Amazon or Amazing? I Missed It, Did You?

Look at the picture. Is it Amazon or just Amazing? Maybe it’s neither. I missed it at first, did you? When we received the marketing piece in the mail I thought it was from Amazon. My wife did too, until she opened it.

When we opened the marketing piece we saw ads for cars from a local dealership. That seemed odd so we looked at the cover again and realized it didn’t say Amazon, the word was Amazing. While it became obvious in hindsight, the color scheme, text and other visuals led us to believe it was from Amazon.

Being Amazon Prime members, we were naturally inclined to open something we believed was from Amazon to find out what deals might be inside. For the car dealership it was mission accomplished. In the battle for attention they got ours…for a moment. However, feeling tricked caused resentment for both of us. I’m guessing we’re not unique in that regard so the approach might end up working against the car dealership. I’m sure they’re measuring their marketing results so perhaps only they will know.

The whole experience leads to two items to briefly explore in this week’s blog – attention and ethics.


Some sources say the average consumer is bombarded with more than 5,000 marketing messages each day! As noted earlier, it’s a battle for marketers when it comes to standing out to gain our attention.

As awesome as the human brain is, it cannot consciously process multiple things at once (multi-tasking is a myth) and it’s working memory is pretty limited (just try to remember 10 things in a row and you’ll experience its limitations).

Our subconscious is another story. It’s powerful when it comes to processing without our awareness. As a result, scientists estimate anywhere from 85%-95% of decisions are driven by our non-conscious. In this case, everything about the “packaging” was associated with Amazon, a positive for most people, causing an almost automatic behavior to opened it.


How do you feel when someone tricks you or pulls the wool over your eyes? I’m guessing silly, stupid, dumb, or taken advantage of are a few thoughts that come to mind. I think it’s a safe assumption to say most people don’t enjoy any of those feelings and will resent whoever is seen as the cause.

If you learned someone (car salesman, insurance agent, vendor, restaurant server, boss) tricked you, you’d probably do whatever you could to avoid dealing with that person in the future. This is important to consider when you’re trying to influence people. You may win the battle but lose the war because trickery is never good for building long-term relationships.

When it comes to ethical persuasion always be truthful in your dealings with other people and use your knowledge in ways that will genuinely help others. Use the local newspaper test – how would you feel if your approach was the headline story for the day? Would you feel a bit embarrassed or would you be perfectly fine with people knowing the details of your approach? Would you feel good if someone dealt with a loved one (your mother, father, son, daughter, etc.) that way?

You don’t need to resort to trickery or manipulative tactics when you understand the principles of influence and how to ethically use them. Once you learn the principles and apply them I guarantee you will be more persuasive than you are currently. I’m confident because there’s more than seven decades of research to back up that statement.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His 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.


My Chance Encounter with Robert Cialdini

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend Michael Halbfish, wrote during an exchange, “I am guessing there is a good story to how you wound up with your current career and working with Cialdini.” Michael is correct and I promised him I would share that story, a chance encounter with Robert Cialdini, in a blog post.

Back in 2002, Nancy Edwards, a former coworker at State Auto, stopped by my office to share a video with me and my boss John Petrucci. Nancy had just watched the video in an MBA class at The Ohio State University and thought John and I would appreciate it. How right she was!

The video was of a 2001 Breakfast Briefing presentation Robert Cialdini, PhD., gave at Stanford University. His topic was ethical influence – how to get people to do what you want without resorting to manipulation.

As John and I watched the video a light bulb came on and we could clearly see how the psychology Dr. Cialdini shared made the sales techniques so effective. We acquired a copy of the video for our own use and I began showing it to employees and talking about ways to incorporate the principles of persuasion into everyday things we were doing at work.

Around the same time I signed up for Stanford’s video catalog. In 2003, I received a catalog and noticed the headline for Dr. Cialdini’s video:

Call it Influence, Persuasion

Or Even Manipulation

I was shocked because he was so clear about non-manipulative ways to persuade people. I was so bothered by Stanford’s marketing that I sent them an email. I told them I didn’t know anyone who wanted to be manipulated nor did I know anyone who wanted to be known as a good manipulator. I concluded the email telling Stanford that one word – manipulation – couldn’t help their sales but it sure could be hurting sales.

