Frame the Options for Best Persuasion Results

In previous posts, I revealed the formula for persuasion success, suggested ways in which to engage your persuasion target and offered ideas about how to explore the persuasion situation.

As a reminder, here is the formula: Yes = E2F3.

1. Engage your target.
2. Explore the situation.
3. Frame the options.
4. Finesse the rough spots.
5. Finalize the decision.

In this post, I’ll discuss the first of the three “F” components: How to frame the options.

Instead of providing a binary choice for your target — a take-it-or-leave-it option, which is a 50/50 proposition at face value — offering three options raises your chances of acceptance to about 75 percent. In other words, you now have three shots at hearing “yes.”

The Power of Three 

Create varied options from your own exploration information, but also from the responses your target provides during that process. Including some of his comments and observations will substantially increase your odds of success. Try something like this:

“Not only should we look for an affiliation in Italy to launch this program, but your idea of sending our own managers over for six-month assignments is a perfect way to develop them and ensure a first-hand view by our own people.”

Additionally, most psychologists agree — and my own sales experience concurs — that “three” is the proper number of options. People tend to think in threes, or “triads,” because they are easier to process. (In scientific experiments, participants found positive impressions peaked at three, and skepticism increased when more points were suggested.)

There’s a reason retailers created the “good, better, best” concept decades ago. In fact, you can use that approach to help you form your options.

Frame the Options

When you present the options you’ve developed to your target, you are framing them. Much like certain frames enhance or detract from the attractiveness of a work of art, how you frame your options will impact the likelihood of hearing “yes” or “no.”

So prepare to be the Renoir of revenue, and the Picasso of profit!

Always begin with the most expensive option first. If you do, your target may just select your “best” option. And if he does? Well, that’s frost on the beer mug for you and your organization. But the real reason you frame your options in this manner is because your target might say “no.”

Nobody likes to be turned down, because it feels like failure. But if you know what to do in those seconds immediately after rejection, a “no” can be a lot less painful. This approach is often called “rejection-then-retreat,” or as psychology and marketing master Robert Cialdini sometimes refers to it, “concessional reciprocity.”

Walking in front of a university library one day, Cialdini was approached by a Boy Scout who asked him if he would like to purchase tickets to the Scouts’ circus for that Saturday at the local arena. The tickets were $5 each. Cialdini politely declined. Without losing an ounce of composure, the boy replied, “Oh, well, then would you like to buy a couple of our chocolate bars? They are only $1 each.” Cialdini bought two chocolate bars. Stunned, he knew something significant had just happened — because he doesn’t even like chocolate!

Analyzing this exchange, Cialdini discovered concessional reciprocity — the idea that when you decline someone’s offer and that person comes back with a smaller, less extreme offer, you want to say “yes” to reciprocate for the concession he made to you by accepting your original “no.”

That’s why it’s imperative to have options and frame them accordingly. If your target says “no” to one, you can retreat to your next offer.

Discuss the pros and cons of each option objectively, understanding that they all lead to your desired outcome. Allow the target to comment critically, perhaps eliminating one option altogether while seriously considering the other two. You might even want to combine aspects of the three options to create one acceptable hybrid.

Remember, all options are fine with you, because you created them around the goals you’re pursuing. Providing choices, any one of which creates the results you and your target both require, is at the heart of forming and framing options.

But this doesn’t ensure unmitigated success. I’ll cover that next time.

Enhance Persuasion by Exploring the Situation

In previous posts, I revealed the formula for persuasion success and explored ways in which to engage your persuasion target.

As a reminder, here is the formula: Yes = E2F3.

1. Engage your target.
2. Explore the situation.
3. Frame the options.
4. Finesse the rough spots.
5. Finalize the decision.

In this post, I’ll discuss how to explore the situation:

Exploring the situation means delving into the content of the issue, as opposed to navigating the approach.

• What does the issue mean to your target — personally and professionally? By personally, I mean issues such as ego, legacy, gratification, self-worth and off-the-job priorities. By professionally, I’m referring to promotion, remuneration, status, leadership, recognition and perquisites.

