in place, Brian’s request was met with immediate support. Kurt and Tim have recollections of childhood chores compressed with bad feelings – and they linger long into adulthood. As children, we never experienced enthusiasm over chores or things we were asked to do, in part because of the ways those requests were made.

Brian concluded our conversation with three tips about the most impactful tools from the principles of persuasion. They are:

  1. Liking. The focus with liking needs to be on ME figuring out how to like YOU, not the other way around. The search for commonalities and the need to deliver compliments are on ME, not you.
  2. Authority. While authority has many meanings, a core part of this principle is in being an authority on what you do. Be willing to share advice. Be a giver. Be an authority, don’t just walk through your job with your eyes half closed.
  3. Consistency. The biggest part of consistency is, of course, being consistent in your words and deeds. However, beneath the headline is the very powerful subtext of asking, not telling. Be strategic. Be inquisitive. And live up to the words you speak.

Our discussion with Brian gave us the opportunity to talk about both Coldplay and Frank Sinatra. With a playlist that wildly varied from a guy from Ohio, what is there not to like? And since Brian is from Ohio, the home of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, we decided to do a little grooving on it. So, Kurt and Tim discussed Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductees and who, in our humble opinion, deserves to be nominated. Todd Rundgren was discussed as one of our nominees we’d like to see in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. (We also discussed Queen, but Queen was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, ten years after Freddie Mercury died.) The impact that music has on our lives is nearly immeasurable and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to listen to it, enjoy it, and chat about it.

Tee up a lively tune before you listen to this episode! We hope you enjoy our conversation with Brian Ahearn.

Subscribe at www.behavioralgrooves.com or learn more about Behavioral Grooves podcast and meetup.

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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.

Build Your Persuasive Skill

To excel at anything in life you need skill but that’s not enough. You need to work on whatever skill is most important for your potential success. A golfer works on his or her swing, putting, chipping and a host of other things. Athletes work on speed, agility and flexibility to name a few. Businesspeople work on skills such as listening, writing, and public speaking. Did you know persuasion is a skill? That’s right, persuasion is something you can learn, work on, improve upon and build. Persuasion is a multiplier because if you don’t know how to ethically and effectively persuade then skills like writing and speaking will never be as effective as they could be.

What does it take to work on your persuasive skills? There are six essentials: learn, practice, stretch, observe, communicate and feedback. Let’s look at how you can use each to improve.

Learn

Most people think they know what persuasion is but in my experience, they don’t. When I ask audiences what it means to persuade the definition I hear most often is, “to change someone’s thinking.” That may be a start but it’s usually not enough. Typically, when we try to persuade someone it’s to get them to do something.

I think Aristotle has the best definition of persuasion I’ve come across. He said it was the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Ultimately persuasion is about changing behavior. And here’s the good news – there’s more information available for you to learn from than you can imagine. That’s because there’s more than seven decades of research from behavioral economists and social psychologist into this area of study.

You’re reading this blog so that’s a start but I would encourage you to go further. Pick up Robert Cialdini’s book Influence Science and Practice. Pre-suasion, his latest work, is another excellent book.

Practice

Perfect practice makes perfect. Just like an athlete, you cannot expect to get better without reps. Once you’ve learned something you need to put it into practice repeatedly. If you don’t then you’re like someone who attends a seminar on healthy living but never uses what they learn to live a healthier lifestyle.

Practice is important because it’s not likely you’ll try something new when there’s a lot on the line because you won’t have confidence. People who just play golf, no matter how often, only get marginally better without practice. However, those who practice and play are the ones who see their handicap steadily go down.

Stretch

This is a subset of practice but deserves mentioning by itself because of its importance. Go beyond what you know you can do. Again, that’s how athletes grow. If you don’t stretch yourself you’ll be limited to what you currently know and can currently do.

Stretching has an element of risk and reward. When you stretch yourself you do so in order to get better results. Having said that, until you perfect a skill you might fail from time to time and that’s okay. It’s all part of learning and growing.

Observe

In order to excel at persuasion, you need to hone your observation skills. This means you have to be excellent at listening and watching. What you learn with your eyes and ears opens opportunities for you to be a more effective influencer. For example, let’s say someone mentions they went to the same college that you attended, or you see a diploma on the wall. What would you do? Hopefully, you’d mention you want to the same school to engage the principle of liking. This is important because you know that principle alerts you to the fact that people say yes more often to those they know and like.