I never heard from Stanford but some time later my phone rang and it was Chris Cibbarelli, a representative from Robert Cialdini’s organization INFLUENCE AT WORK (IAW). She said she was calling to thank me. Apparently Stanford was changing the marketing of Dr. Cialdini’s video because of my email!

During that call, Chris asked if State Auto ever had guest speakers and let me know Dr. Cialdini traveled the world to talk about ethical influence. I told her we did have speakers for agency events. As fate would have it, the event planner was in my department so I transferred Chris to Robyn Harper. One thing led to another and in the summer of 2004 Dr. Cialdini was a guest speaker at several agency conferences we hosted.

That same summer John and I traveled to Arizona to attend Dr. Cialdini’s two-day Principles of Persuasion Workshop. After that I persisted with John for more than three years to allow me to get certified on behalf of Dr. Cialdini so I could teach the workshop.

In January 2008, I spent a week in Arizona with Dr. Cialdini and the staff at IAW going through the certification process. The process culminated in March 2008 when Gregory Neidert, PhD., a partner at IAW, came to Columbus to audit my first workshop.

That’s the story of my chance encounter with Robert Cialdini. Here we are nearly 10 years later and I’ve hosted more than 50 workshops, have been blogging for more than seven years and have been using Influence PEOPLE to help people attain more professional success and personal happiness using the principles of influence.

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And that’s the rest of the story.”

You Teach People How to Manipulate Others

I attended a networking event/cocktail hour recently and was engaged in conversation with the woman I was seated next to. She asked what I did and I told her I was a sales trainer for an insurance company. She asked if I had a background in education and I told her I did not. She proceeded to quiz me on how I could be a trainer or educator without formal training as an educator. I say, “quiz” because rather than feeling she was interested, I felt more like I was being cross-examined, as if I might be unqualified for the job I’ve been doing successfully for more than 20 years.

As the conversation proceeded, I mentioned that I have my own business where I teach people about the psychology of persuasion. She said, “So you teach people how to manipulate others.” I’m sure she noticed my face change as I replied rather forcefully, “No, there’s a difference between manipulation and persuasion.” She said she didn’t think there was any difference because persuasion was only about getting people to do what you want which in her mind was manipulation. In my mind that’s like saying there’s no difference between the person who uses a knife to cut into a steak and a surgeon who uses a scalpel during an operation.

If you’ve read Influence PEOPLE for any length of time, you know I’ve addressed manipulation before but it’s worth going into once again because there’s such a misconception out there.

My first question to those who think persuasion is manipulation would be this – is there any way to get someone to do what you want without manipulating them?

I hope you answered yes because if not, then we live in a world where everyone is simply out for himself or herself with no regard for anyone else. Think of the consequences:

We don’t get our kids to study because it will help them in life, only because it allows us as parents to brag about their grades.

Wherever you work, no one should buy your product or service because you only sell it to make money without regard to how it impacts others.

You don’t marry someone because you love him or her and want to make him or her happy; you just want to take happiness from them.

I could go on and on but you get the picture. There are people who do what I just described because there are always people who are out only for themselves and don’t care about anyone else.

However, I bet most of you reading this aren’t like that. You want your kids to do well in school because it will make their lives better down the road. You probably work for a company where you really believe people will be better off with your products or services. And the person you’re with, you probably do want to help him or her live a happy, fulfilled life. Do you get anything out of what I just described? Sure you do, but is what you get your driving force? Probably not.

Here’s the reality; every day we encounter people who are not doing what we’d like them to do, what we know they should do, or what might make them better off. For example, in my line of work – insurance – people are happy they have insurance if they have a car accident, their home burns down or a loved one dies. You hope you never have to use your insurance, and you’d rather not have to buy insurance, but you know you might need it one day and you’re thankful it’s there when something bad happens. Is a salesperson helping you understand this reality manipulating you? I don’t see it that way.

Now, people can certainly resort to manipulation. One definition is “to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner.” Today we don’t think about “skillfully” because the word is associated with “unfair” and taking advantage of others.

Consider this; if you learned that saying “please” and “thank you” made people more likely to do what you want, would you say “please” and “thank you” most of the time? Certainly you would! You can call using those words “good manners” but the fact remains, we appreciate it when people are polite and we know people respond to us better when we’re polite. Consequently polite people tend to get what they want more often than impolite people. But that doesn’t mean polite people are manipulative.

