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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.

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.

Attention

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.

Ethics

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 Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed 150,000 times! The course will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

 

A Wealth of Information Creates a Poverty of Attention!

Multi-tasking is a fallacy. Despite what you might believe, our brains cannot consciously focus on multiple tasks. Studies show when you try multi-tasking you’ll take longer and make more mistakes than you would have if you’d tackle one thing at a time. Sure, you can walk and talk but walking doesn’t take conscious thought most of the time. However, when something requires your attention, like avoiding stepping into the street into oncoming traffic, your ability to focus on the conversation, or anything else for that matter, is temporarily diverted.

In the world we live in some estimates say you’re bombarded with 3000 to 5000 marketing message a day. The late Herbert Simon, an economist, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, said this about information overload, “…information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Your “poverty of attention” creates the inability to focus and is due in large part to the overstimulation of daily life. But it’s not just marketing that causes it. Your cell phone is part of the problem. Google “cell phone addiction” and you’ll get millions of results! According to an article on Health.com, smartphones have lots in common with Vegas slot machines and they’re altering our brains.

As a persuader you’re competing against this overstimulation and lack of attention. What can you do? By thoughtfully incorporating the principles of influence into your communication you can bypass a lot of the noise.

One big reason using the principles work so well is due to human evolution.  Over the course of history, the principles enabled humans make better decisions faster which increased our survival rate. Travel back in time and consider:

  • Someone who looked, sounded and acted like you could probably be trusted without giving it much consideration (liking).
  • There’s a rustling in the woods so everyone takes off running…and you do too, with very little thought (consensus).
  • There’s not much Wooly Mammoth left so you quickly get some because you don’t know when the next kill will be (scarcity).

These are just a few examples where the psychology of persuasion prompted actions that generally led to good results. Our world is vastly different than the one our ancestors occupied but we still face psychological threats and the wiring of the human brain hasn’t changed.

  • You get a new boss and you have many things in common. You immediately like your boss (liking) which makes working with her easier and less threatening.
  • You’re in new job and realize on day one that you’re not dressed like everyone else. That night you head to the store to make wardrobe adjustments so you’ll fit in a little better (consensus).
  • Things are changing at work but despite the fact that you’re not in agreement with everything you don’t speak up (scarcity).

We face a different environment than our ancestors but we’re using the same brain. The more you look for opportunities to tap into the principles of persuasion the easier it will be for your message to cut through the information overload.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! The course teaches 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.

Systems Plus Persuasion Equal Success

Something I’ve noticed over time is how much systems contribute to success. It’s not to say that being carefree and creative don’t have value – they do. However, my observation has been with most things – learning, fitness, health, sales, coaching, leadership, etc. – having good systems in place are much more beneficial than winging it. Even with creative endeavors like improv comedy, there’s a system or approach that’s used. It may appear as though those doing the comedy are just going with the flow but there’s a structure underneath their creativity.

Two athletic examples come right to mind when I think about systematic approaches: weightlifting and running.

As a teenager I learned a system for weightlifting that made a world of difference. Before my junior season of high school football, I worked out consistently for a year and only gained 5 lbs. Pretty disappointing! During the offseason before my senior year I learned a system for working out and put on 30 lbs. before the season started. At my peak in college I was 90 lbs. heavier than when I first started lifting.

When I took up running my first marathon was a disaster. I covered the 26.2 miles in four hours and fourteen minutes and “hit the wall” about 20 miles into the race. Then I learned a system for running and eventually cut an hour off of that first marathon time and qualified for the Boston Marathon in the process.

In business I’ve seen this play out time and time again. People and organizations with systematic approaches win consistently. Let’s take leadership, sales and coaching as examples.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning and applying leadership concepts from Focus 3. At a high level their system focuses on three things: leaders, culture and behavior.

In the Focus 3 approach leaders create the culture that drives the behaviors that lead to results. If you want better results you need better behaviors which means creating the right culture to support the right behaviors. That’s why culture is the #1 responsibility of leaders.

When it comes to behavior Focus 3 uses the following formula: E+R=O. In plain English this means Event plus Response equals Outcome. Life happens (events) and we usually have no control over those events in the moment. We can influence outcomes in the direction we want by choosing disciplined responses. These disciplined responses are our behaviors.

When it comes to sales the system is pretty simple. Selling is about building rapport with the prospective customer, overcoming objections they may pose then closing the sale.

Coaching has a system very similar to sales. Coaching also starts with building rapport, gaining trust, then motivating the person being coached to new behaviors. Without relationship and trust it’s not likely someone will follow the advice of a coach.