• What does the persuasion topic mean to the organization? Is it transformational or minor? Can it mean recovery or market dominance? Will it be widely known and applied, or localized? What are the time implications? Are we talking about a closing window of opportunity? Is there the need to be opportunistic and innovative?

• Examine budget parameters. Can this issue be accommodated within the existing budget and, if so, from one source? Or does it require several (and commensurate consensus)? Is the investment unprecedented, or is there precedent for it? Will other issues be delayed or sacrificed because of the investment?

• Explore risk. Some people have a higher tolerance for risk than others. Will the desired result, in your target’s eyes, justify the identified risk? Can you separate the probability of the risk from its seriousness, so your target can make separate judgments? (Great seriousness can be offset by very low probability, and high probabilities ameliorated by low seriousness.)

• What is the target’s appetite for the change? Is his interest the same as it’s been in the past, or is it enhanced or reduced? Can you suggest preventing actions for any foreseen risks? Have you considered contingent actions for dealing with problems that do arise?

• Does your target — having explored the issue with your guidance — offer solutions, new ideas and insights? Is he clearly excited and willing to take part or even lead? Or does he seem wary and hesitant to commit until others have done so?

If you engage and explore properly, these are all important early indicators. The way in which you ask these questions is critical. Remember that persuasion is an art; it’s a conversation. Don’t interrogate, and don’t try to wing it.

Don’t take sides too early by stating your opinion, either. Leave room for you to appear as a curious but well-informed onlooker. Don’t be a zealot seeking to convert; rather, ask follow-up questions for clarity and understanding. Give your target the opportunity to think and respond. And after he or she does respond, count to four and see if your target adds something else. Don’t rush to fill the silence.

Amazing things can happen in between the conversation.

How Do You Engage Your Persuasion Target?

Last time, I shared the formula for persuasion success, which is Yes = E2F3.

1. Engage your target.
2. Explore the situation.
3. Frame the options.
4. Finesse the rough spots.
5. Finalize the decision.

In the next several posts, I will explore each element of that formula. Let’s begin…

Engage Your Target

Find the time that your target will be most approachable and receptive. You’ve heard about how some people shouldn’t be bothered until after they’ve had that first cup of coffee, or how the boss is far less ornery after downing a big lunch.

Just as important as when you approach your targets is how you approach the target. Persuasion relies on relationships, so a face-to-face encounter is always better than a phone call, while an email shouldn’t even be a consideration when it comes to persuasion. Consider those methods three-, two-, and one-dimensional, respectively. Which method of engagement would you most like to encounter when you’re being persuaded?

When you’re engaging, either go with a formal meeting (“Can we meet at 8:15 in my office?”) or what some people call “systematic informality,” which is accidentally on purpose bumping into them (“Hey, I’m glad I bumped into you. I have an idea I’d love to discuss.”)

The first aspect of engagement involves building rapport or confirming it. The most ideal situation is you already know your target well and don’t need to do much in terms of establishing a relationship. If you don’t know your target all that well, begin a conversation about a common topic and then eventually transition to the persuasion topic. How do you do that? Mention a project you’re working on, offer help, ask for advice or cite a common experience. Maybe you both previously worked for a competitor, for example, but at different times.

In any case, transition to your persuasion topic. In music, when a song changes to a different key, it’s called modulation. Often that shift is subtle (from C to C#, for example) and almost imperceptible to the average listener, but it slightly changes the mood of the piece.

That’s exactly what you’re doing when you change the energy in the room, ever so slightly. You want to build on the rapport you’ve established and shift the conversation. Here are some tips and language suggestions for a smooth transition:

  • Ask questions: “What do you think of [the situation you have in mind]?” “Do you have any experience in [the topic}?” You may find out that your target is already closer to your position than you anticipated.
  • Refer to a publication in which the topic at hand was recently mentioned.
  • Ask if your target will be at a specific meeting or event related to that topic.

