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Think Before You Speak or Write

I read a LinkedIn post from Wharton Professor Adam Grant in response to a Washington Post piece, More companies are buying insurance to cover executives who sexually harass employees. Grant wrote, “Seriously, companies: instead of buying sexual harassment insurance, how about you stop promoting sexual harassers into positions of power?”

Unfortunately, we see it all too often in sports and now it’s coming to light in business in an unprecedented way. It’s almost common place to see sports teams pick up or keep athletes who’ve been involved in things that would cause termination in almost any other business. Why? Because of talent and the impact on the bottom line. Now we’re seeing that many businesses have been doing essentially the same thing for some of their top talent.

I don’t disagree with Grant’s assertion that businesses should do much more to vet people before moving them into positions of greater power. However, I had a problem with many of the ignorant comments to his post because too many people didn’t know what they were talking about. I’d venture to guess most didn’t even read the article that prompted Grant’s comment.

I’ve been in the insurance industry for more than 30 years so I want to share some insights. Businesses can buy a product called Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) to cover financial losses from things like sexual harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination. Why is the coverage needed? Simple – to protect the business from serious financial consequences or possibly ruin. This includes covering attorney’s fees, even if the allegations are proven false. A side benefit is more compensation available for those who’ve been harmed by someone in the employ of the business.

Imagine this for a moment. You own a small business and an employee does something really dumb – stops a bar on the way home from work while driving a company car. He gets in an accident shortly after leaving the bar and is found to be just over the legal limit for drunk driving. I’m sure you’d be darn glad you had a business auto policy to protect you and your company. He on the other hand might be spending some time in jail and will certainly see his personal insurance premium skyrocket.

Now imagine you own that same business and unbeknownst to you an employee does something (sexually harasses someone or makes an offensive racial comment) that leads to a lawsuit against your company. Depending on the size the lawsuit it could force you into bankruptcy unless you had an insurance policy to help protect you.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Would you want to lose your job if you worked in one of those companies because their doors closed?
  • If you invested in one of those companies wouldn’t you want management to be careful and have protection in place, just in case?
  • If you were a separate organization that depended on the company being sued, wouldn’t your business life be easier if they could keep operating as opposed to shutting down?
  • What if it turns out a court finds the lawsuit was without merit?
  • Here’s the biggest question – if you’re the one who was harmed, wouldn’t you want to know compensation is available?

In each case, there’s a risk that needs to be protected against and insurance companies are willing to offer protection for an appropriate price. Please note: The insurance won’t keep a wrongdoer out of jail if he or she is found guilty of a crime! The insurance is to protect the business.

Many of the comments I saw (nearly 200) in response to Grant’s post were laughable because so many people don’t understand what the insurance is and what it does. Should we do away with auto insurance and simply tell businesses to hire better drivers? There’s already an incentive in place to hire good drivers – lower insurance premiums – but sometimes bad stuff happens. Here are just a handful of comments that show no understanding of the issue as it relates to insurance and protecting a business:

  • “I didn’t even know that such a type of insurance exists. Awful.”
  • “Really? This absolutely stupid!”
  • “We really do live in a profoundly sick society.”
  • “Wow! Can’t believe this even exists.”
  • “You’re kidding. Let’s not solve the problem; let’s just CYA with insurance. This is just wrong.”

Why this post this week? Perhaps to protect you. There’s an old proverbs that says, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise.” Today that could also apply to jumping into an online conversation before you have all the facts. Think first, do a little research, or at least read the article being referenced before you offer an opinion because it might help you avoid looking foolish.

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

Overcome Mistakes, Mend Fences, Restore Trust

In life mistakes happen. In fact, they happen all the time because we’re imperfect humans. Quite often that means we need to mend fences if we want to overcome mistakes and restore trust. If you look up the phrase “fence-mending” one definition you’ll see comes from Dictionary.com; “the practice of reestablishing or strengthening personal, business, or political contacts and relationships by conciliation or negotiation, as after a dispute, disagreement, or period of inactivity.” Because mistakes are inevitable we need to know how to overcome the negative impact they can have on relationships. Let’s take a look at a simple three step process.

Apologize

Step one is to apologize. The good news is apologizing isn’t a skill you don’t possess. Apologizing is a choice any of us can make. It might feel awkward and uncomfortable but we can all choose to apologize if we can let go of our fear and negative emotions.

