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Hello Darkness My Old Friend – Volkswagen Overcoming Scandal

While watching the men’s U.S. Golf Open Championship this past weekend my attention was grabbed by the new Volkswagen commercial “Hello Light.” The commercial is easily the best I’ve seen in years! It’s eerie, dark, and set to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic folk rock song, The Sound of Silence. I encourage you to take a moment to watch it because I think you’ll be blown away.

You may recall, four years ago Volkswagen was embroiled in a scandal. The giant car manufacturer falsified emissions results in the lab for its turbo charged diesel engines. It turned out the engines actually emitted 40 times more nitrogen oxide in the real world than in the lab!

Until that point, Volkswagen had a great reputation with the public. They set themselves apart in the automotive industry in the 1960’s with the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus. However, their stock price fell from around $26 a share to about $10 in the wake of the scandal.

Here we are in 2019, and with the emissions scandal mostly behind them you might wonder why they would bring it up in their commercial. Because it will ultimately help them!

In the study of influence there’s a principle of persuasion known as authority. It describes the reality that people are more willing to follow the lead of people or companies that are viewed as authorities. Volkswagen enjoyed that status for many decades but lost the public’s trust in the wake of the scandal. That’s important because in order to leverage authority to move people to action you have to have expertise and trustworthiness.

It might seem counterintuitive to mention the scandal but it can actually help Volkswagen. Studies show, when you mention a weakness or own up to a mistake you’re seen as more trustworthy. By referencing the scandal Volkswagen is owning its mistake rather than hiding from it. In doing so they can regain some trust. They do this brilliantly near the end of the commercial when the following appears on screen; “In the darkness, we found the light.”

But you can’t just admit weakness and leave it there. If that’s all Volkswagen did then people would only talk about the emissions scandal. In order to turn the corner, the next step is to segue into a strength. By doing this people tend to remember the strength, not the weakness or mistake. In the case of Volkswagen, they end the commercial telling viewers they’re now making electric cars. With the move from diesel to electric cars the public doesn’t have to worry about emissions and pollution. No more emission producing cars, no more chance for emissions scandals.

Only time will tell if Volkswagen’s approach works but I’m betting it will. For the most part, people are forgiving with the passage of time when an organization or person apologizes. Enough time has passed since the scandal, the company has owned it, and they’re focusing the public on the fact that they’re moving in a new direction. Kudos to Volkswagen on all fronts.

Conclusion

Learn from Volkswagen and science. If you’ve made a mistake don’t try to cover it up, hope people won’t notice, or pray it will just go away. Own it! Make sure you mention your mistake early then use a transitional word like “but” or “however” to segue into a strength. In doing so you’ll be seen as more trustworthy and people will be far more likely to remember your strengths as opposed to weaknesses or mistakes.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence. Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – will be available for pre-sale July 9and goes live on August 20.

His LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by nearly 70,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.

 

Overcoming Youth or Inexperience in Business

Recently I was on LinkedIn and saw a question about overcoming youth and/or inexperience in business. When I think I can add to a conversation I’ll usually chime in and did so in this case.

The person who was seeking guidance was fresh out of college and decided to pursue her master’s degree while working full time in a managerial role. Because of her age and inexperience she ran into resistance to her ideas and suggestions. She said it got so bad they brought in a more experienced professional who told the staff exactly what she’d been saying all along. She recognized those same suggestions carried more weight coming from the experienced professional. Bottom line, she wanted to know how young, or inexperienced, managers can overcome the lack of trust and respect from older, more experienced coworkers.

The scenario is a familiar one and perhaps one you’ve faced it or might in the future. With that thought in mind, I decided to share with you the advice I gave to this young lady on LinkedIn.

The good news is, there are several ways to potentially youth or inexperience. The first comes from Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to persuasion and according to his research the principle of authority is what’s needed here if you want to gain traction for your ideas and suggestions.

This principle of influence tells us people will defer to those with superior wisdom or expertise when making decisions. That’s because we generally feel more confident when an authority tells us something. In order to be seen as an authority you need two traits: trust and credibility.

Trust comes from being the kind of person who keeps your word. When you consistently do what you say people believe you. That belief extended into the future is trust.

Credibility is established when you show you know what you’re doing. Credibility can come from your own expertise or you can borrow it. When you’re young or inexperienced you probably won’t be seen as an expert so the next best thing is borrowing expertise by citing sources. When you share ideas, cite people who are experts who believe in the same approach. You should also share research that backs up your suggestions about what should be done. Quite often those two things – trust and credibility – can be the difference between buy-in or rejection of your ideas.

A second approach comes from Focus 3, a leadership firm. Focus 3 views trust as the foundation to getting results in business.  In their view trust is comprised of three things: connection, competence and character. All three are necessary for trust and strength in one area won’t necessarily make up for weakness in another area.