The engagement aspect is intended to begin a dialogue. I don’t advise taking a stance at this point; rather, simply explore the other person’s attitudes. One of the persuasions “sins” that people commit is assuming that they absolutely know where the other party stands on a certain position. But people are often wrong, because of the influence of such factors as geography, constituency, personal experience and beliefs.

Another key engagement element is understanding the target’s level of knowledge. Has he or she been approached by others regarding the persuasion topic? Read up on it? Have personal experience in dealing with it? Or are you dealing with a blank slate?

This is why rapport building is so essential; it increases trust and frees others to be honest, while revealing additional information about them. Engaging with another person and not being told the truth is worse than not engaging at all. The more time you take to build rapport, the faster you can gain enough engagement to explore the issue. More on that next time…

Here’s the Formula for Persuasion Success

I’m sure you’re familiar with the mathematical formula for Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, E=MC2. (Well, we all know that part, but I’ll be smacked if I can find someone who can explain it to me.)

There also exists a formula for persuasion success: Yes = E2F3.

You get to “yes” by engaging your target, exploring the situation, framing the possible options, finessing the rough spots and finalizing the decision.

Yes = E2F3
1. Engage your target.
2. Explore the situation.
3. Frame the options.
4. Finesse the rough spots.
5. Finalize the decision.

The best way to embrace this formula is via the “principle of nudge.” This is a series of small agreements you can elicit from your target.

In most cases, you wouldn’t walk into the office of your company’s vice president and demand more money and power — unless, of course, you have an absolutely monster credibility and track record, and even then I wouldn’t recommend it. That’s like asking a person to marry you on the first date. You can, but it doesn’t make for good policy.

Compare and contrast this:

Q: “May I have $1.5 million dollars and complete unilateral responsibility for a project you’ve never heard of?”
A: “Are you out of your mind!? Get out of here before I call security!”

… with this:

Q: “Will you have a few minutes next week? I’d like to get your input on something.”
A: “Sure.”

(See, you’ve already got your first “yes” by engaging your target!)

The idea is to plan for and then guide your target toward the next yes by following the next step in the persuasion success formula:

Yes = E2F3

Like stepping-stones across a stream, this practice can lead you effortlessly from one agreement to the next. Just ask yourself: What is the appropriate next step?

How Better Chemistry Leads to More Persuasion

Chemistry. It’s a difficult term to define when referring to personal relationships. Often characterized as people having mutual attraction, rapport or an emotional bond, chemistry is a distinctly human trait — and it can significantly impact interpersonal interactions with your buyers.

You can ask about a hobby or a family member when conversing with your buyer. But how should you emotionally react to his or her response? Should you be sympathetic or empathetic? Should you be engrossed or merely interested? Should you be happy or ecstatic? Do you ask a follow-up question or move on?

Same thing with email correspondence. Does your customer reply to your emails at 2:25 a.m. because he suffers from chronic insomnia? Or does he reply consistently around 6 a.m., suggesting he’s an early riser who gets work done before helping the kids get ready for school?

How and why is this important to you?

Well, the insomniac could be prone to knee-jerk reactions as a result of sleep deprivation. So keep that in mind when persuading this individual. Buyers with small children may be less willing to take risks when considering your offers and subsequent solutions. They, instead, may seek stability and safe options.

Obviously, there’s a lot more at play in persuasion than taking note of these personality traits. But paying attention to the little details can help you be successful when negotiating the bigger ones.

Life is Like a Harley-Davidson Transmission

Someday, I just need to take a long vacation to recharge.

When things slow down, I’m going to get that MBA.

I just need to make it past this busy period, and then I’m going to learn that new software program.

When we get through the fourth quarter, I’m going to start eating right and get in shape.

How many times have thoughts like those raced through your brain?

Enhancing your education, learning new skills, and taking good care of yourself are all actions that can provide you with the horsepower needed to propel you to a higher level of performance.

But I’ve got news for you: It’s never going to happen.

All of those good thoughts are never going to become reality if you continue waiting for the perfect time. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a fun fantasy, dreaming about uninterrupted time for you to hone, polish and work on all those self-improvement ideas. And it’s one I indulge in myself. But the only people who can really make those things happen seem to be the ones who take professional sabbaticals – something I’ve heard about, but I have never spoken to anyone outside of academia who has actually taken one.