Communicate

It’s not enough to know the six principles of persuasion or to glean information through your observation skills if you cannot use that information to communicate. This is where verbal and written skills can me magnified.

For example, if your product costs less than a similar product you could lure prospective customers by mentioning how much they might save. That works but the skilled persuader knows there’s a better way. The skilled persuader knows people are more motivated by what they might lose so he or she will talk about how much a prospective customer is currently overpaying.

Feedback

The final consideration for building your persuasive muscle is feedback. From time to time you need to get feedback from respected sources. Getting third party advice on what you’re doing well and what you could be doing better can be massively helpful. Sometimes that feedback is from an individual but sometimes the feedback can be metrics.  Simple A-B testing can do the trick by comparing the traditional way of doing things to a potential new way.

Nothing worth anything in life comes easy, especially success. If it was easy everyone would be successful but everyone isn’t. Take time to build your persuasive muscle and you’ll have a much better chance of achieving professional success and personal happiness. The research guarantees it.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

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.

5 Books that Radically Influenced My Life

I’m a reader. I love to read. Funny thing is, when I was young I hated reading. That was probably a function of having to read certain books versus getting to read what I wanted to. Once my love of reading took over it was pretty much the case that I’d read a book a week. That pace has slowed down in recent years with the explosion of Ted Talks, podcasts and other media for getting good messages but I still read several books a month.

Because I read so much people often ask me my favorite books. What I’ll share with you are the five books that have radically influenced my life.

The Bible When I really began to take my Christian faith seriously I read through the entire Bible many times. In fact, I ended up writing my own commentary, a thousand-page Word document, where I put down thoughts about what I was reading and learning. My inspiration was to give the document to my daughter Abigail so she would know what dad thought about God.

I equate all the years of reading to eating and living healthy. What I learned day-to-day became the foundation of my thinking, actions, and shaped my worldview. I believe any good thing within me is a result of my relationship with God.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People I read Steven Covey’s best selling book in the early 1990s. The habit that struck me most was his admonition to “Begin with the End in Mind.” I took Covey’s advice and wrote a personal mission statement. In that document, I put down thoughts about how I wanted to be remembered when it came to my faith, family, personal well-being, and career.

The reason The Seven Habits was so influential was because I posted my mission statement and have read it, or parts of it, for more than 25 years. It’s been a guiding force in who I’ve become and who I’m still striving to become.

Influence Science and Practice I was introduced to Robert Cialdini’s work in 2002. His emphasis on how to ethically persuade people appealed to my moral side. The research based approach appealed to my analytical side. It was a match made in heaven!

It’s not uncommon for many people spend nearly half of their waking hours trying to persuade others. My goal with Influence PEOPLE is to help you enjoy more professional success and personal happiness. If you read Influence Science and Practice and apply what you learn you’re guaranteed to have more success and happiness. I confidently write that because the science proves you’ll be able to move more people (your boss, coworkers, direct reports, loved ones) to action.

Man’s Search for Meaning I’ve written about Viktor Frankl’s book on a number of occasions. The following quote stands out above all else in this great work, “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

It sounds trite to say, “It’s not about what happens to us, it’s about how we respond.” However, when you read about Frankl’s account of the horrors he and others experienced but how so many found meaning in their suffering – some in death – you begin to realize life is about how we choose to respond.

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs was written by Carmine Gallo. I took seven typed pages of notes on this book! As I read I would flip over to YouTube to watch Jobs present to solidify my learning.

The reason I add this book to my top five is because it had a tremendous impact on how I present. Presentation, be it in a workshop, keynote or when consulting, is primarily what I do with influence. Arguably, nobody did better than Steve Jobs so why not learn from the best?

To Do This Week: I highly encourage you to look into one of these five books. It’s my sincere hope that they have as much positive impact on your life as they’ve had on mine. If you can’t do that, how about sharing some of your book recommendations in the comments section. Thanks!

Will You Watch My Things?

As I write this I’m sitting in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the busiest hubs in the world. While I was waiting for my second flight of the day a young man sitting across from me innocently asked, “Would you mind watching my things while I use the restroom?” Being the nice fellow that I am I told him I would.