Where does influence come into these business systems? Every step of the way! According to Aristotle, persuasion is about getting people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Whether you’re leading, selling or coaching, the principles of influence can be used to support the system because they can be used to change behaviors. For example, the principles we call liking and reciprocity are excellent ways to build rapport. To gain someone’s trust or overcome objections the principles of authority and consensus come into play. And finally, to close a sale or motivate behavior change try the principles of consistency or scarcity. Do you have a system in place that will lead you to success? If so, then consider how you’ll execute your system. If your system involves other people at any point then you’ll want to decide which principles of persuasion you can tap into to get a better result.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Robert Cialdini, Friend and Mentor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director at State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Principles vs. Techniques, Laws and Other Burdensome Rules

When I lead The Principles of Persuasion Workshop for salespeople I tell attendees that a sales technique is good unless you find yourself in a situation where the technique doesn’t apply. If all you know is a technique or pithy response but not the why behind it you’ll probably find yourself a loss. However, understanding principles let you know why those sale techniques work which opens up many more options and gives you quite a bit of freedom. I was reminded of this thought as I read the blog post “Burn Your Rule Book and Unlock the Power of Principles” by Eric J. McNulty. He wrote:

“Principles, unlike rules, give people something unshakable to hold onto yet also the freedom to take independent decisions and actions to move toward a shared objective. Principles are directional, whereas rules are directive. A simple example of a rule: ‘All merchandise returns must be made within 30 days.’ Contrast this with Nordstrom’s principle-based approach: ‘Use your best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.’ The former shows no trust in either the sales associate or the customer. The latter is exactly the opposite and encourages the frontline worker to build a relationship with the customer.”

What does “the return must be within 30 days” rule signal? It could be that the company doesn’t trust its customers. They feel they will be taken advantage of so they have to limit the chance of that happening. A fundamental distrust of people might say more about the organization than the customers.

The rule could also signal that the company don’t trust their employees to make good decisions. Perhaps they need to do a better job hiring the right people and then training them on how to make good decisions that benefit the customer and the company.

As I considered principles and rules I thought about how Jane and I raise our daughter Abigail. We’ve always spent a lot of time talking with Abigail from the time she was very little. We didn’t want to just teach her right and wrong, good and bad. Rather, we wanted her to understand why we believed some things were good and some bad, and what made something right or wrong. Granted, these concepts are very subjective but we all possess subjective values and we pass our values along because we believe they’re good to live by.

My verification that we were on the right track came as Abigail approached her 16th birthday. My mom told me she was having a conversation with Abigail about getting her license and her curfew. Abigail told my mom that she didn’t have a curfew to which my mom responded, “Oh you better believe you do.” Abigail told her again that she didn’t have a curfew and again, my mom insisted she did, along with other rules. Then Abigail said, “No grandma, I really don’t have any rules but I wouldn’t do anything to break my parents trust.” Wow! That’s exactly what Jane and I would have hoped for. She wasn’t focused on the minutia of following rules but simply wanted to maintain a good relationship with us.

We’re not as involved in church as we used to be and I know church gets a bad rap quite often for reasons too numerous to list here. Church can seem like a rule based life to define good and bad but that’s not how I see it. When it comes to living right I believe this passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “For the whole law is fulfilled on one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” That’s pretty simple just like not breaking parent’s trust and just like using your best judgement. If something goes wrong following these simple principles then you have a coaching opportunity with your child or employee.

I encourage you to give thought to this idea this week. If you’re a parent, manager or run a company are you loading people down with rules or helping them understand why you want them to do what you’ve asked them to do?  George Patton once said, “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the result.” Tell your kids and employees where you want them to go, give a few guiding principles and they might just surprise you.

Persuasive Coaching – An Introduction

In 2010, the company I’ve worked for the past 27 years, State Auto Insurance, implemented business coaching in the sales area. I had the opportunity to lead that change and actively participate as a sales coach. For a year and a half I was on the phone every month with nearly three dozen sales manages. After that I was assigned to work with a dozen regional vice presidents for the next four and a half years.

Because I was outside the manager’s and vice president’s chains of command I was able to bring a unique perspective to the coaching process. Fast forward to 2016 I was asked to participate in a companywide transformation as State Auto moved from a performance management organization to a coaching culture.

For the next several weeks I’ll share coaching concepts with readers and tie in the psychology of persuasion to the coaching process. Let’s start with some terminology.

What is persuasion? I think Aristotle has the best definition I’ve heard to date. He said persuasion was the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Persuasion is not just about changing minds, it’s about changing behaviors.

What is coaching? There’s no set definition that everyone agrees on but the description I like most is this: coaching is the ongoing process of improving performance and results through continuous feedback. Improving the right skills should lead to better performance and ultimately better results. Make no mistake, you can improve skills and performance but the bottom line is improving results in business coaching. If results don’t improve then circle back to see if the right skills are being addressed.

I believe good coaching helps people improve so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability AND prepares them for future opportunities. A side benefit is that quite often improvements carry over from the professional arena to the personal life of the individual who is being coach.