It’s a fact that when we help others they’re more likely to help us. Does being a nice person who likes to help others make you a manipulator? Not necessarily. Certainly some people learn this and use it to their unfair advantage but others do it because they’ve learned life is easier when you give and respond to giving. This starts early in life when we teach our kids to say “thank you” after someone has done something for them. Are you just teaching your kids to manipulate? I don’t think so.

When we talk about the principles of influence we’re talking about psychological triggers that people naturally respond to. The principles are neither good nor bad, they simply describe how people typically think and respond. How we use them reveals something about our character. When it comes to this I like the following quote from The Art of Woo:

“An earnest and sincere lover buys flowers and candy for the object of his affection. So does the cad who only seeks 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.”

Learning how to influence others isn’t manipulation but can certainly be used by a cad to take advantage of another so let me end with this:

Be truthful, look to give, and try to genuinely help people. If you live your life like that you’ll reap much more than you sow because people will appreciate you and want to help you in return. That’s not manipulation, that’s living life in a way that benefits everyone, including you.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


Influencers from Around the World – Beware of the Bogus Authority

To kick off the New Year, our Influencers from
Around the World series starts with Sean Patrick. Sean is originally from Dublin,
Ireland, but now resides in London where he works in sales and sales management.
You can connect with Sean on LinkedIn or Twitter. Sean also owns a sales training and coaching
company, SPT (Sean Patrick Training), Ltd. Always thought provoking, I know
you’ll enjoy Sean’s point of view on “authorities” and their content.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Beware of the Bogus Authority
I’ve just finished a well-written book by
Georgia attorney Loren Collins called Bullspotting.
It was a nice segue from another brilliantly written piece by Massimo Pigliucci
called Nonsense on Stilts. As you can
probably tell, the book attacks the nonsensical logic behind some of today’s content
that craftily bypasses the critical filters of its followers, making absurd
claims believable. 
Ironically, the author himself was a proponent
and follower of such people who disseminated misinformation. This got me
thinking about how dangerous it is when we open up to pseudo-authority. This
isn’t just a phenomenon that exists on the fringes; it is everywhere.
In business, we have the same problem but not quite
to the same extreme. Misinformation is like a mind virus that quickly infects
those who really need information to back up their status quo. We’re living in
a time where content is everywhere; it’s like drinking from a fire hose. What
kind of misinformation am I referring to? Half-truths mainly, or tactics that
worked for the author on one very lucky occasion but are now claimed as a
There’s also the other kind, the kind where we
think we know about a subject because we read one article or in some cases, the
first couple of paragraphs.  Our ability
to contaminate information further has to be taken in context. Our ability to
recall accurately goes through a process of bending, shaping, remodeling until
we think our warped view is exactly how we saw it. And bogus authority figures
really know this sharing of half-truths is immensely powerful, so we can dot
the lines ourselves as part of the journey to finally agree with the author’s
In business a client base is like a portfolio
of investments and treating them as such will create long term of value and
recurring revenue. Our job as salespeople is to go deep and create ongoing
change and help clients solve their next problem, and the next and so on. We
strive to drive results with practical solutions and provide serious impact
continually on the relationship. 
Great sales people earn higher fees via
commissions because of their ability to create huge impact and provide value. One
of the key areas in providing value is overcoming the hurdle of misinformation
that clients buy into. As I noted above, most people who consume so much
information on a daily basis fail to employ quality control.  
Over the years as a coach, one of the misdemeanors
that some of my clients were guilty of was dining out on so-called
authoritative content on sales topics and stuff that overlapped into self-development.
What the information consisted of mainly was of brain candy quality. 
The kind of content I’m referring to is the
stuff that isn’t earth shattering (but is marketed as so) and if you sat and
thought long enough you’d probably have come to those conclusions without any
help from the author…and you would have dismissed them!
As people who sell, own a business, or provide
professional services, it’s up to us to engage the client in a way in which we
become the authority and the go-to-favorite of the client. We can achieve this
by proving concept, demonstrating value, helping a client take ownership of a
problem by providing deep insightful information that is contextually relevant
to their most pressing problems.
Focusing on conversations that move things
forward are essential in setting boundaries and prove to the client that we
have a proprietary approach in getting grounded and having more clarity in
aligning themselves with their key priorities.
In this age of content creation and re-creation,
we are deluged by pure nonsense most of the time or at the very least someone’s
biased, one-sided view on matters. This is dangerous if we fail to act
objectively. Thanks to the internet, everyone is now an “expert” and we sit
there in a glassy eyed daze agreeing with what’s being presented to us, largely
because it passes through our filters — 
but only if we let it.