Ask for Forgiveness

It’s always good to know whether or not your apology was accepted. Simply ask, “Do you forgive me?” I’ve had people say that’s awkward in business so another approach might be asking, “Are we good?” There are two possible outcomes: you’re forgiven or you’re not.

If you’ve been forgiven that’s cool so leave it alone. In sales there’s something called “selling past the close,” and it can be fatal to making the sale. If someone says they want to buy then it’s time to shut up because talking more might cause them to change their mind! By the same token, when someone forgives you it’s time to shut up because your continued talking might reopen the wound you want to heal.

Let’s say the other person doesn’t acknowledge your request for forgiveness or says they don’t forgive you. Take the high road. You might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I can’t change the past so all I can do is apologize and try to do better going forward.” If nothing else you can leave the situation knowing you did the right thing. And maybe, just maybe the other person will forgive you in that moment or sometime down the road.

Prove Yourself

If you get the opportunity to prove yourself take it! I also encourage you to make sure the other person knows about your change. Let’s say you got a report in late and that negatively impacted a teammate at work. The next time you have to turn something in look to get in to your coworker a day or two in advance of when they asked for it. When you give it to them you might say, “I know I blew it last time but I wasn’t going to let that happen again so I wanted to get you this as quickly as I could.” Actions speak louder than words but words can be used to highlight your actions and bring them to consciousness for the other person.

Silver Linings

There are a couple of silver linings with mistakes. First, sometimes when you work to correct mistakes relationships can actually improve. For example, some studies show people rate the service higher at restaurants and hotels when there was some mix up but it was corrected to the satisfaction of the customer. Why is that? When you go out of your way to make things right you engage reciprocity. Most people see that extra effort and feel obligated to give a better tip, rating or satisfaction score.

Another silver lining is this; admitting a mistake can make you more trustworthy and enhance your authority with others. Authority is the principle of influence that tells us people defer to those with superior wisdom, knowledge or expertise. Authority rests on two things – credibility (you know what you’re doing) and trustworthiness (you can be counted on). The net positive with enhancing trust is increased authority which means people are more likely to follow your lead or advice down the road.

To Do

This week I encourage you to actively look for your mistakes that impact others. When you see them, don’t wait for someone else to discover them, own up to them immediately. This taps into Dale Carnegie’s advice, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Doing so will allow you to practice a much-needed skill for interpersonal relationships and make it easier to do when the stakes are higher.

Why Don’t We Just Listen for a Change

I was inspired to write this week’s post after watching an enlightening Ted Talk from Theo E.J. Wilson called A Black Man Goes Undercover in the Alt-Right. Don’t worry, this post is not to advocate for any particular position on the political and social spectrum. Rather it’s about the lost art of listening and communicating to understand one another. Theo rightly points out things that prevent us from understanding each other and I have added some of the principles of influence that make it easy to happen:

Online Algorithms

These algorithms begin to filter information to us that we already view and believe, an application of the principle of consistency. It’s no different than the Amazon recommendations that pop up based on prior purchase decisions and sites you’ve viewed. Isn’t it someone freaky how you can start to type in a Google search and the choices that appear almost always contain the exact search you need? It’s as if Google read your mind! This curating of information is constantly going on behind the scenes and may be limiting your worldview.

Media Outlets

We make active choices that narrow our worldview such as only watching Fox News or CNN to the exclusion of all other media outlets. We do so because other large groups of people like us – the principle of consensus – hold the same views. I try to watch MSNBC and Fox in equal amounts because it’s like viewing the world from the North Pole and South Pole. Doing so gives me a better view of the entire planet. Make no mistake, news outlets are run by human beings and have their own bias points of view so be wary.

Our Associations

We tend to hang out with like-minded people. This is a natural phenomenon – the liking principle – because we like people who are similar to us and it’s less taxing mentally to have conversations with people who think like we do.

Social Media

Online “conversations” aren’t really conversations at all. They’ve become forums to espouse views then vehemently defend them. This is one way the principle of consistency can lead us astray. For more on this I will refer you to a post I wrote years ago called Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I’m sure you can think of more things that limit our ability to understand each other. Here are some ideas to perhaps change this. By change I don’t necessarily mean your views have to change but, if you come to understand another person, their point of view, and can maintain respect for them, then isn’t that a good thing?