I don’t know if he realized it but his simple question engaged a powerful principle of influence – consistency. This psychological concept highlights the reality that humans feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.

Think about the last time you gave your word to someone but had to back out. How did you feel? If you were like most people I talk with you would use words like bad, awful, guilty, or terrible to describe how you felt. If you could avoid feeling bad, awful, guilty, or terrible I bet you would and that’s what compels you to keep your word even when it’s difficult.

Another thought to consider – have you ever said “Yes” to someone’s request even though you didn’t want to? Maybe you felt trapped so you agreed to whatever they asked. We’ve all been there and I’d wager you probably followed through on your word more often than not in situations like that.

In his best selling book Influence Robert Cialdini sites a study that shows just how powerful the principle of consistency can be when it comes to asking for a favor. An experiment was run at a beach where someone would lay down a blanket and portable radio. After a few minutes the person would take a walk down the beach without interacting with anyone around them. Then, while they were away, someone else associated with the experiment would “steal” the radio. Under these conditions only four times out of 20 did anyone intervene to let the person know that wasn’t their radio.

Later the experiment was repeated with all conditions being the same except before heading off for a stroll the beach goer would ask someone sitting near them, “Would you please watch my things?” Everyone agreed to do so. And how did it change the behavior of those bystanders? In this scenario 19 out of 20 intervened and some tried to physically restrained the would-be thief. A simple question and nearly five times more people took action!

Many of the principles of influence we naturally engage without thinking because we learn for example that it’s good to give before asking for a favor (reciprocity), following the crowd (consensus) typically leads to a better result, or asking someone to watch your things (consistency) lessens the likelihood that something will end up missing. These are human behaviors we all engage in to one degree or another.

However, to become a master persuader you can’t always rely on what you’ve always done or simple intuition. To excel in persuasion you need to consciously think about which principles are naturally available before you make a request otherwise you’re probably missing opportunities to be even more effective went it comes to influencing people.

When the young man returned he thanked me and I jokingly told him, “I only had to fight off three people for you.” It was a win-win because he got his goods and I got a great real-life story to share with you.

No Tips, Tricks or Techniques to Ethical Influence

Sorry, no tips, tricks or techniques here but let’s talk about what it takes to become a master persuader. Saying there are tips, tricks and techniques to influence people degrades people, devalues the influence process and shortchanges real learning.

When people refer to “tips” to influence people that devalues the influence process. You get tips at a racetrack and while that may up your odds of picking the winner in the next race it doesn’t necessarily help you become better at picking the winners time and time again. Don’t you want to become consistently good at influencing others?

Another problem with tips is they often come with little or no cost because they provide little value. Many times tips are nothing more than a restatement of what we already know to be true. Cut your carbs, don’t smoke and exercise if you want to be healthy. Wow, thanks for telling me something I didn’t already know.

Talking about “tricks” to influence people makes it sound like a magician using his knowledge of people’s senses to fool them with slight of hand. There’s no such thing as magic so what’s really occurring is deception.

When it comes to influence you don’t need to deceive people because there are scientifically proven ways to use the understanding of human psychology to make your message more effective and ultimately move people to action ethically.

When I hear people talk about using tricks it makes it sound like you’re taking advantage of others and nobody wants to feel like they were taken advantage of. How would you feel if you discovered someone tricked you into something like a sale?

What’s wrong with learning techniques? Techniques are fine until you find yourself in a situation where your technique doesn’t apply. However, if you understood the why behind the technique – why the technique usually works – you’re in a better position to figure out something else that might help in the moment.

Here’s an example of a technique. You want to lose weight quickly so you fast for two days and only drink water. That might be fine if you’re a wrestler looking to make weight but it won’t cut it if you’re looking for long-term, healthy weight loss.

If tips, tricks and techniques won’t cut it then what does it take to become a master of influence? Like anything in life it takes time, effort and practice. If you wanted to get significantly better at golf you might start by attending a golf school for a few days or a week. But how much would you improve if you didn’t continue to practice?