Sean Patrick

Persuasion isn’t One of the Seven Dirty Words


The late comedian George Carlin had a hilarious
routine about the seven dirty words you couldn’t say
on television. I won’t repeat the seven words but I will say this; persuasion wasn’t
one of those words! Having shared that, I realize some people link persuasion to
sales and therefore have a negative reaction to it. I get it. After all, most
people try to avoid salespeople like the plague because they feel they’ll be
sold something they don’t want or need. However, let me say emphatically that ethical
persuasion is not manipulative selling
This is top of mind because not tool long ago
I had an interesting exchange with someone regarding persuasion after watching
their video presentation online. The title of their presentation was How To Convince Your Clients, When
Appropriate, To Have a Social Media Presence
. After watching it I posted a
comment on the website:

“I was disappointed because I never felt like
you shared ways to persuade someone that using social media could be
beneficial. Most of the commentary was about making sure the people you speak
to already see some value but quite often we know businesses could benefit
(even if they don’t see that currently) so I was hoping to hear insights into
how to manage that discussion.”

His reply started off this way:

“I never try to persuade people to do
anything. It is like trying to sell glasses to a blind man. You should never
have to convince. You move on to people who get it, and in doing that the
people who are not yet will become convinced as they see people they know, like
and trust start to use social media.”

Really? You “never try to persuade people to
do anything”? I wish I had his wife, kids, clients, boss, etc., because life
would be easy. That’s one of the most foolish statements I’ve seen on the web
in quite some time. We are persuading
people every day.
Whenever you ask someone to do something they’re not
currently doing – kids and homework, spouse and chores, boss and a raise,
turning prospects into customers – you’re attempting to persuade. And like it
or not, what you say and how you say it can make all the difference between yes or no.
I agree that some people are more ready to buy
or change and some people are never ready. His example of selling glasses to a
blind man would be old school, manipulative selling because in a situation like
that the salesperson only cares about making the sale regardless of the need
for the product. That’s unethical and not what I’m talking about when I write
about or teach ethical persuasion.
Many people are in a ready state to buy or
change but have multiple people attempting to convince them their product,
service, or idea is the right one for them. In those cases it’s usually the
person who does the best job persuading that gets the yes answer.
Some people may not seem like they’re in a
ready state but change their minds when someone persuades them otherwise. Here
are two examples:
  1. Steve Jobs. He created products no survey
    group said people wanted or needed. However, once he created a new product then
    said something like, “A thousand songs in your pocket,” everyone saw the
    possibilities and wanted it.
  2. Life insurance. Most people who fail to buy
    life insurance don’t make that poor choice because they don’t need it. People
    don’t buy coverage because emotionally no one wants to think about death. Too
    often they convince themselves “it will never happen to me” or “I have plenty
    of time for that” so they focus on more pressing issues. I doubt a widower ever
    cursed a life insurance salesman for persuading the deceased spouse to purchase
    a life policy.

Aristotle said persuasion was the art of
getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.
If everyone were doing what we wanted we’d never have to persuade. Instead we
could sit back and enjoy life as it unfolds but you and I know that’s not the
case. Not a day goes by where everyone does what you want because they just
“get it.” Knowing that you might want to sharpen up your persuasion skills a
bit otherwise you’ll have a hard time getting people to do what you want.

So let me end with this – persuasion isn’t a
dirty word. Persuasion is a skill where you understand how people think and act then
adjust your communication accordingly. Like so many other skills it can be used
for good or bad but that says more about the person attempting to persuade than
it does the act of persuasion itself.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