This is why coaching is so exciting! If you’re being coached well and see you’re having more success in your job, if you feel like you’re also getting ready for future goals, and if you see a positive impact on your personal life then who wouldn’t want to be coached?

Where does persuasion come into the coaching process? In order to improve performance, a coach has to get the “coachee” to develop new skills, improve existing skills, and ultimately implement new behaviors. Helping people break free of old habits and changing behavior is where an understanding of persuasion becomes a huge help.

A business has to have a good product or service in order to compete in the marketplace. Persuasion won’t make a poor product or service good but it can help you sell the merits of your good product or service more easily. Likewise, when it comes to coaching a coach has to possess good coaching skills. Persuasion can help a coach convey his or her good ideas in a way that makes it easier for the person being coaching to buy in, say yes, and make the necessary changes. That’s what we’ll start focusing on beginning next week.

Selling Without Making People Feel Sold

One of the nicest compliments I’ve received came after a presentation I gave a few years ago at a large insurance event. An attendee said afterwards, “I think Brian came across as a guy who, quote unquote, was not interested in selling you and invariably he sold us.” That compliment came to mind recently as I worked with a young intern at State Auto Insurance.

I spent an hour with this high school student talking about coaching in business. I started with the example of a basketball coach because she had a clear picture of what a good basketball coach should do to prepare a team to play to the best of its ability. From there we transitioned to business coaching and eventually focused on her.

As we talked about routines I asked her if there was something she’d like to change in her typical day. She acknowledged having a hard time getting ready for school in the morning. We discussed why that was the case and what she could do to make it easier on herself. She talked about possibly laying out her clothes the night before, perhaps showering the night before and doing her hair. She also knows she could start making the choice not to hit the snooze button after 6:45 AM.

Once we’d discussed all the options I asked her what she intended to do. She said she knows a better routine would help and committed to write down a few things we had talked about then try them over the next seven days. I encouraged her that even if it doesn’t work out as well as she would like we could talk about it again and see what part of her new routine might need to change.

Then I surprised her with this, “Do you realize we just had a coaching session?” Her eyes got wide; she smiled and shook her head to indicate no she didn’t realize it. I didn’t come across as someone who intended to “coach” her and in the end I coached her because there was no resistance. My coaching was just part of the bigger conversation we were having.

If your attempts to coach, sell or persuade someone come across as anything but a conversation you might want to rethink your approach. In our Principles of Persuasion Workshop I often tell salespeople the best way to close a deal starts the moment you shake a prospective customer’s hand and look him or her in the eye because everything builds from there. Your “selling” should really be informing people into yes and that happens best when you ethically employ the principles of persuasion.

I didn’t intend to convince you of anything here but I hope I convinced you.

Humans Think When Habit Won’t Do

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting through the Principles of Persuasion (POP) Workshop in Phoenix, Arizona once again. Even though I’ve taught this workshop more than 50 times it was a great refresher and exposed me to the new look, feel, and studies for the workshop upgrade.

Greg Neidert, Ph.D., led this POP for people from across the globe. Like Dr. Robert Cialdini, Dr. Neidert was a psychology professor at Arizona State University for many decades. He let attendees know the workshop distills more than 50 hours of classroom teaching into the most essential elements of persuasion in a two-day format. To say that trying to absorb that much information makes your brain tired would be an understatement!

Speaking of your tired brain, Dr. Neidert made a comment that caught my attention. He told us, “Humans think when habit won’t do.” Consider that for a moment – we think when habit won’t do.

Thinking is hard work. You don’t have to be a bricklayer to come home exhausted from work. Many of you reading this have office jobs but you can still feel wiped out at the end of a long day. Why? Henry Ford put it best when he said, “Thinking is some of the hardest work there is and that’s why so few people do it.”

Why is “thinking” so hard? You may not know it but the human brain is about 2% of the average person’s body weight and yet it consumes about 20% of your caloric intake. If your brain were a car we’d call it a gas hog.

One more interesting fact about your brain’s energy use – when you’re engaged in active, logical thinking your brain’s energy consumption rises by about 300%! You won’t feel short of breath but you’ll feel tired after long stretches of focused thought.

When you’re engaged in active thinking it’s hard work and most of us would prefer to not work too hard if we don’t have to. That’s where habits come in. If you consider some of your daily rituals (what you eat for breakfast, how you drive to work, how you start your day in the office, etc.) you’ll see there are very distinct patterns you follow almost automatically. You could say they are habit.

Here’s a personal example. I’m up every day by 4 AM and by 4:15 AM I’m in my basement lifting weights then running on the treadmill. It takes me an hour and a half to complete my workout. Most of the time I find myself falling into patterns doing the same exercises the same way. I could change things up in the moment but 4 AM is awfully early and working out is tiring so I don’t want to think about it! It’s only when I’m away from my gym, when I feel refreshed and relaxed that I even think about how I might change my workout regimen.

