Out-of-Office Dissuasion in Action: Please Don’t Leave a Message

I’m encountering an increasing number of auto-respond emails from intended recipients who are out of the office, claiming they will delete all emails sent to them while on vacation. This approach employs a warning system and is a less-than-subtle effort to persuade senders to hold that email until later — or maybe even reconsider whether the message needs to be sent in the first place.

It’s also an effective, if unconventional and arguably offensive, way to let people know you don’t want to be bothered. Which makes it a perfect example of dissuasion — the act or process of trying to persuade someone not to take a particular course of action.

I once worked with a woman who would leave out-of-office messages that sounded like an emergency drill had been activated: “This is a voicemail alert! This is a voicemail alert! I am out of the office and will not be returning calls or answering email until I return on August 1. This has been a voicemail alert.”

Let’s just say the first time you hear that it gets your attention.

Again, unconventional and arguably obnoxious. But it sure was effective at dissuading callers from leaving a message.

A third approach to out-of-office dissuasion is to be brutally honest with whoever deigns to call you when you’re not available: “Hey, this is Kim. If I don’t call you back, you’re the reason I screen my calls.”

Will you bother to be bothered this week?

fancy rotary telephone

How to Make a Compelling Phone Call

Just because you use something often doesn’t mean you use it well, or even correctly. That’s right: I’m talking about the telephone. Don’t hide behind technology; take advantage of it by placing a call wherever and whenever you want to whoever your persuasion target may be — from anywhere in the world.

Skip email. Skip Skype. And skip texting. Instead, actually use the phone!

Here’s how to make an effective and persuasive phone call:

1. Remember that it’s imperative to communicate your professionalism and start a conversation. Business relationships — all good relationships, really — start with a conversation. Which means you must comport yourself in a manner that makes you accessible to the largest number of targets. That is why early phone conversations need to be polite, upbeat and neutral in tone.

For example, when I call old friends, especially friends from back home in Philly, I may respond to their “Hello?” with a casual “Yo! Tommy! What’s goin’ on?” I use the regional language (in the Philadelphia area, “yo” has the poly-utility of being a greeting, a question or an affront), I call Tommy by name, and I’m colloquial in my speech (“goin’ ”).

I would never use that kind of greeting in a business situation with someone I’ve never met or don’t know very well. Doing so is too risky. Instead, identify yourself by first and last name, the organization you represent and the reason you’re calling. Then inquire if your target has a few minutes to talk, and restate the purpose of your call — perhaps reminding the person on the other end when and where you met or about previous conversations.

2. Make your objective neither underhanded nor manipulative. Rather, you want to persuade the person your calling to meet you face-to-face, so you’ll be able to prove your point — which can be anything from winning that individual’s business to gaining support for an idea or looking for an ally. The best way to accomplish all of those things is in person.

3. The best way to broach an in-person meeting is by wrapping up your conversation with these six words: “Here’s what I’m going to recommend.” And then explain your recommendation. When you use the word “recommend,” you leverage the principle of authority. You’re the expert here, and when experts give advice, people are inclined to take it. Terms such as “recommend,” “suggest” and “advise” work particularly well for reinforcing this point. Be sure your recommendation includes at least two options, thus avoiding the clichéd “either/or” close, which often creates something called “reactance” — meaning that your target feels a choice is being forced upon him, so his immediate reaction would be to say “no” to both options. Concluding your recommendation by asking, “Do either of those times work for you?” can make a world of difference.

If a face-to-face session is not possible, ask your target for a date and time that works for him, and sign off by requesting permission to call him back in the meantime if you have additional questions or would like to bounce other ideas off him. Your target will feel appreciated and respected, and will most likely respond with a resounding, “Sure — not a problem!”

You’ll be amazed by how one properly executed phone call will open new doors to persuasion success.

How Using Facts and Figures the Right Way Can Make You More Persuasive

Some sales professionals believe that buyers no longer care about facts and figures, so they suggest sellers avoid using them.

This is nonsense.

That said, some buyers will be more interested in such details than others. Some motorcycle buyers, for example, want to know every last detail — down to how the paint is applied and what materials are contained within the seat cushion; others just want results. The information they want and how they want it delivered is often referred to as “idiosyncratic information and communication style.”

Do they want an overview of the facts, or do they want all the details? Do they prefer email or a phone call? As a general rule, statistics, facts and figures — when used judiciously — are excellent nuggets to include in your persuasive efforts.