Year ago, I experienced an epiphany: Life is like a Harley-Davidson transmission; it’s constant mesh. This is a mechanical term that describes when all of the gears are in constant engagement with one another. So, if you’re spending time dreaming about when you can actually unplug and carefully study and focus on the ideas that can launch you toward greater success, I’m here to suggest you need another plan. You’re going to have to focus while you’re currently engaged.

Here are four ways you can create change while surviving the “constant mesh” of your career and your life:

1. Embrace the concept of balance.

To successfully ride a motorcycle, you obviously must keep it upright. But there are other dynamics at play, such as centrifugal force, gyroscopic effects and – not unimportantly – a sense of balance in the rider. Compare riding a motorcycle to creating change in a busy career. How do you balance the constant demands placed on you? First, identify your highest two or three priorities. Not 57, but two or three. Then, be reasonable and balanced in your approach to meeting those priorities. Spend one hour a day reading material in your field, for example, and another hour listening to an informative audiobook or podcast. There’s no need to try to do everything all at once. Gradual change is good and even desired. Everyone probably can find 60 minutes each day to make this happen.

2. Realize that energy makes the difference.

Most successful sales professionals I know are well-organized with daily planners, to-do lists and a strong grasp of time management. Perhaps they don’t execute perfectly all the time, but they understand the importance of heading into a day, a workweek or a sales call with a solid plan. For them, that’s nothing more than standard operating procedure. They just need to channel the proper energy to get them through the required tasks. Think back to a customer-service problem in which you played no role but one that affected you, nonetheless. You know that sale you worked so hard to attain but then someone in the home office messed things up? Remember how getting upset and fuming about the circumstances did nothing to alleviate them? That was because you no doubt were channeling the wrong kind of energy. In times like that, you need calm, cool and intelligent problem-solving approaches that will enable you to rectify the situation at hand and create a process to help minimize the chances of it occurring again. Otherwise, you may cause irrevocable damage. Remember, you need to use the right kind of energy to accomplish the right tasks.

3. Forget about perfection.

Do you know anyone who figuratively uses a five-pound sledgehammer to drive a carpet tack? The sledgehammer gets the job done, but it takes more energy than using a tack hammer – and probably damages something in the process. Think about how much energy you are putting into a special project or an everyday task. One of the greatest energy drains is perfectionism. Take a tip from my friend and mentor, consultant Alan Weiss: “Go for success, not perfection.” The energy you spend trying to achieve perfection is usually wasted. The difference between 80 percent and 100 percent is often negligible, and not significant enough to be appreciated by your buyer. So, achieve success, and then use the remaining energy to work toward your other areas of development.

4. Harness the power of circadian rhythms.

The term “circadian rhythm” was coined by Dr. Franz Halberg of Germany in 1959. Loosely interpreted, it means to find what you do best (and when) and then use that information to maximize your performance.

Do You Know Where Your Career Is Headed?

We often describe it as being “hot,” “in the zone,” “on target” or “firing on all cylinders.” But what we’re really experiencing at those moments – partially, at least – is what Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-hye CHEEK-sent- -HYE-ee) calls “the state of flow.”

In his groundbreaking 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi described flow as “the process of total involvement with life.” Years later, in interview with Wired magazine, he defined flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Unwittingly, Csikszentmihalyi also was describing peak performance, which occurs when you perform almost effortlessly at an incredibly high ability in challenging situations: The athlete who easily hits the ball over the centerfield fence in the ninth inning of the big game, the composer who writes the perfect song connecting melody and emotion when the record company demands a hit, the salesperson who performs gracefully and comfortably in challenging and complex selling situations.

In the introduction to Flow, Csikszentmihalyi notes that “twenty-three-hundred years ago, Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness.” Just about everything else we do is done primarily because we expect it to increase our happiness.

