Monday, July 21, 2014

Every Human Society Teaches its People This

Marcel Mauss, the late French Sociologist, wrote a book called The Gift. He asserted that gifts are never truly free because reciprocity dictates that people return the favor by doing something for the gift giver. He went so far as to say every human society raises its people in the way of reciprocity.

I’m on the Westerville Education Foundation (WEF), a non-profit board that raises money for the Westerville schools when budgets fall short or where budgets may not cover certain expenses. I was persuaded to join the board by two State Auto colleagues who had been through my Principles of Persuasion workshop years ago.

A few weeks ago I was manning the WEF booth during a Fourth Friday event, a summer event in which residents pack uptown Westerville for food, drink, and music while vendors display their wares. One way the WEF tries to grab people’s attention is by using a game kids can play and win prizes. While the children play we hand out literature to their moms and dads and quickly tell them what we do.

As I volunteered I couldn’t help but notice something that happened in nearly every instance after a child won a prize. One of the parents would inevitably say to their child, “What do you say?” Upon hearing that every child turned to us and said, “Thank you,” before leaving with their prize.

That simple act was repeated so often it made me think about Marcel Mauss and his belief that every human society teaches its people to respond to the act of giving. The principle of influence known as reciprocity says we feel obligated to give back to those who’ve first given to us. This is where the phrase “much obliged” comes from. It is a simple acknowledgment that once somebody has done something for us we feel obligated to do something for him or her at some point in the future.

As parents teach their children to respond to acts of kindness and gifts with a “thank you” they are conditioning their kids to reciprocate. As the children grow up they learn more sophisticated ways to repay the favor. Eventually acts of kindness are met with thank you letters, thank you cards and return gifts.

The key to utilizing reciprocity is to be the first to act, the first to give. Once you’ve given something to another person the principle is set in motion and they feel somewhat indebted to you. If you wait for someone to do something for you, then you’ll be the one in debt.

You don’t need a budget to ethically engage reciprocity. Simple acts of kindness trigger the principle. When someone feels what you’ve done for them is genuinely in their best interest – as opposed to an act of giving simply to curry a favor – they’ll want to freely reciprocate most of the time.

If you want to become a master persuader then start looking for ways to become a giver. It becomes much easier as you begin to change your thinking from “who can help me?” to “whom can I genuinely help?” Opportunities to give and help are always abundant so take stock in who you are, your resources, talents, etc., and begin looking for ways to use those to benefit others. Don’t be afraid of losing anything in the process because as the late Zig Ziglar famously told audiences for decades, “You can get everything you want in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” Zig was 100% correct because the more people you help, the more people will want to help you when you need it.

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Messenger Can Make All the Difference

Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that can make all the difference. And sometimes it’s not what is said but who said it that makes all the difference.

I bet most of you would agree that our children are vitally important to our future. After all, at some point each of us will be retired and the fortunes of our investments and the direction of our country will be in the hands of the next generation – our children.

The late Whitney Houston said as much in her enormously popular hit song, Greatest Love of All. The song opens:

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way

There’s another well-known quote that goes like this, “He alone who owns the youth gains the future.” Any idea who said that? If you’re like most people you probably didn’t know it was Adolf Hitler. I’m guessing despite the reality that children are our future and that you might have even agreed with the quote, it probably doesn’t sit well with you now that you know who said it.

Sometimes the messenger can make all the difference! If Whitney Houston had sung, “He alone who owns the youth gains the future,” and Adolf Hitler had said, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way,” we’d all feel exactly the opposite about the quotes.

This comes to mind because a church in Alabama used the Hitler quote on a billboard to advertise their youth group! There may be truth to Hitler’s words but no one with any gumption about how to persuade would try to use Hitler’s words in a positive way because he’s considered one of the most evil people to ever walk the planet. Would you want to send your kids to a youth group that’s quoting Hitler?

In persuasion the principle of authority tells us it’s easier for people to say yes to those who have superior wisdom or knowledge. To effectively use this principle of influence you need two things – expertise and credibility. Without both you’ll never succeed. For example, Bernie Madoff has expertise. Despite his pyramid scheme, he does know about investing. But would you trust him with your money? I hope not!

On the flip side, you probably have friends you’d trust your life with … but not your money, because they have no expertise when it comes to investing.

Whether it’s investing, taxes, legal advice, etc., we want people we can trust and those we view as having expertise if we’re to do what they suggest.

Authority can also be borrowed. When I present I use lots of quotes from well-known people. I do so for a couple of reasons.

First, if I say something, people might agree with me, but if Dale Carnegie, Ronald Reagan or Dr. Martin Luther King say it, people will more easily agree because their reputations precede them.

Second, my use of quotes shows I'm well-read and that does add to my personal authority. If people view me as well-read then they naturally assume I'm smarter for it and are therefore more willing to listen to what I have to say.

However, when I choose to use a quote I’m conscious of what it says AND who said it. Many infamous people have made true statements (even a broken clock is right twice a day!) but I would almost never use them because the reaction would be the same as your reaction to Hitler’s quote.

Here’s the bottom line if you’re looking to be a master persuader. Keep your reputation intact so people trust you and continue to develop expertise in your chosen field. When you need to borrow authority, make sure the quote and messenger will both be acceptable to your audience. Do these simple things and your ability to get to yes will go up rather dramatically.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Competition is a Big Driver in Persuasion

Have ever you found yourself driving down the road, lost in thought or just enjoying some music, keeping a safe distance between you and the next car when all of a sudden someone comes barreling up the lane next to you and obviously wants to get over? When that happens, do you sometimes find yourself unconsciously speeding up? Maybe you’ve done so with conscious thought.