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was different than you, not to convince them of your point of view, but to simply get to know them and their point of view better? I find it’s best to do this in person, over coffee, a drink, or a meal, where there can be dialog instead of monologue.

Have you ever asked someone what it’s like to be them? Two conversations I’ll never forget happened with a couple of African-Americans; a coworker and my best friend. With my coworker, I asked her on a flight from Nashville to Columbus what it was like to be an African-American working at my company. She talked non-stop the entire flight and I had a new, enlightened point of view.

The other conversation was with my best friend after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You cannot imagine the pride he expressed at something he never thought he would see in his lifetime. I don’t believe in either case the conversations would have happened if I had not opened the door with questions. Give a safe place for people to express themselves and you’ll be surprised at what you hear.

What was refreshing in the Ted Talk was hearing Theo acknowledge that many people who held views completely opposite from his were still people just like him. He saw pictures of kids and families. He saw people who enjoyed activities and liked to have fun. They were humans who viewed the world differently. When we lose sight of other people’s humanity we’re in big trouble because we treat them as things to be opposed. We need not look any further than Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to see what people can do to those they consider less than human.

It was also refreshing to hear Theo acknowledge flaws in the thinking of people he more closely aligned himself with. Every side has flaws because they’re made up of human beings, all of whom are flawed.

Someone asked me recently if I thought our country was more divided than ever. My response was no because there was a time we were so divided we plummeted into civil war. We have an opportunity to turn much of our negativity and opposition into something better. In order to do that I believe we need to stop opposing each other, stop shouting each other down and start having real, person to person conversations. Steven Covey encouraged us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That would be a great starting place.  I encourage you this week, reach out to someone who is different than you and start a dialogue.

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.

That’s What She Said but Not What He Heard

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

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

Sender

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

Receiver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Selling

There’s old saying that applies to persuasion and selling, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I don’t actually know anyone who’s ever skinned a cat so I have no idea how many ways you can do it but I’ll trust there are multiple ways. When it comes to persuasion there are many approaches you can use to hear “yes” more often.

What I’ll share this week is directed towards salespeople but the application goes beyond just sales. When it comes to landing a sale, there are a couple of ways you can approach it: top down or bottom up.

Top Down. Sometimes you want to go for it, pull out all the stops and be bold. After all, you have no chance of hearing “yes” if you don’t ask for the sale. Too many salespeople censure themselves with a belief that the prospective client will never go for their top of the line proposal. What they end up doing is reducing their offer…and their chances of making the sale.

I’ll give you an example from my industry – insurance. I can tell you from more than 30 years of experience that far too many people are underinsured when it comes to their homes, cars, businesses, and lives. Here are just a few reasons this happens:

  1. People feel “forced” to buy insurance. The state says they have to insure their car and the bank that holds their mortgage requires them to insure their home.
  2. Laws require business owners to carry certain coverages like workers’ compensation.
  3. Nobody wants to contemplate the end of life so the decision for life insurance is put off again and again.

Because people don’t like to buy insurance they can be quick to dismiss coverages and suggestions from their insurance agent. It’s always in the best interest of the customer that the agent recommends the policy and coverages he or she believes will afford the proper protection. During my time in the insurance industry I’ve never heard someone say after a loss, “Darn! My agent sold me the right coverages and I’m fully protected!” However, many people have said, “Damn! My agent didn’t sell me the right coverage (or amount) and now I’m paying out of my own pocket!”

By offering the right policy and coverages up front the agent risks being rejected and that’s okay. First, never underestimate that some people will buy what’s presented because they recognize it’s in their best interests to do so. If the individual rejects what’s presented the agent has the opportunity to engage what’s known as “reject and retreat.”

If someone rejects your initial offer and you step in with a more moderate offer, one that still affords the essential protection they need, the likelihood that the prospect will say “yes” to the second proposal is higher than if you’d have started with it outright. Why? Because of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. In the case of rejection, when you make a concession, take a step to the middle, quite often people will make a concession too and meet you part way.

My advice to salespeople is always this – don’t censure yourself! Put the proposal on the table that you believe is right for the customer. When you do so, anticipate they might reject it and be ready with reduced offers you can use in case you hear “no.” Anticipating “no” is not pessimistic, it’s strategic because it allows you to strategically engage reciprocity.