I believe happiness begins with heading in the right direction. Even the highest-performing vehicle won’t perform if it’s not on the proper road. Put a Ferrari on a pothole-ridden dirt path in the middle of Indiana, and it won’t perform nearly as well as it does on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Whether your aims are personal or professional, sales-oriented or social, two key questions remain: Where are you headed? And are you on the right road?

Here Are Six Signs That You Have More Credibility Than Others

Regardless of what line of business you’re in, every organization, every department, every team has at least one person whom everybody trusts. When that person takes on a project, it’s done well, on time and on budget. He gives you advice? It’s solid. She provides data or other information? It’s accurate. These are the people who get things done. And these are the people who hear “yes” more often.

In short, they possess the secret to persuasion success: killer credibility. The dictionary defines credibility as “the quality of being trusted; the quality of being convincing or believable.” I define it with one word: “essential.”  Throughout your career, your credibility will be tested. All the time.

Easy to lose and tough to build, credibility ranks as one of the primary characteristics of a successful and professional persuader. A basic determination of credibility can be found in the following six indicators:

  1. You do what you say you’re going to do.
  2. Your information is accurate and unbiased.
  3. You’re not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole.
  4. You admit when you’re wrong and accept blame.
  5. You share the credit when successful.
  6. Your word is your bond.

The key question is this: What do people say about you when you’re not in the room?

Do You Speak Your Industry’s Language?

In the Harley-Davidson world, we talk a lot about the Harley-Davidson culture. Whenever I’m working with dealers or anyone involved in the H-D business, I mention the importance of perpetuating that culture, and I always receive prideful acknowledgement and agreement.

Then I ask, “What is that culture?”

Blank stares.

Eventually people start shouting out, “Freedom!” “Adventure!” “Being bold!”

Then, silence.

“Yeah, I don’t know what it is either,” I always say. “But we better figure it out.”

Of course, Harley-Davidson has figured out what the culture is and does a great job of perpetuating it. A “culture” can be considered the expression of a particular community. What people do, the way they dress and the way they speak all play a role. When I use the patois (definitely not a motorcyclist’s term) of the biker culture and teach it to others not yet engaged in that culture, it enables them to instantly feel a part of it.

Subversive Prestige

Some linguists refer to this approach as “subversive prestige,” the notion typically used to describe the fairly common phenomenon of middle-class suburban kids who adopt the language of urban street gangs. It makes them feel “cool” or “tough” or “hip” — as if it elevates them somehow.

How can you incorporate this idea of subversive prestige into your persuasion process?

Well, every industry I’ve encountered has its own jargon. And when you use that vocabulary, correctly, you communicate that you are in the know, and that you have knowledge of how that company or how that industry works.

Insurance people speak of captives, floaters, and churn. Computer professionals talk of authentication, solutions, route directories. You get the idea.

Insider’s Prestige

Rather than call this subversive prestige, I refer to it as insider’s prestige — a demonstration that you know a bit of how things work on the inside. This is one way that you can use language to accelerate your persuasion success, and hear “yes” more often.

Logic makes you think. Emotions make you act. This type of insider’s prestige language is emotional.


Six Types of Humor to Enhance Persuasion

Humor takes many forms. In fact, most people never stop to analyze the type of humor they are using; they just try to be funny. For the purposes of persuasion, it is imperative to break down the six key types of humor that will make being funny worth your while: anecdotal, self-deprecating, epigrammatic, irony, satire and deadpan.

1. Anecdotal

These are strictly personal stories and incidents that don’t require validation, empirical study or statistics. People love stories, and anecdotes are timely, relevant and compelling stories. Here’s a quick example:

A Harley-Davidson salesperson was using his personal iPhone to show a prospective customer the new motorcycle’s communication system. While demonstrating the various features, which included a text-to-speech component, the salesperson received a text message from his wife, which the sophisticated new system immediately started to translate — complete with intimate details of her plans for their upcoming date night!

After scrambling to mute his phone, the salesperson sheepishly apologized to the customer, who enthusiastically inquired if this was standard on all models.

Lesson: You never know who is listening.

Tips for use:

  • Make anecdotes short.
  • Make them real.
  • Make a point.