When a Sale isn’t a Sale


Do you enjoy getting a good deal? I know I do
and so do most consumers. The reality is, very seldom do we know if we’re
getting a good deal because “the deal” is always relative. For example, a $300
smart phone is a good deal when you realize the normal price is $600. In other
words, when you think you’re saving money you believe you’re getting a good
deal and that’s extra enticement when it comes to the purchasing decision.
How would you feel if you were told you were
saving 50% off of the original $300 price of luggage only to find out you saved
nothing? I know I’d be upset because it’s very likely I would have factored in
the “sale” price into my buying decision, consciously or unconsciously.
In a class action lawsuit, a California court recently said
consumers have a right to sue retailers if the price advertised is fake. Kohl’s,
the retailer involved in the suit, says its advertised price was truly a sale
and besides that, “the lawsuit was originally dismissed because a judge ruled
that the customer couldn’t sue because he hadn’t lost money by buying
merchandise that wasn’t as much of a bargain as he thought it was.”
So imagine you have the luggage and it works
as well as you expected, would you still be upset that the “sale” price was
just the price that you’d get anytime you visited the store? Would you feel
manipulated to some degree?
It’s one thing to buy something and then
realize you could have purchased it elsewhere for less – shame on you for not
doing your homework. However, should you have to do your homework to know
whether or not the store is telling you the truth about their “sale”?
In an article titled “Permission Marketing,” in
Fast Company, William C. Taylor
wrote, “This year, the average consumer will see or hear one million marketing
messages – that’s almost 3,000 per day.” Wow! Now here’s a scary thought – that
quote is 15 years old! How much more do you think you’re exposed to with the
explosion of the internet and social media? No one can possibly process it all
and that’s why so much of our decision-making happens at the subconscious
level. In fact, Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology,
contends that 85% of what we do on a daily basis comes from unconscious
One way we wade through the myriad of choices
comes from decision triggers, or reliable bits of information, that guide us
into what we believe are good choices. Seeing “sale” is one such trigger.
Studies show that simply by advertising a “sale” or using some other feature
like a yellow “Everyday Low Price” sticker can sometimes double sales even if the
price hasn’t changed at all.
When I teach people about influence I stress
ethics because I want students to feel good about how they apply their new
knowledge. As people work in small groups to come up with some criteria about
what constitutes an ethical request every group always mentions honesty and
truthfulness. To a person they feel if someone is going to make an ethical
attempt to persuade another individual they have to be telling the truth.
If you consider what I just shared about
decision triggers and how retail sales increase based on using the word “sale,”
do you think it’s deceptive of a store to advertise sale prices when in fact
they’re not any different that the regular prices you can get every day at the
store? In other words, if you shopped at Kohl’s every week and saw the 50% off
luggage, wouldn’t you come to realize the price is just $150 because it was
never sold for $300?
Like it or not, when we see a sale being
advertised it gets us into stores far more than if there was no sale. Once
we’re in the store we buy more so wouldn’t it be nice to know we’re truly
getting the good deal that’s advertised?
Brian, CMCT®
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

This Post Might Just Save Your Life!


This blog post might just save your life!
Well, not exactly. Truthfully, not even close. But you might be a little wiser
for having read it, so I hope you’ll stay with me for a moment and continue reading.
You might be wondering why I went with such a
sensationalized title. You could say it was manipulative, that I was just out
to get you to read, and you’d be right. So why is a guy who blogs about ethical
persuasion using a manipulative tactic? Simply to make this point – I’m so sick
of seeing manipulative headlines I decided to write about it. Here are some
that irritate me.
War on
– Did you know there was a battle raging this past December and
many soldiers lost their lives along with innocent civilians? This headline was
especially prevalent on Fox News over the holidays. My dad was in Viet Nam and
I’m willing to bet he and other veterans who’ve seen combat would not use the
word “war” to describe the tactics used by groups who are opposed to Christmas.
Declares War on the Citizens That Resist PPACA
– Not only are we
having to defend our lives against the Christmas rebel soldiers, we have to
battle our own President! I saw this headline on LinkedIn. Again, the use of
the word “war.” Really, the government is firing bullets and lives are being
lost because of what Obama is doing? Please!
War on