While participating in a consulting workshop, a colleague named Bill Corbett introduced himself to the group. He stated that he was a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation mentor from Loveland, Colo., who works with individuals and organizations across the world to help improve recovery success. He revealed that in the world of drug-and-alcohol abuse intervention, a single-digit success rate is not uncommon. His clients, however, enjoy an 85 percent recovery-success rate. I still can hear the gasps that filled the room when he said that – in part because of this incredible substantiation and validation of Corbett’s approaches, and partly because the rest of us no doubt wished we had such a compelling value proposition.

This is a perfect example of how the confident and well-placed use of numbers can make a mighty impact on your audience. Statistics, figures, and other types of numerical representations are typically used one of two ways:

  1. To prove a result, as in the Bill Corbett example above
  2. To merely describe a fact, such as how paint is applied to a Harley-Davidson Road King

In either application, numbers prove to be extremely valuable – dramatically (and almost instantly) increasing the credibility of both you and whatever you’re offering. You certainly don’t want to overwhelm people with facts and stats. But like the subtle accent in a painting or the perfect flatted-third note in a thick blues song, when used sensibly, facts and stats add that special touch to create something memorable.

They might even help you hear “yes” faster.

Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pexels

Chipping Away at the Blocks to Persuasion Success

In a recent post, I wrote about common blocks to hearing yes.

Expanding on that, I’ve identified four specific target blocks: personal details, personalities, preferences and parameters. Each block includes sub-points that will help you chip away at a particular block to get to “yes.” Think of your persuasion priority: Who do you want to say “yes” to what?

Keeping that priority in mind, carefully review each of the four areas and identify what is a block, what isn’t a block and how you know. (This is an exercise you should repeat every time you have a major persuasion priority on your hands.)

You won’t need to provide detail for all areas here, but the more information you have, the better your chances of persuasion success. If it helps, create a worksheet to keep track of what is a block, what isn’t a block and how you know. You’ll also be amazed at what you’ll learn.

Let’s begin: What do you know about your target?

Personal Details

Professional objectives: These goals are important to a person’s business or career, which may involve status in a hierarchical structure, entrepreneurship or business ownership.

Personal agendas: These goals involve family, friends, hobbies, travel, recreation, civic and service involvement, religious commitments and self-development.

Emotional intensity: This comes into play if a persuasion situation also involves a personal relationship, a belief that goes beyond intellectual evaluations or commitment over compliance. Think of emotional intensity as the volume knob on a Marshall half stack, not the on/off switch. You can turn it up or down, depending on your needs.


⇒ Gender or generational differences: Are there behavior tendencies influenced by gender where you two are potentially out of synch? Are there generational differences creating a stone wall in front of you?

⇒ Organizational influence: What is your target’s organizational horsepower?

⇒ Publicly stated perspective on a given issue: This can include conversations, written communication, the championing of or opposition to similar issues, role as a stakeholder, and experience with the given situation.

⇒ Trust level: What is the degree of trust shared between you and your target? Think of your personal history with the target, respect given and shown, mutual obligations, favors supplied and reciprocal support.


⇒ Idiosyncratic communication preferences: Does your target prefer to communicate with you and others via email, phone or text message?

⇒ Data preferences: Some people want all the information; others just want the executive summary. Some people like to study the stats, others want the story. How does your target prefer his information?

⇒ Target’s tendencies: Do he approach problem solving in a particular way? Does she have a go-to person? Does he often resort to cutting expenses or sales promotions? Do they exhibit behaviors that may impede your path to yes?

⇒ Relationships: This involves examination of advisors, peers, past sources of influence, probability of independent actions (or actions dictated by others), and reactions to peer pressure. Does your target have any exceptionally positive or unusually strained relationships?


⇒ Approval authority: This is usually related to economics, budgets and the ability to secure funding by attracting donors or underwriters. (This also is crucial when dealing with nonprofit organizations.)

⇒ Budget parameters: These relate to the ability to make unilateral decisions, timing in the budget process, ROI considerations, changing priorities and non-allocated discretionary funds.

⇒ Time constraints: Consider the deadlines you and your target are under, the magnitude of what needs to be accomplished once agreement is reached, and the hours/days/months/years it will take to make the ask’s concept a reality.

⇒ Issue expertise: This may involve credibility, history in this and similar circumstances, researching and studying the issue, and public statements.


You may wish to add or amend categories. My point is that in order to define your target and the likelihood of persuasion, you need intelligence — not brain smarts, but what the government would call “intel.”

I choose not to think of this as “competitive intelligence,” because the target isn’t necessarily in a competitive position (at least we should hope not). But the target is in a questionable position, insofar as how amenable that individual might be to your persuasive charms.

Remember: The most effective and impressive persuaders know exactly who they’re persuading and how to tailor messages specifically to them.

