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”.

Is Persuasion Manipulation?

Is persuasion manipulation? I recently read The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard, a book written in the mid-1950s to alert people to how advertisers were getting the public to buy products using their understanding of psychology. It paints the social psychologists who worked with big companies in a negative light and described “the advertising man” as a “journeyman psychologist.” The cover of the book and the opening paragraph both state, “Many of us are being influenced and manipulated in the patterns of our everyday lives.”

I enjoyed the read and have to agree in part because there are people who take advantage of their understanding of psychology in order to get what they want. Reading it made me think it was time to address the topic of manipulation. If we’re to talk about manipulation we need to know what manipulation is. I looked up “manipulate” in several dictionaries and while they all vary somewhat their definitions, the word boils down to a couple of meanings, one good and one bad:

1. to handle or use skillfully (i.e., a carpenter manipulates wood – good)
2. to control something or someone cleverly or deviously (the car salesman manipulated me – bad)

I think it’s safe to say the words manipulate, manipulated and manipulation all carry negative connotations today. After all, no one wants to be manipulated and no one wants to be known as a manipulator.

When it comes to understanding manipulation we need to understand motive. I love a quote from The Art of Woo by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa. 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.”

Understanding influence and persuasion is completely neutral like the flowers and candy noted above. Why a man uses the flowers and candy as he does, or why a person uses persuasion and influence is the real question. In each case you have to wonder if the person is only looking out for #1 — what’s in their best interests.

The term “win-win” is popular today. It’s encouraged in business and negotiations if you want to maintain a relationship with another person or organization. That needs to be kept i
n the forefront when it comes to using persuasion. You have to ask yourself, “Is what I’m asking this person, or company, to do in the best interests of all parties?” If it is and you’re being truthful in your approach then you can probably feel okay about proceeding.

Something else to consider. As you learn more and more about influence and persuasion, wouldn’t it be foolish to not use that understanding when making requests of others? If you knew there was a better way to hear “Yes” then why would you not use that method? If you felt bad that someone agreed then perhaps you have to step back and ask yourself whether or not your request — influence and persuasion aside — was legitimate to begin with.

Here’s an interesting side bar: it was this very topic that got me in touch with Dr. Cialdini. When I read an ad for one of his videos it read, “Call it influence, persuasion…even manipulation.” Knowing his stance on ethics I emailed the organization saying I don’t think he’d agree or appreciate that description of his work. His company, Influence at Work, found out about my email and called me. That’s what led to him becoming a guest speaker at State Auto in the summer of 2004, my attendance at his two-day Principles of Persuasion workshop and eventually my certification as a CMCT (Cialdini Method Certified Trainer).

On a more personal note – I used flowers, candy and a Rolls Royce on my wife’s 23rd birthday to “influence” her decision when I asked her to marry me. I think she’d agree it’s been a win-win relationship.

Before I let you go I want to point out the very cool drawing from a friend, Mike Franzese. Mike is in the advertising business and has a blog, Franzeseinklings, that I follow. I liked his drawings so much that I asked him for a picture that conveyed manipulation. I think you’ll agree, he did a terrific job! Keep an eye out for more from him and give his blog a follow.

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes! “