Attending a workshop to immerse yourself in the language of influence for a few days is a great start because you’ll learn the why behind human behavior. But that’s only a start. You need to reinforce your learning by reading books like Influence Science and Practice, Pre-suasion, Predictably Irrational, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Becoming a student of influence is an excellent start to becoming a master of influence but your most important step is the next one – be strategic as you look for opportunities to put your new knowledge to use. Only when you try something then assess your results, looking for ways to improve, will you grow. That means assessing what went well and what could be improved.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy in life and that’s true when it comes to being a master at persuasion. Don’t succumb to tips, tricks and techniques! Learn how to ethically influence people because it will lead to more professional success and personal happiness.

If You Were My Son

Have you read Robert Cialdini’s new book Pre-suasion? If not, make sure you get your copy today because in addition to learning how to set the stage for persuasion, a strategy he refers to as “pre-suasion,” you’ll learn about a new 7th principle of influence.

That’s right, a new principle is introduced in Pre-suasion. For more than 30 years, since publishing Influence Science and Practice, Dr. Cialdini has referred to six universal principles of influence. In Pre-suasion he tells readers there’s a seventh principle that was hiding underneath the surface all along. He introduces readers to the principle of Unity, otherwise known as “we.”

The principle of togetherness highlights the reality that we are most likely to help those with whom we share some kind of bond. It’s not necessary for liking to be activated although the principle of liking may facilitate togetherness.

Consider for a moment your family. You might have family members you don’t particularly enjoy but you’re more inclined to come to their assistance over a stranger or perhaps a close friend for no other reason than the bond of family.

Another example comes from the few, the proud – the Marines. Marines don’t just go through training; they go through the crucible. It’s said that Marines forge a bond amongst themselves like no other branch of service. I see this firsthand every time my father, a Marine who served in Vietnam, meets another Marine. If that other Marine happens to have seen combat I’d swear my dad was closer to him than his own flesh and blood.

So what can you do if you don’t have the bond that comes through family, team sports or the military? Sometimes you can create a sense of togetherness by the words you use, which leads me to a story.

Many years ago there was a position I aspired to at work that had just been filled by someone else. Because of my interest I was asked to mentor with the person who had the job I wanted someday.

I’ll never forget our first mentoring session. He walked into my office, sat down, looked me in the eye and said, “If you were my son I’d say stay as far away from (name withheld) as you can. Do you understand me?” A little shocked I replied, “I don’t think you can be any more clear than that.” He reiterated, “Stay away from (name withheld) because for some reason (name withheld) doesn’t like you and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Wow! Do you see what he did? He was much older than me and he treated me like family as he gave me the same advice he would have shared with his son. His approach was much more powerful than leaning on the fact that we were coworkers or just sharing advice without prefacing it at all. After all, a parent would never knowingly steer his or her child in the wrong direction. He created a “pre-suasive” moment based on the principle of togetherness and that was all he needed to do. I stopped pursuing the position and focused on other priorities.

How can you tap into this “new” principle to become a more effective persuader? If you truly would give the same advice to someone that you’d give to your spouse or children, then let the other person know that. Family is the tightest unit of togetherness there is because you share the same genes.

I’ve also seen a powerful response when you label someone as a friend. You might know you’re friends with coworkers but when you tap into that saying, “Thank you, friend” or “Thank you, my friend,” it changes things. I remember the first time someone responded in an email, “Thank you, friend,” because it really caught my attention. I knew in that moment everything changed in a very positive way.

Remember, together is better! Don’t simply look to connect on the principle of liking, seek to go deeper and tap into the sense of togetherness you may have with the person you’re trying to persuade. Doing so will make you more persuasive and deepen your relationship.

If You Always Vote For The Same People…

Next month more than half of Americans will go to the polls to vote on various issues including the President of the United States. The rhetoric has heated up to unprecedented levels so now is a good time to look at a contentious political issue – term limits – through the lens of influence.

When George Washington declined to run for a third term precedence was set with American presidents. Based on Washington’s actions no president ran for a third term until Franklin Roosevelt did so in 1944. The unusual circumstance of a world war in two major theatres was a big reason for FDR’s decision. However, not long afterwards the American people passed the 22 Amendment limiting the president to a maximum of two terms in office.

For some odd reason Americans have not pushed for term limits for congressman and senators. A few states enacted laws to limit the terms of their particular representatives in Washington in an effort to move away from “career politicians.” Unfortunately the Supreme Court overturned those laws saying states could not limit the term of national offices.