Bottom Up. Sometimes it’s best to tackle the situation from the opposite direction. There might be reasons you can’t go for the whole enchilada because it will surely result in hearing “no” without any fallback options. This might happen because:

  1. You don’t have enough experience with the type of account you’re trying to write.
  2. You don’t have a strong enough relationship with the business owner to warrant going after all the policies associated with his or her business.
  3. The main part of the account comes up for renewal at a different time.

Your best opportunity under these circumstances would be to try writing something smaller like the prospect’s home and auto or part of their business account (auto, worker’s compensation, etc.). The reason you want to approach the sale in this manner is to get your “foot in the door.” If you write any business for the prospective customer you become their agent. Assuming you do a good job for them that little step forward will make it easier for them to give you an opportunity on the bigger parts of their insurance package.

The psychology behind this approach is the principle of consistency. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Once you’ve become someone’s agent it’s a consistent next step to see if you can help him or her with their other insurance needs. Now the whole enchilada is within sight!

Persuading a person isn’t always as simple as some would lead you to believe. Due to situational factors and individual differences you can never predict what a single individual might do any more than a doctor can predict which person will live a long life. However, just as a doctor can confidently predict more people will live longer if they live healthy lifestyles, we can confidently say more people will say “yes” when you correctly tap into social psychology. We can make this claim because there’s more than seven decades of research you can rely on to significantly increase the odds that you’ll hear “yes” when you make a request of another person.

So, next time you go into a sale consider whether or not top down or bottom up is the right approach. A little strategic planning could make the sale much easier.

Ask Yourself a Better Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remain Calm to Maintain Your Presence and Personal Power

I just finished Amy Cuddy’s new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. I’ve been a fan of Cuddy’s since I first saw her Ted Talk which focused on how we can use our bodies to feel more confident and powerful. I highly recommend watching it and picking up a copy of her new book.

As I read the book I came across a section where she shared how her reactivity to criticism actually hurt her presence and thus her personal power. Her story reminded me of several huge lessons I learned early in my career at State Auto Insurance.

In the mid 1990s I moved into a new job which was a newly created position in the company. One of my responsibilities was to create new sales reports using Microsoft products so senior management wouldn’t have to wait for the old mainframe reports. They recognized creating and revising reports would be much faster and easier using the new technology.

I had produced a series of sales reports that were distributed to mid-level and senior managers throughout the company. A couple of managers from one office disagreed with some of my numbers and labels but rather than get with me to discuss the matter they sent a scathing memo to my boss and several others, including the CEO.

I remember where I was when I read their memo and I was pissed! Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to tell myself, “Your self-worth is not wrapped up in those reports.” With that I decided not to respond for a few days.

Once my head cleared and my emotions subsided I went through the memo and addressed every criticism in a response to my boss, the Vice President of Sales. Where I made mistakes, I owned up to them and told him what corrections I would make. Most of the report was correct and I made sure to point that out and why I believed that to be the case. My only goal was to make sure my boss knew I was on top of it.

Unbeknownst to me, he shared my response with the CEO. In turn the CEO promptly sent a note to all managers which said, “When I put Brian in this position is wasn’t to make him the resident S.O.B. of the company. If you have issues with what he produces please see me.” When the CEO has your back that’s a good feeling!

But here’s the icing on the cake. During a big market strategy session, with more than 50 of our top brass in attendance, one of the people who authored the memo was presenting information about his territory. As he discussed his market strategy report, which he had prepared himself, he told the assembled group of managers to, “Cross out that number because it’s wrong.” Moments later the company president slipped me a note that read, “Paybacks are a bitch,” and he smiled as I read it.

Between the backing of my boss, the president and our CEO, I knew I had made the right choice to respond rather than react to the situation.

Here are three big lessons I learned that might come in handy for you someday.

  1. Don’t be reactive. As Cuddy points out, you diminish your personal power when you react because you don’t allow yourself to consider the best options. This is especially true the more emotional you are.
  2. Admit mistakes. Dale Carnegie famously said, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Doing this builds what Robert Cialdini calls your “authority” because you’re viewed as being more honest and trustworthy.
  3. Hold your ground when you’re right. It would have been a big failure on my part to not point out all the areas where I had produced correct information. The last thing you want it to continually be on the defensive if you want to be successful when it comes to persuasion.