2. Self-deprecating

This type of humor usually involves an anecdote in which you make fun of yourself. It proves you don’t take yourself too seriously and are no more superior simply because you are in the persuasive power position. Alan Weiss often says, “I’m always surprised by how stupid I was two weeks ago.” Oscar Wilde liked to say, “I’m so clever sometimes I don’t understand a word I’ve written.” (Compare those comments to sarcasm, such as author James Thurber’s line, “If you ever got good, you’d be mediocre.”)

Tips for use:

  • If you’re known as the hard-charging guy in the office, self-deprecation would generate some laughs; it would stand in stark contrast to the traditional impression people have of you.
  • A distinguishing physical feature, such as being tall or bald, can be used to humorous effect and make you instantly more approachable and agreeable (especially when you make a mistake): “My head gets cold a lot during the winter, and that sometimes leads to brain freezes.”
  • Use a known personality trait. If, for example, you’re considered an aggressive salesperson in your organization, take advantage of that: “I’m not one to go after new business, but I think this guy is a piping-hot prospect.”

As with all humor, the more spontaneous your self-deprecation, the better. And when in doubt, it’s always more appropriate to poke fun at yourself than it is to use humor at someone else’s expense.

3. Epigrammatic

An epigram is a brief, memorable, insightful statement.

“I’m not young enough to know everything.”

— Oscar Wilde

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity!”

— Albert Einstein

“Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.”

— Will Rogers

Tips for use:

  • Keep a few epigrammatic statements in your persuasive pocket and pull one of them out when the situation calls for an icebreaker, relief from an awkward moment or simply a lightening of the mood.
  • Use existing epigrammatic statements as a model to develop some of your own: “Some companies run out of ideas before they run out of your money.”

4. Irony

Irony represents an incongruity between what is expected and what occurs — such as an escalator leading to a fitness center, a typo on a billboard promoting literacy or an ad railing against teenage drinking alongside a beer ad.

Tips for use:

  • Draw parallels: “That kind of awkward situation would be like the local firehouse burning down.
  • In presentations, use photographs to show the oxymoronic humor of your statement through juxtaposition: A photo of healthcare professionals congregating outside for a cigarette smoking break.

5. Satire

This is humor that spotlights the shortcomings of a society, a company, government or people. Satire is a rough form of humor (so use it sparingly), and it can take multiple forms:

  • Sarcasm: “You mean to tell me that the web consultants haven’t finished the wireframes yet? I’m shocked.”
  • Parody: When giving a presentation, include a PowerPoint slide detailing the evils of PowerPoint presentations.
  • Hyperbole, an exaggeration that can be used to make a boring story more exciting: “This graph illustrates that sometimes our users flock to our content marketing like we’re Starbucks giving out free lattes.”

Tip for use:

  • As when using other types of humor, make sure you know your audience well. If even one person misinterprets your wisecracks for poor attitude or insubordination, you might need to engage in damage control. Don’t use satire to swat flies.

6. Deadpan

Also known as dry humor, deadpan humor consists of a funny statement subtly delivered in a casual or insincere tone. Steven Wright was the master of this, and some of his lines are applicable in persuasion situations: “When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane” and “Change is inevitable … except from vending machines.”

Tips for use:

  • When in a meeting discussing how to woo a new international client, borrow a line from early 19th-century writer Dorothy Parker and say: “I’ve heard he can speak five different languages and knows how to say ‘yes’ in all of them.”
  • When Leonard from The Big Bang Theory said “Guess what?” to Sheldon, the brainiac replied thusly: “You went out into the hallway, stumbled into an inter-dimensional portal, which brought you 5,000 years into the future, where you took advantage of the advanced technology to build a time machine, and now you’re back to bring us all with you to the year 7010, where we will be transported to work at the thinkatorium by telepathically controlled dolphins.” Saying something like that should liven up the office environment for a minute or two. Just make sure that your deadpan humor won’t go over the heads of your targets. Otherwise you’ll risk losing credibility. Not everyone watches The Big Bang Theory.