– I see this headline on Facebook a lot. I know women serve in the military and
now engage the enemy in combat but apart from that there’s no war on women.
Some people may be opposed to certain pieces of legislation but there’s no war.
Some of you are thinking this is no big deal. After
all we were taught, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never
hurt me.” I’d counter with, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” You clearly
know when you’re being physically assaulted but it’s not always so clear when
it’s a mental assault. Whether or not you’re aware, those headlines impact
people’s emotions and thinking and that’s exactly why the authors use the words
they do.
Frank Luntz wrote a book about this very
subject called Words that Work. Luntz
polls people for a living to find out which words resonate most so he can help
his clients with their messaging. As you begin to pay attention to word choice
you can quickly tell which side of the issue a presenter is on. Let’s take a
look at a couple of good examples.
Aliens vs. Undocumented Workers
– Illegal is bad because it’s breaking the
law. When we think of aliens it typically conjures up images of beings we must
defeat before they take over our planet. Together “illegal aliens” builds a
negative image and negative emotions. It leads to zealous thinking along the
lines of, “We don’t want those illegal aliens in our country!”
On the other hand “undocumented” isn’t so bad.
It makes it sound like someone lost his or her paperwork. That could happen to
anyone. Workers aren’t bad either. We need more good workers in this country
and we esteem a good work ethic. Together we have “undocumented workers” which
creates a different mental picture and softer emotions. If we can get the
proper paperwork they could help this country immensely because quite often
they’re willing to do jobs the average citizen doesn’t want to do.
But let’s be clear; in the end both sides are
talking about the very same thing. However, the word choice each uses builds
different mental images and those mental images are designed to arouse completely
different emotions. Both are trying to get us to form very different opinions
on the same issue.
Tax vs. Estate Tax
– This is another great example. No one likes to pay taxes but
there’s a spectrum on which people fall when it comes to taxes. Some would like
to pay as little as possible and damn the consequences. Others see taxes as
necessary to build a strong society and infrastructure. The real question is
what word will we use with taxes.
Death is not a good image no matter how you
present it. Very few people want to die but when they do the last thing they
want to think about is the government reaching into their casket for one last
money grab. You mean even in death we can’t escape taxation? Outrage!
When you hear the word “estate” what do you
think of? If you’re like most people you think about rich people because
they’re the only ones who can afford to live on sprawling estates. Why should
their millions, or hundreds of millions, be passed on to some greedy spoiled
kids who did nothing to build that fortune? Does the world need any more Paris
Hiltons or Kardashian girls? With that imagery many people say, “Heck yea, take
as much as you can so the rest of us don’t have to pay as much!”
Again, two sides talking about the same issue
– taxing people’s accumulated assets when they pass on – using very different
words. They want to arouse emotions and ultimately actions.
It’s not like Sgt. Joe Friday who used to say
in the television series Dragnet,
“Just the facts.” Watch Fox and MSNBC or CNN and you’ll think they’re from two
different planets despite talking about the same issues facing our country. Pay
close attention to the words used because there are many issues that impact each
of us – taxation, abortion, gun control, health care, etc. – and how we’re persuaded
to act will have to do in large part with how each side presents its case.
Brian, CMCT®
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Lance Armstrong, a Modern Day Robin Hood? Hell No!

So last week, Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he did in fact use banned substances during his career. While this might be a surprise and disappointment to the general public, it wasn’t a shock to anyone inside the sport of cycling nor was it to most athletes. Whenever we see superhuman performances like winning the Tour de France seven times, Flo Jo smashing the 100-meter dash record by a half second, or Roger Clemons pitching at a Hall of Fame level well into his 40s, we should be very leery.

As I listened to Mike and Mike on ESPN radio driving to work they brought up the point that some people have equated Lance Armstrong to a modern day Robin Hood because he helped so many, despite breaking the rules. I say, “Hell no, he isn’t a modern day Robin Hood!”
First, Robin Hood was a fictional character. We see many fictional charters we wouldn’t tolerate in real life. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays some pretty cool action heroes in his movies but would we really tolerate such characters in the real world? Of course not, and it showed when his funny quips, best left for the movies or Saturday Night Live, got him in trouble on a number of occasions while governor of California. Remember the “girlie man” quote he made about budget opponents?
Robin Hood’s motive was all about helping the poor because they were oppressed by the local government and a corrupt sheriff. If you’ve followed Lance Armstrong over the years then you know Lance’s motive was Lance, pure and simple. With his notoriety he was able to help people but it was still about Lance, from the starting line to the finish line.
I heard one commentator say Lance knew he had to do this (confess), that he had no choice. He went on to say he also realizes it’s the right thing to apologize to those people whose lives he ruined. Did you notice it was about Lance first and the people he hurt second? If the right thing had been his motive then perhaps in the absence of the overwhelming evidence he would have approached those same people and apologized for what he’d done, then confessed to the world.
People have said, “But look at all the good he did.” Can’t the same be said for Joe Paterno when it comes to Penn State and their student athletes? Joe Pa had a very positive impact on both but this line of thinking is “the ends justifies the means.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you can point to how you helped others. Bernie Madoff donated millions to various organizations over the years and they benefited tremendously but did that make it right in terms of how he obtained his wealth? Ask the investors who paid his tab.
If there’s a silver lining for Lance Armstrong it’s twofold. First, he has advocates who will never leave him no matter what. Those people who benefitted from the LIVESTRONG foundation are among those. And don’t forget the millions he inspired to work hard at whatever their chosen profession or sport. When it came to inspiration he was like a real-life Rocky.
The second silver lining is the forgiveness of the American people based on the recency effect. Here’s a list of people who played their cards right and, while perhaps not attaining the same level of popularity and income they had prior to their scandals they’re still doing pretty well:
  • Tiger Woods is still the crowd favorite at PGA events.
  • Martha Stewart remains an icon for most homemakers.
  • Pete Rose might just make it into the Hall of Fame during his lifetime because of the legions of fans who believe it’s the right thing to do.