Most situations you face are not life and death where thinking too long could be fatal. In the vast majority of the situations you encounter you have time to respond but you need to quickly remind yourself of that fact. Remember, you’ll have more personal power in the moment if you respond rather than react. I hope remembering this post proves as beneficial for you just as pausing did for me.

The Influence of Tracy Austin Lives On

Just over a month ago I wrote a post that was A Tribute to Tracy Austin, a good friend I met 13 years ago as a result of Robert Cialdini being in town to speak at State Auto Insurance.

I was blown away by the response I received on Facebook and LinkedIn to that article. It was the most read blog post in since I started blogging in 2008. I don’t attribute that to anything but Tracy’s positive impact on so many people.

It saddens me to tell you Tracy passed away early in the morning on June 27. His body lost its fight against pancreatic cancer but his influence lives on in the hearts and minds of the thousands and thousands of lives he touched over the years.

In my blog post last month, I let you know something Tracy was well known for – name tags. For nearly a decade Tracy would wear a name tag with a positive word on it. He did this for three reasons.

The first reason Tracy wore a name tag was to influence himself by publicly declaring his attitude for the day. When something hangs in front of us we tend to focus on it which makes it easier to conform to it. A positive word like love makes it a little easier to be loving than it would if you had not focused on it. To be more loving is good for you and those you come in contact with.

The second reason for the name tag was to positively influence others. If someone saw Tracy with gratitude or thankful on his chest it gave them pause to consider being a little more grateful or thankful. That was a good thing them as well as others they might interact with.

The third big reason Tracy wore a name tag was to start positive conversations. As I wore name tags for the past nine months in support of Tracy many people asked me about the word of the day and I saw firsthand how it was a great platform to share.

I’ve thought about how I can honor Tracy’s memory and allow him to continue to influence others. I’ve decided to continue the word of the day using the name tags. So, when you see me wearing a name tag, in addition to the three reasons noted above you’ll also know it’s to keep alive the influence of Tracy Austin, someone who influenced so many in the best way possible.

A Picture of Corporate Giving

Last week I wrote a post To Give or To Give Back? That’s the Question and There’s a Big Difference! I explained there is a difference between giving and giving back.

Giving back implies someone first gave to you. In that case, the principle of reciprocity is at work on you because you feel obligated to give back or do something in return as a result of having been given to first.

When you give the principle of reciprocity is at work on someone else. That’s what causes another person to feel some obligation to give back to you.

Does that make sense? I hope it does because there are big implications for you if you hope to become a master persuader.

I recently watched a Budweiser commercial featuring Adam Driver that’s a perfect example of giving, not giving back. The commercial is called, “A Dream Delivered | Folds of Honor.”

I’m sure you know Budweiser, the best-selling beer in the United States and one of the most well-known brands in the world. However, you may not be familiar with Folds of Honor, an organization that “provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of our fallen and disabled service members while serving our nation.”

During the nearly four-minute commercial you’re introduced to Haley Grace Williams, the 21-year-old daughter of an army veteran who was injured just before deployment during the first Iraq war. We learn that Haley is struggling to pay for her last year of nursing school.

Adam, a Marine veteran who was also injured just before his deployment, visits the Williams home to deliver the good news that Folds of Honor will cover the last year of nursing school for Haley. Budweiser stepped in to cover all of the other associated school expenses for Haley to allow her to focus 100% on her studies. I encourage you to watch this heartwarming commercial.

Budweiser and Folds of Honor were not giving back; they were giving. Some people might see their actions as a publicity stunt but others will view it simply as an act of kindness.

I don’t see anything wrong an organization letting people know about their kind deeds. Doing so let’s people know more about the company and might make some folks feel better about the company. I think this is especially important at a time when most of what we hear and read has to do with corporate greed.

I also believe advertising good corporate deeds allows people to make better informed decisions about where they will spend their hard-earned dollars. In today’s society, most people want to deal with good corporate citizens but they need to be able to identify them.

If you own a business or simply work for a company, don’t be shy about letting the public know about your giving. If doing so makes people want to do business with your company then it’s a win-win.