Like just about anything in life there are positives and negatives to each side of the argument when it comes to term limits. What should concern citizens is whether or not the best people get elected and whether or not we’re getting fresh political ideas simply because of how voters make decisions.

I remember my pastor saying, “People will remain the same until the pain of staying the same is greater than the perceived pain that comes with change.” That’s akin to, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Americans saw voter revolts in 1994 when republicans swept into power in the house and senate and again in 2010 because of our economic woes. Both times there was so much dissatisfaction with the status quo that people kicked out many incumbents.

My question is; why do we have to wait for things to get so bad before we act? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” sounds good until you consider Steve Jobs and his iPhone. We didn’t need the iPhone because nothing was broken but we’re better off for it. Perhaps we could have the same fresh ideas and change in Washington if we routinely had new people in office.

Politicians are famous for saying things like, “We have term limits because voters can always vote someone out of office if they want to,” and, “Why do we need to restrict voter freedom?” Of course both arguments could be used against term limits for the president and yet as a country we thought it was good to limit the terms for the highest office in the land. I suspect career politicians are thinking first and foremost about staying in power, not the good of the country.

But I digress and you’re wondering how influence ties into this. It will come as no surprise to readers when I state the obvious; nearly every sitting politician wins re-election the vast majority of the time. In fact, it’s staggering how often they win! Take a look at the charts below showing reelection rates for U.S. congressman and senators from the Center for Responsive Politics.

houseoreps

senate

Are incumbents winning so often because they’re the best candidates? Hardly. It’s simply a function the principle of liking due to familiarity. People go to the polls and tend to vote for the person they’re most familiar with and the farther you go down in terms of elected offices the worse it is because quite often people vote for the incumbent simply because they know nothing about the other person running. When you’ve seen or heard about your congressman for the past four years or your senator for the last six years that’s a lot of familiarity for a challenger to overcome.

On this subject, in his book Influence Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini wrote, “Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.” And it’s not just how often we hear a name it’s how much we see the face. Sitting politicians are routinely seen in the news and that helps unless their face is connected to a scandal. I can tell you from firsthand experience that I get much better response to my emails when I include my picture at the bottom of the email because familiarity helps.

While there many other things that come into play during an election we can’t underestimate the importance of simply being more familiar with one candidate vs. another. It’s the way we’re wired.

To be sure we – the typical American voter – are partly to blame because we’re notoriously disengaged when it comes to knowing the candidates, their positions, and understanding the issues. If anyone didn’t need term limits it would be presidents because I’d venture to guess we know presidential candidates better and understand the presidential issues more because of how much they’re in the media vs. lower offices and more localized issues.

In a sense terms limits save us from how our decision-making sometimes works against our best self-interests. My boss likes to say, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” In other words, how can we expect anything different from Washington when we keep electing the same people for the most part? Yes, we can make a concerted effort to become more informed voters but with less than 60% of people of voting age voting in every presidential election since 1968 do we really think that will happen? I certainly don’t. Sometimes we need laws to protect ourselves from ourselves and term limits might be one such law.

When You Give, the Recipient isn’t Always Who You Think

As we explore ways you can leverage the principles of influence for your own self-improvement, we’ll consider giving and the principle of reciprocity this week.

Reciprocity is the psychological term that tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. The wise persuader looks to give “gifts” that are meaningful, customized and unexpected for the recipient. Giving in this way makes it easier to request a favor down the road.

But the person who gets the “gift” may not be the one who gets the most out of the transaction. In much the same way that employing the principle of liking impacts the persuader, so does reciprocity when it is done with right motives.

Ancient wisdom says, “Tis better to give than receive.” I know when I was a kid I thought, “No way!” because at Christmas, birthdays and other times it felt way better to get the gifts than give them.

However, as I got older I started to see the wisdom in those words. For my wife’s 52nd birthday I got her something I’d never heard of anyone giving before. I was excited to give it to her because of its uniqueness and I kept telling all of our friends about it because that heightened the surprise for Jane. My gift on that birthday was a promise that I would give her a gift a week for a year. In other words, 52 presents for her 52nd birthday.

I have to tell you it’s been a lot of fun for both of us! Certainly Jane enjoys the gift each week but what I think she appreciates most is the thoughtfulness. She doesn’t know anyone who has ever received that gift so she feels special. Each week when I give her a gift I video it then post it to Facebook because so many people are curious about what the 52 gifts will be. Everyone seems to enjoy it so it’s been nice to spread some cheer.