The Michelangelo Method: Chipping away at everything that isn’t ‘yes’

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” 

Those words come from Michelangelo, the Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the Renaissance Era. And they still ring true today: We are all sculptors, and in life (as in art) we must eliminate the blocks to our success. Which means you must chip away, as it were, at everything that might prevent your persuasion target from saying “yes” to your request. I call it the “Michelangelo Method.”

Here are some common blocks to your rock of yes that must be chiseled away:

  • A lack of knowledge of the issue or your solution
  • Poor market conditions for your request
  • A toxic operating environment or corporate culture
  • Competing options for your request
  • No urgency
  • Lack of attention
  • An unknown or low ROI

The most common chiseling challenge is all that existing rock, which has been built up over years and maybe even decades. You need to be skilled at removing the unnecessary and the irrelevant — the parts that don’t fit your picture of the future you’re trying to achieve with your persuasion priority.

Identifying the blocks to your request and eliminating them also requires you to deftly yet confidently wield the hammer and chisel of evidence gathering. This, my friends, is the artistry of persuasion.

We’ll begin chipping away at this topic in my next post.

Why What You Do Can Be More Compelling Than What You Say

Here’s a true story about how and why people make the decisions they do:

Picking his way through the cramped ballroom, people-filled padded chairs all askew, there was no clear route. Obstacles, however, were not this man’s primary concern. On his face, you could see his mind racing — searching for what he would say once he was in front of the crowd. Few people like public speaking, but this seemed even more torturous than usual. He found his standing spot, turned and faced the crowd.

“I have traveled three hours round trip every day to attend this training. I’ve driven dangerous roads and in heavy traffic. You are a talented and knowledgeable group. I have learned from you, and you have learned from me. And I sure could use the money to help pay for gas. Please, please. Pick me!”

That scene played out in a Calgary persuasion workshop during which I asked three volunteers to vie for a single, crisp $100 bill by convincing the audience to individually award them the money. Whoever made the most compelling case, thus winning the affections of the crowd, walked away with the cash — and the bragging rights.

Participants were allowed to make their case in any way they deem appropriate, with one exception: They couldn’t share the money or materially benefit the crowd in any way (I’ll buy you all drinks!). Adding to the pressure, I gave them just four minutes to develop their case and only 25 seconds to present it.

What would you say if you were in this situation?

This activity mirrors business life today in many ways. You are often in competition with others for the account, the promotion, the project. You must think on your feet and be able to put together compelling arguments fast, and you might not have much time to state your case. Sometimes you need to do all this — especially in peer-to-peer persuasion situations — without offering some sort of material gain. Not an easy assignment, to be sure.

But the most interesting aspect of this workshop activity is not the people vying for the money; it’s the people deciding who will earn the money. You may think that people carefully analyze participants’ arguments, weighing the pros and the cons to rationally decide who gets their votes.

That’s not what’s happening, though. Far from it.

After the three contestants made their case for the $100 bill, I lined up the group for judging. Would the winner be the guy who claimed he risked his life to arrive at the workshop, but essentially just needed the money for gas? Would it be the generous man who stated he would donate the money to a charity? Or, finally, would it be the person who claimed his peers should pick him because he held his own with the group at happy hours?

To determine the victor, I used a timeless and scientific method: the applause-o-meter. When I asked for applause for the most persuasive presentation, the results were absolutely clear. The winner was our hero who needed gas money. He beamed as he received the crisp $100 bill, and the crowed gave him another thunderous round of applause.

During the luncheon that immediately followed the workshop, I did what I always do: I inquired with those at my table about the contest and what they found so compelling about the winner’s argument. As usual, the comments were enlightening:

“We voted for him because he’s been so helpful ever since the start of this workshop.”

“He’s always willing to run a sales simulation or brainstorm an idea, so I like him.”

“He’s so funny. He had me cracking up all morning.”

Our winner obviously created a halo effect with his peers during the workshop — doing everything he could to find a positive entry point with people who ultimately decided to award him with cold, hard cash.

How to Give Yourself a ‘1-Click’ Button

Here’s an odd — but important — question for you: Would you rather receive $1,000 365 days from now, or receive $1,002 in 366 days?

When faced with such a choice, most people will think (and often say), “Well, if I can wait a year, I can certainly wait a year and a day, so I’ll take the $1,002 in a year and a day.”

On the surface, this response seems to prove that when faced with an economic choice, delayed gratification provides a better return and that people operate rationally when making this type of decision.

What it actually does is set up a beautiful contrast.

Try asking the same person this question: Would you rather have $1,000 today, or $1,002 tomorrow?

Typically, before you even finish that question, the other person will blurt out, “I’ll take the $1,000 today!” We say we understand the value of putting off immediate gratification, but we rarely act like we do. This is called present-value bias.