Character, as already noted, is being someone who can be counted on to be a person of integrity. Do you keep your word? Do you act consistently with people? Are you believable? The good news is being a person of character is simply a choice you make to do what you say you’ll do.

Connection is the relationship you have with people and it’s a two-way street. The more people know and like you the more they’ll respond positively to you. When people know you like them they naturally assume you’ll have their best interests at heart which make is even easier for them to do what you ask. Cialdini calls this the principle of liking.

Competence is your ability to make others better and provide the help they need. This doesn’t mean you’re better than the people you manage. On the contrary, those you lead are probably much better at their job than you would be if you did it and that’s okay! As a leader your primary role is to take what you know and use it to help make your team better.

Mastery of character, connection and competence will help you gain the trust you need to lead a team.

Finally, address your age or inexperience quickly. You might say, “I know I’m new here but I see that as an advantage because I’m not constrained by how things have always been done.”

Another approach might be, “I know some of you are looking at me wondering what someone like me can bring to the table because I’m young. There are certainly things I won’t know but something that I’ve learned is that many great ideas have come from people while they were young because they saw things from a fresh perspective. Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are great examples.”

The point in addressing age or experience is to acknowledge it early, then transition with a word like “but” or “however” into your strengths. Doing so gains you credibility because you’re seen as trustworthy when you own up to weakness. The good news is people usually forget what comes before “but” and that keeps them more focused on your strengths and how you can help them.

Persuasion isn’t a magic wand. Doing what I’ve listed above is no guarantee everyone who reports to you will overlook your youth or inexperience and fall in line. But, I’m confident you’ll see more people give you the trust and respect you’re looking for because decades of research show that to be the case with the approaches I’ve outlined.

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 more than 125,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Persuasive Coaching – Competency and Trust, Two Sides of the Same Coin

In order for business coaches to be successful two elements are absolutely essential. First, they have to know what they’re talking about. In a word, they have to be competent. Second, they need to gain the trust of the people they’re coaching.

It’s of little value to be exceptionally intelligent if someone doesn’t trust your advice and direction. On the flip side, it won’t matter how trustworthy you are if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Competency and trust are two sides of the same coin so let’s see how persuasion can help those qualities come to the forefront in coaching.

Competence is simply knowing your stuff. This is important because it’s human nature to be more open to new ideas and change when we know the person we’re interacting with has expertise. That’s Robert Cialdini’s principle of authority in action.

Having expertise doesn’t mean coaches know everything. A coach doesn’t always have to know more than the person they’re coaching although it certainly helps. What’s important is that good coaches have trained eyes and ears they use skillfully to observe situations and behaviors. They may make suggestions based on their observations but the better route is to ask good questions because doing so allows the person being coached to come up with their own solutions. Taking this approach is especially helpful because it taps into the principle of consistency.

Consistency alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and what they do. When someone believes they’ve come up with a solution, as opposed to being told what to do, they own it more because of consistency. A sense of pride comes into play because we all feel our ideas are good ideas. This is why Dale Carnegie encouraged readers of How to Win Friends and Influence People to, “Let the other person to feel the idea is theirs.” Remember, competent coaches ask good questions!

Competence is also displayed through wisdom which is the application of knowledge. It’s not enough to be smart, you have to know how to apply those smarts in ways that help the people you’re coaching. When you know someone has done something for a long time you naturally assume they’re good at it. Something as simple as, “Sally, I’ve been doing this for more than 15 years now and what I’ve found is…” That little reminder of  years of experience makes the coach more credible. Of course, this can also be accomplished with a good bio or third party introduction.

When it comes to trust, credibility can be enhanced by admitting weakness. Nobody has all the answers so sometimes admitting that to the person you’re coaching gains trust because they view you as more honest. “Joe, that’s a great question, one I’ve never considered before. Would it be okay if I looked into it and got back with you during our next coaching session?”

Another way to gain trust is by displaying good character and adhering to consistency can help you. As a coach, when you do what you said you would do you’re more believable and trust grows. In the example above, getting back to Joe in the next coaching session gives Joe a reason to trust you. Little acts of doing what you promised reveal character and build trust over time.

One last way to enhance trust is by engaging the principle of liking. Liking tells us it’s easier for people to say “Yes” to those they know and like. When you engage this principle don’t focus on getting the other person to like you. Instead, engage the principle with the intent of coming to like the person you’re coaching. When someone sees you truly like them you get a whole host of benefits and one big benefit is trust. After all, we naturally assume people who like us want the best for us and will do right by us. In short, you gain trust when someone knows you truly like them.

Remember, competency and trust are different sides of the same coin. You need both to be an effective coach and now you have a few simple ways to enhance them using persuasion when you coach.