Our habits usually serve us well and that’s why we rely on them so much. But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Just like I take time to reassess my workouts you should take time to consider your habits (routines) because things change over time. Working out as 20 year-old was very different than what I do now because in addition to my body changing now that I’m over 50, my priorities have changed too. You may find that to be the case in your life if you take time to reassess your habits.

I’ve been considering writing a series of posts on how you can use the principles of persuasion to influence your own behavior. When Lydia, a POP attendee from China, asked me how the principles could be used to influence her own behavior it was confirmation that I need to address this topic because others have asked me that same question in the past.

So consider this the first post in the series that will focus on how you can make positive changes – habits – in your life using the principles of influence. Like working out, making changes will require effort because thinking is hard work but I have no doubt you’ll find it very worthwhile professionally and personally.

What’s Your Goal?

I work with lots of people in different roles when it comes to teaching ethical influence. Over the years I’ve worked with senior leaders, middle managers, supervisors, claim reps, underwriters, field sales reps, insurance agents, business owners, financial reps and many others. I’m always amazed at how often people try to persuade without a clear goal in mind.

You may think a salesperson always has a clear goal; i.e., to make the sale. True enough, but that’s still a little vague in my book. Let me share an example to help you see what I mean.

During the Principles of Persuasion Workshop© we have an activity where participants work in teams to come up with a persuasive argument to get a high school student, Jimmy, back in school after he’s been expelled for foul language and insubordination. Participants generally do a good job at applying the principles of influence to persuade the school board to let Jimmy back in but very few clearly state when they want Jimmy back in school. That leaves the final decision up to the school board, which could opt for another week or two out of school.

Participants would do much better to say something like this at the conclusion, “It’s our sincere hope that you’ll let Jimmy back in school tomorrow.” Why is this so important? Because if the board says no there is a moment of power the teams can leverage.

Studies show when someone says “No” to you, if you make a concession and ask for a smaller request immediately your odds of hearing “Yes” are much better. This is an application of the principle of reciprocity because when we give a little, people often feel compelled to give a little in return.

Robert Cialdini had his research assistants run an experiment that shows how powerful this concept can be in real life.  These students randomly asked people around the Arizona State University campus if they would be willing to be a chaperone on a day trip to the zoo for a group of juvenile delinquents. As you might expect, very few people wanted to spend a day at the zoo with those kids so only 17% said they would be willing to help.

At a later date the research assistants roamed the campus and started with a bigger initial request. They randomly asked people if they would be willing to be a big brother or sister to some juvenile delinquents. They made sure people knew this was a weekly commitment of two hours and they were looking for people to sign up for two years. No one was willing to give up that much time. As soon as people said no the research assistants would ask, “If you can’t do that, would be willing to be a chaperone on a day trip to the zoo for a group of juvenile delinquents?” So basically they were asking for the exact some thing they’d asked for earlier but this time 50% said yes – triple the initial response rate!

Two things were at play during the second scenario. First, the contrast phenomenon came into play. By comparison, a day at the zoo is nothing compared to a two-year commitment so it’s much easier to say yes to the zoo after thinking about being a big brother/sister. The second thing was the principle of reciprocity was engaged by way of concessions. When the research assistants counter-offered immediately, many people felt compelled to do the same.

Let’s go back to the scenario with Jimmy. By clearly stating what the team wants – to have Jimmy back in school tomorrow – they will be more effective persuaders. They might hear a “Yes” to the initial request but if they don’t they can make a counter offer that’s very likely to be accepted. This is a far better approach than leaving the timing up to the board.

How does this work for you? Two ways.

  • Clearly state what you want. Think about the times when you’ve not clearly stated what you wanted and left if to someone else to decide the outcome. Perhaps you interviewed for a job but didn’t clearly state the salary or benefits you wanted. Or maybe you were trying to make a sale but didn’t make the first offer.
  • Don’t censure yourself. For example, you want a job and would like to earn $95,000 but inside you’re thinking they might say no so you ask for $85,000. If you hear no then you might end up at $80,000 or less. Ask for $95,000 because you might just get it but if not you can retreat to $90,000 and are more likely to get that than if you’d started at $90,000 or $85,000.

Next time you go into a situation where you’re trying to persuade someone don’t just focus on building your persuasive communication. Give lots of thought to what your ultimate goal is. What would you like to have happen if everything worked out as you wanted? But don’t stop there; clearly communicate your desired outcome. Be ready in case you hear “no,” which means having multiple fallback positions ready. This allows you to leverage the moment of power after “no.” Do these few things and you’re on your way to becoming a much more effective persuader.