Two examples of marketers who leverage present-value bias are eBay sellers who use the “buy it now” feature. Sure, there’s a chance a buyer might be able to “win” the item for less if he waits, but he’d potentially be sacrificing the certainty of owning the item.  Another example is Amazon.com’s one-click “buy now” option. It’s fast, your credit card is on file, there no need to enter an address, and if it’s a Kindle book download, you’ll have your purchase in seconds. Both of these methods leverage people’s tendency toward present-value bias.

How can you use leverage your understanding of present-value bias to become a more effective persuasion practitioner? By making it easy for your target to say “yes” right now (easy to sign, easy to pay, easy to select) and making sure there is an immediate pay off for your target, such as a monetary return, a time savings, an information exchange or a reduction in labor intensity.

In other words: You, too, should have a “1-click” button.

Risky Business: How to Raise the Stakes in Persuasion Situations

When in the process of persuading somebody, it can sometimes help to heighten the sense of risk for that person and then leverage something known as anticipated regret to give your recommendation about how to proceed.

My favorite way of raising risk is with a “chiasmus” [kahy-az-muhs] —  a verbal pattern in which the second half of a phrase is balanced against the first, with key elements being reversed. For example: “I am stuck on Band Aid® brand ’cause Band Aid’s stuck on me!” and “Live to ride / Ride to live.”

Here’s another: “It’s one thing to have the insurance and not need it. It’s a completely different situation to need it and not have it.”

Now, that particular one is quite interesting. Now, your target should be a bit more concerned.

Next, attach something called “anticipated regret” and you’re really getting somewhere. This is when you ask your target to consider the angst he or she would feel if they didn’t follow your advice and made a bad decision as a result.

Researchers have proven that people are much more inclined to take your advice if they first considered what might happen if they didn’t: “How badly would you feel, if after we had this conversation, you found yourself in a situation where you were exposed.”

Finally, you need to make an expert recommendation: “So here’s what I’m going to recommend. Get the insurance. Then, if you need it, you’re covered.”

Persuasion Success: How to Avoid Surprises

Somewhere between a no, a neutral and a positive response lurk mysterious X factors, which seemingly come from out of nowhere to derail your persuasion efforts. These can include technological glitches, competitive actions and intrusions by a trusted advisor. Here’s how to help avoid that unknown gray area:

Never accept a simple “yes.”

Work, instead, toward a profound agreement. I call this the Columbo method. Actor Peter Falk played a disheveled TV detective named Lt. Columbo, who was known for extracting the info he needed from sources by saying, “One more thing before I go …”

Ask what else you need to know.

Try one of these: “Is there anything we haven’t discussed that will prevent us from moving forward?” “Will you be having conversations with others who might not have the insight from our exchanges?” “In the past, has anything surfaced at the last minute to change your mind about decisions like this?”

Formalize the decision.

You want your target to go on record with his decision. Of course, in many cases, this means a signed contract. In others, it might mean issuing a purchase order. At the very least, you want your target to send an email or in conversations tell others. This formalizes your agreement, and can make it stick. Once people go on record, they will do just about anything to stick with their commitment.

Don’t you feel better now?

Are You Ethical in Your Persuasion Situations?

If the means are ethical and the ends are ethical, then you’re obviously operating in an ethical manner when it comes to your persuasion attempts. In other words, if — by pursuing your persuasion priority — good things will happen for your target, your company and you, why not?

If your means are unethical and your ends are unethical — perhaps you fabricated vendor research to steer your company to an unqualified supplier because said supplier gave you Super Bowl tickets — then you’ve transformed into a slimy character worthy of The Wolf of Wall Street status.

The dilemma occurs when the ends are ethical, but the means are not.

Consider stealth marketing. For a well-publicized covert marketing campaign initiated by a leading telecommunications company several years ago promoting its new camera phone, the company hired 60 actors to pose as travelers in 10 different cities and asked passersby to take their picture. Upon handing a chosen individual the new phone, the actors then casually pointed out how to use the phone and subtly mentioned some of its most impressive features, effectively giving a soft sales pitch. Marketers stressed that they wanted the exchange to feel natural.

Is this an example of an ethical means to an ethical end?

Ethical Guidelines

To paraphrase the late corporate performance expert Joel DeLuca, “If they knew what you were trying to do, would they let you?” The “they” in the above example is the targeted buyer (not the company’s competitors). So if your target knew you were trying to get the best reaction possible to your product, and that meant engaging in a so-called “natural” exchange on the street, would your target still play along? Yes, probably.

But if you need to think about it twice, run the scenario through your head again.

In his book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Daniel Pink offers a powerful rule of thumb for always operating ethically: Treat everyone as you would your grandmother.