Or how about when traffic is restricted due to road construction. You’ve waited patiently as cars inch along and next thing you know, someone goes as far to the front as they can get then they expect someone to let them in. Have you found yourself not being the one to let them in because you think, “If I had to wait they can wait, too!”

These are just some of the many familiar situations you can find yourself in where competition begins to affect your thinking and behavior. No need to feel bad if you do speed up a bit or don’t always let someone over because it’s evolutionary. You see, you’re simply responding to the principle of scarcity – we want more of what we can’t have and we react negatively to what we might lose. That loss could be as simple as our place in line on the highway.

When it comes to scarcity, competition ramps up the effectiveness of this principle of influence. When you saw the person coming up on the highway you were in competition with them for the spot in line and their desire to get ahead of you made you more determined not to lose.

Think about something as simple as a sale. “Sale Ends Sunday” is a form of scarcity. You can take your time getting to the store because you know you have until closing time Sunday to get in on the deal. But what if the ad says, “Sale - While Supplies Last"? Now you realize waiting until Saturday or Sunday might mean you lose out because other people may get to the store Friday. They don’t want to miss out on the great deal and neither do you so you head to the store Friday afternoon also. Scarcity has changed your behavior but competition even more so!

Another example might have occurred when you were dating. Isn’t it the case that you value your partner more when you realize someone else is also vying for his or her attention? You might have been considering putting an end to the relationship but the entrance of someone else can sometimes cause you to rethink the situation.

When it comes to effectively using the principle of scarcity, limited time offers will motivate behavior but offers that involve competition will be far more effective. With that in mind, you need to think about ways to ethically invoke competition in order to get people to want your product or service even more.

Perhaps the best picture of competition for products happens every year the day after Thanksgiving. That day has become known as Black Friday. Limited time deals cause people to wait in line starting at midnight in some cases! You may have seen reports of people fighting and being trampled on in the news as customers rush into stores for great deals on limited quantity items. Seemingly normal, rational people begin to act like animals fighting over the remains of a carcass before it’s all gone! That’s how scarcity works on the mind because competition is a big driver in persuasion. 

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Most Valuable Real Estate

I’ve lived in Central Ohio since I was a teenager. While it may not seem like a golf destination you would be amazed at the number of beautiful golf courses – public and private – within an hour’s drive from the center of Columbus. A huge reason for the popularity of the game is Jack Nicklaus.

Jack Nicklaus is known as the “Golden Bear” because that’s the mascot for the high school he attended in Upper Arlington. He is considered the greatest golfer of all time, having won a record 18 majors. It looked as if Tiger Woods would easily surpass that record but things have been put on hold since his fall from grace, as he’s struggled in the majors the last five years.

Jack Nicklaus is also known for having built Muirfield Village Golf Course, the site of The Memorial Golf Tournament. Muirfield and The Memorial hold a special place in my heart because I learned to play golf at Muirfield as a teenager and I worked the golf tournament during college.

As I watched the tournament this year I saw a player miss a relatively easy putt for birdie. That’s always disappointing because each birdie makes it much easier to possibly win. When you’re as good as the PGA pros seemingly small things can make big differences even though most of their swings look the same to the average spectator. A few hit the ball significantly farther off the tee but others make up for it in putting or chipping so the differences between the top players and the average players is probably much less than you might suspect.

Consider this – in a typical tournament the player winning might do so by one or two strokes, which amounts to being 0.3%-0.6% better than the second place finisher. Quite often the difference comes down to how a player responds to adversity.

Missing a birdie putt highlights the reality that once you’ve attained PGA pro status, the factor that separates good from average and the great from the good amounts to six inches of real estate. No, I’m not talking about a six inch putt. The six inches I’m referring to is the grey matter that rests between the ears (a.k.a., the brain).

Understanding the importance of thought patterns and dealing with adversity, it’s no wonder sports psychologists have become such big business for pro athletes. If sessions with a sports psychologist are enough to get a player to rethink his mental game, especially when adversity hits, and that leads to better finishes then it will be worth all the money paid…and then some.

What does this have to do with persuasion? You possess the same valuable real estate as the PGA pros and how you choose to use it can make the difference between success and failure in your chosen field. Just as in golf, when it comes to persuasion small changes can make big differences. Consider the following:

The small act of generously helping someone can engender a return favor – reciprocity – that might help you complete a project or make a sale.

Taking a moment to compliment someone who genuinely deserves it – liking – might be the reason they like you a little more and do what you ask.

Remembering to mention what people similar to the person you’re talking to – consensus – might make them more comfortable doing what you ask.

If someone knows your credentials upfront – authority – they are far more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Asking someone to do something rather than telling them – consistency – will dramatically increase they odds they’ll actually do what you’ve asked if they say “Yes” to your initial request.

To let someone know when something will no longer be available – scarcity – might be just the thing they needed to know to take action.

Each of the examples above is simple. In fact, they’re so simple anyone can do them if they’re in the right frame of mind just like the golfer facing a tough situation. There is no guarantee that using a sports psychologist will be the difference between winning and losing but it will certainly increase the odds of winning. In much the same way, ethically and correctly using the principles of influence is not a magic wand to get what you want all the time. But, scientific research lets us know your odds of hearing “Yes!” are significantly better when you ethically employ the principles. And one more thing, they’re much less expensive than hiring a sports psychologist.

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