So what does all of this have to do with a blog on persuasion? Here are a couple of closing thoughts.

Aristotle said, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” Each of these people influenced legions of us to do things because of who we thought they were. Had we known the truth many of us might have made different choices on what to do with our time, money, effort, and adoration.
When I write about persuasion my bent is ethical persuasion because none of us wants to be manipulated nor do we want to be known as manipulators.  If something is the right thing to do then we shouldn’t have to resort to manipulation to get people to do what we want.
Let me leave you with this; Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way” and there’s a part of the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” American mentality that loves this.  That is, until we find out someone’s “way” is to cheat and manipulate, because in the end the ends DOESN’T justify the means. If you want to look yourself in the mirror and feel good about who you are, do the right thing.
Brian, CMCT®
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Manipulative Email Marketing? You Decide

I received an email one Thursday a while back with “Monday’s ‘oops’” in the subject line. The opening of the email read as follows:


Dear Brian,
Monday we accidentally sent an email to you,
which was intended for our members.
Please accept my sincere apology for any
inconvenience this may have caused.
If you’d like to see the video referenced in the
please click here.
It’s actually a “commercial” of my daughter
telling the story of how she was struck in her car,
5 months pregnant, with her two-year-old son
in the back seat …

And how her insurance agent was there to
help her deal with the aftermath

I didn’t recall seeing any email from this company on Monday and wondered why the company would have sent emails like this to any non-members. I looked up the sender online and didn’t see that I was connected with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else. And by his own admission I wasn’t a member of his group.

Also, if it was indeed an accident then wouldn’t a short apology have been appropriate rather than a second attempt to get people to watch the commercial?

This smacks me as manipulation pure and simple. First, I think a simple apology would have been sufficient if it really was an accident. If it wasn’t an accident but rather a ploy to get people to watch the video then we can add dishonesty as one more reason to not watch.

The principle of scarcity tells us people want things more when they can’t have them or think they’re being taken away. When I share this principle with groups I like to cite a study that’s referred to in Influence Science and Practice. The study was conducted with law students at the University of Chicago where they acted as a mock jury for a test case. They were presented facts and asked to give a judgment for the defendant. In the control group the average award was $33,000. A second group was told the same fact and one more was added – the defendant had insurance. Knowing there was more ability to pay, the average award increased to $37,000. A third group was told about the insurance but then the judge said that was inadmissible and should be struck from the record. He instructed the jury to not consider the insurance when deciding on the award. For the third group the average award was $46,000, a 39% increase!

It might seem counterintuitive that mock jurors awarded the most when told not to consider the insurance but what we clearly see is the psychology of scarcity at work. As soon as we’re told we can’t have something we tend to want it even more. When they were told they should not consider the insurance they placed even greater weight on it.

And think about this; you can’t not think about something. In other words, if I tell you not to think about pink elephants you will think of a pink elephant, even if for just a moment. I can imagine jurors talking about the very thing they’re not supposed to consider which means somehow, some way, it will factor into the decision.

So back to the email I received. By telling people they received it by accident, that it was only supposed to go to members, the company was trying to invoke some scarcity. They were hoping people would think, “I wonder what members get to see that I don’t?” While most of you reading this might see right through the tactic I guarantee a large number of people who are unfamiliar with the influence process didn’t see it for what it was and out of sheer curiosity watched the video.