What I’ve enjoyed is a renewed focus on Jane because I’m constantly paying attention to what she says and does so I can find gifts that are meaningful. Our daughter, Abigail, gets in on the action too because I run many of my ideas by her.

Why is it better to give than receive? I’ve seen several reasons.

First, you experience joy when you give because being kind to others releases the hormone oxytocin into the blood stream. Oxytocin is the hormone that bonds mothers to babies and makes us feel closer to one another.

Second, while receiving is nice you never know when it will happen. However, giving is your choice and you can engage in it many times throughout the day. It could be buying coffee for the next person in line or letting someone over in heavy traffic. It really is the thought that counts and then taking action.

Third, quite often giving makes recipients more generous with other people they come in contact with. You can have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve set a positive chain of events in motion.

My fourth and final reason (but there are more) is that you’ll have confidence knowing if you need a favor you can turn to many of the people you’ve given to in the past and they’ll want to help you in return.

In the end, your act of giving generously, giving without strings attached, benefits you every bit as much as the recipient and sometimes more. Much like I wrote about the principle of liking last week, when you engage the principle of reciprocity not just to receive yourself, but out of a more noble reason, you become the real beneficiary.

Just Say No

I teach people how to hear “Yes!” In fact, my branding slogan is “Helping You Learn to Hear ‘Yes!’” However, sometimes you have to “just say no” and it’s not always easy. Consider the following:

  • “Just say no to drugs.” Parents and educators used this slogan to combat drugs in school. It’s easier said than done because parents and teachers are not combating the power of peer pressure.
  • Saying no to your boss. This can be especially difficult because some people feel they’re not allowed to say no to anyone who has authority over them. Others feel saying no to the boss is tantamount to admitting weakness.
  • Saying no to your child or spouse. We all want to be liked and hate to disappoint. Both of those feelings are magnified with those we love and quite often we’ll give in to those people in ways we never would with others.

No matter who you are or what the circumstances, learning to say no is extremely important. You may not know this but Robert Cialdini undertook the study of persuasion because he said he was a patsy. He wanted to know why he always said yes to people who made requests of him. Feeling comfortable saying no is so important that each chapter of Cialdini’s best selling book Influence contains ways to combat the principles of influence when you feel they’re being used unethically against you.

I want to quickly share a story with you about our daughter, Abigail, and learning to say no. When she was in the 6th grade her class went to a camp along with other schools and my wife, Jane, went as a chaperon.

Jane said a rule at camp was this; if kids didn’t finish all of their food during mealtime the table had to sing. Abigail’s table didn’t finish all of their food at one meal and was required to sing. Abigail stood with her classmates but didn’t sing because she doesn’t like to sing. The counselor noticed her not singing and let everyone sit down except Abigail. She told Abigail she had to sing.

According to Jane, Abigail told the counselor she didn’t like to sing. The counselor said she’d get Abigail to sing and Abigail replied, “No, you won’t.” A battle of wills ensued. Eventually Abigail’s friend’s stood up and said they’d sing with her but she refused. She never gave in.

Shortly after that Abigail and I were driving and I said, “Mom told me what happened at camp.” I’m sure Abigail thought she was going to get in trouble but instead I said, “I’m really proud of you.” She asked why and I told her, “It’s important to learn to say no because if you don’t some people will take advantage of you. But there can be consequences if you say no to someone who has the right to ask you to do something, like a teacher. So, you have my permission to say no but choose wisely.”

I think parents have much more impact on their kids than they realize, especially when kids know mom or dad has their back. I believe my affirmation of Abigail that day gave her confidence to say no. Throughout high school she said no to sex, drinking, drugs and many other things she didn’t agree with. She said no despite the peer pressure to do otherwise. That strength of character gives me confidence as she gets ready to transition from college to living on her own in the future.

The same logic applies in business. I believe employees who know their boss has their back will feel more comfortable saying no when the situation dictates that’s the right response.

A couple of question to ponder as we close. First, do you give significant people in your life permission to say no? Second, do you work with those same people on how they might say no in a way that’s less offensive but still assertive? Those are two skills that will serve your loved ones and employees well.