Not one to let things go I sent a short, simple reply to the sender, “If you were really sorry the apology line would have been enough rather than an attempt to get people to watch your video.” I never heard back from them.

Here’s my suggestion – when you sense people are using the psychology of persuasion in a manipulative way call them out on it. I could have gone on Twitter and done that in front of the world but I don’t think that’s right and that’s why I refrained from using the name of the person or the company. A private reply was enough and now I have more important things to move onto.

Brian, CMCT

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

It was in Hamlet that William Shakespeare penned the famous line, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I came across this quote while doing some research for a training class I’ll be leading on attitude but the more I thought about that simple sentence the more I thought about how persuasion differs from manipulation. Some people are uncomfortable with the psychology of persuasion because they think using that knowledge gives them an unfair advantage over others.

It’s true that understanding how people’s minds work and knowing more effective ways to get someone to say “Yes” gives you an advantage. However, I don’t see that being any different than good looking people having a leg up when it comes to modeling, math whizzes doing better in fields like accounting, or people with great voices having a better chance at a singing career.
In each case those people possess something most others do not but we don’t consider it an unfair advantage. To be sure, if a good looking person uses their looks to take advantage of you or if the math genius knowingly confuses you with numbers to get the best deal then we’d say those people were not acting in a fair manner.
Shell and Mario Moussa, authors of The Art of WOO, have a wonderful quote that goes to the heart of the matter so to speak. They wrote, “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.”
Flowers and candy are neither good nor bad because, as Shakespeare rightly pointed out, we are the ones who ascribe meaning to them. Flowers can be wonderful when a man gives them to a woman when he asks her to marry him. They can also signify profound sadness when displayed at a funeral. Candy might not be so good if
you’re on a diet but it’s usually received with great joy by little kids on Halloween.
what does this have to do with understanding the psychology of persuasion? The six principles of influence as defined by Dr. Cialdini are neither good nor bad. They simply describe how people respond to one another and each can be used in positive ways or each can be used to take advantage of another person. Let’s take a brief look at each principle to see how this can happen.
Reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to return the favor when someone first does something for them. This is a great principle to know if you helped a friend move and need help down the road because your friend will be very likely to want to return the favor and help you. Of course there are always people who give you things or do things for you just so you’ll feel obligated to help them in some way.
Liking is the natural inclination to enjoy working with or being around people we like. Finding ways to like other people and get them to like you makes life much easier. Don’t you enjoy working with people you like? Sure you do. And I bet you want to like your neighbors and hope they like you. Deceitful people will tap into this principle by flattering you just to get you to do what they want.
Consensus is the tendency for us to go along with the crowd. Much of the time this is the right thing to do because “there’s safety in numbers” and “everybody can’t be wrong.” A dishonest person might try to sway you by telling you how “everyone” is doing something because they understand you’ll feel a psychological pull to go along with the crowd.
Authority is all about our reliance on people we view as experts. When you don’t have time to do a lot of research it’s a big time saver to defer to an expert. For example, most people don’t want to do their own taxes so they hire an accountant. On the flip side, there are people who prey upon this by creating a false impression of authority just so you’ll trust them.
Consistency is all about people doing what they say they’ll do or doing what you’ve done in the past. That’s very good because we can rely on people to continue in a consistent manner when we engage them. Of course, the manipulator seeing that can dupe the unsuspecting person by referring to something they said just to take advantage of this principle.
Scarcity comes into play when people’s actions are impacted by the thought of something becoming less available. Quite often this is good because we don’t miss out on opportunities that might go away. However,
this can be used against us when untrustworthy types create a false sense of urgency to get us to act in the moment rather than giving us time to consider all options.
As you can see, each of the six principles has an upside. In fact, I’d say the upsides are huge because they typically help us make good decisions faster. After all, if they didn’t lead to good decisions most of the time we’d quickly figure that out and stop responding to the cues. But just as flowers and candy aren’t
always good, the principles can be used in manipulative ways by some people who are only looking to get their way no matter the cost to the other, unsuspecting person. Just like the honest and sincere lover and the cad, it comes down to the motive of the person wielding the principles. I trust that you as a reader have come to see my focus is on the ethical use so win-win situations are created. Even if you don’t see yourself as the influencing type, understanding the principles will also help you protect yourself from the cad.

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