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.

Persuasion Success: Identifying Personality Differences

In their timeless book, Personal Styles & Effective Performance, David W. Merrill and Roger H. Reid explain that all people all have a particular social style created by the conclusions others draw about them and based on what they do and say. The very definition of “behavior” is “what we say and do, and how we say and do it.”

Many behavioral preferences developed when we were young, in our desire to avoid tension and seek comfort. Thus, people don’t change their behavior as much they change their circumstances, just like a chameleon. When you can accurately assess another person’s behavioral preferences, you’re able to predict how he or she will respond in certain circumstances. For example, when your colleague receives a critique, does he redouble his efforts to prove the critic wrong? Or does he argue and rationalize his position? Chances are good that whatever the resulting behavior is, it’s typical of that person.

On the other hand, a person who behaves assertively can assist you in your persuasion efforts, a level-headed co-worker can help you sort through the clutter of your ask and the office peacemaker can negotiate differences and provide a supportive pep talk.

Merrill and Reid suggest that three measures of personality exist: assertiveness, responsiveness and versatility. Our concern here is assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertiveness measures how forceful a person is in his approach: Does he ask or does he tell?

Responsiveness is the emotional dimension of personality: Does she express her feelings or are they contained?

Four Social Styles

Merrill and Reid developed four social styles based on assertiveness and responsiveness: Driving, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical.

Driving Behavior

Results. Action. Get it done now. These terms describe people, ahem, driven by driving behavior. They are fast decision-makers and work best with those who respond in kind and move just as quickly. Driving personalities seek power and autonomy via facts and information. If these people encounter a roadblock, they will go through it and not around it.

Expressive Behavior

“Communicative” and “competitive” best describe expressive behavior. These individuals freely talk about their thoughts and emotions, and like to involve others. They don’t like to surround themselves with competitors, and they crave personal recognition. Like Drivers, Expressives act quickly. Their primary concern is the future, and they’ve been known to change direction midstream, demonstrating impatience. Expressives heavily weigh personal opinions — theirs and select others — when making decisions.

Amiable Behavior

Relationships and cooperation are important to Amiables. They are warm, likable and even prone to sentimentality. They have a tendency to take things personally, power doesn’t interest them and acceptance is paramount. Often slow movers, they will talk and consider decisions carefully with their confidants before saying “yes” or “no.” Amiables seek to minimize risk at all costs.

Analytical Behavior

Show me the logic. Show me the principles. Show me the data. Show me the objective third-party analysis. Analyticals want to know not only if something works, but how and why and who says. Others may see them as lacking energy or aloof, but don’t be fooled: They are using their energy for mental processing and consideration of all angles of a given topic. Analyticals don’t make friends easily or quickly, but once they do, relationships are important. Like Amiables, they avoid risk, because their desire to be right is almost all consuming.

Adapting Your Social Style for Agreement

How can you use the above information to hear “yes” more often? Cater to the other person’s preferences. Don’t treat others the way you would like to be treated; treat them the way they want to be treated.

  • Don’t small talk a Driver. Also: Share facts, not feelings, and use concision to get the decision.
  • Make the Expressive the star. Also: Resonate fun and high energy, and allow for digressions and stories.
  • Form bonds with Amiables. Also: Take a personal interest in them, and ask for their opinion.
  • Bring out your research arsenal for Analytics. Also: Use unqualified expert opinions, and leave no question unanswered.

The real challenge comes when your personality style matches that of your persuasion target. You’d think this would be a match made in heaven, but it isn’t.

A Driver working to persuade a Driver needs to not only move quickly but double-check the details.

An Expressive convincing an Expressive must be friendly and receptive while continuing to nudge the target toward the objective.

A pair of Amiables will require lots and lots of coffee.

And if you’re an Analytic attempting to persuade an Analytic, prepare for an exploration of the subatomic particles of your persuasion priority.

Identifying and catering to personality traits are key to when — and whether — you hear “yes.”

Persuasion Success: Navigating the Gender Gap

If you like to watch fireworks, just bring up the subject of gender differences at your next friendly neighborhood cookout. Chances are the grill won’t be the only thing on fire.

The moment you take an absolutist stand on gender differences, you find yourself in a proverbial gender La Brea Tar Pit. Every individual — man or woman — has unique education backgrounds, experiences and frames of reference. (Please keep that in mind before you send me irate emails.) That said, there is real science behind the differences between men and women when it comes to decision-making and persuasion. Consider these findings:

Men often overstate their abilities; women understate them.

“In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality,” wrote Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in a lengthy article for The Atlantic magazine’s website in 2014. The authors of Womenomics and authorities on gender differences in business found that women working at Hewlett-Packard applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the job qualifications. On the other hand, men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.

Bottom line: Persuasion is about taking risk. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply.

A four-letter word for men: help.

In her book, Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers, gender expert Bridget Brennan claims women love asking for and receiving help. For men, “help” is a four-letter word.

Bottom line: When persuading women, offer assistance in some form. This gender preference will do wonders for you and your persuasion priority. If you’re persuading men, try something like this: “I did find a report that talks about what you were researching. I’ll leave it here.”

Men buy, women shop.

Shopping behavior mirrors gender differences throughout many aspects of life. Women consider shopping an interpersonal activity, according to Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch. Men treat is as something that must be done.

Bottom line: Pair this idea with personality behaviors to give you strong indications of how fast or slow you should move with your request.

Perfectionism is a confidence killer.

“Women feel confident only when they are perfect,” Kay and Shipman wrote for The Atlantic. “Study after study confirms that [this] is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified.”

Bottom line: No one needs to be at 100 percent all the time. In fact, few are. Leverage that reality in your persuasion efforts.

Gender behavior is based on brain structure and body chemistry.

In 2007, neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine released The Female Brain, a book that generated major debate by claiming that women’s brains “are so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality. They can shape a woman’s values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what’s important.” Brizendine then released The Male Brain in 2010, in which she states that “a man will use his analytical brain structures, not his emotional ones, to find a solution.” She also notes that the male brain thrives on competition and is obsessed with rank and hierarchy.

Bottom Line: Differences in estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin affect moods, behaviors and decisions. Everything is situational, especially this guidance. Identify the mercurial targets from the more static and approach accordingly.

Gender behavior changes with age.

As men and women age, testosterone and estrogen levels decrease, respectively. This results in women becoming more assertive and men more accommodating.

Bottom line: Take into consideration the age of your target.

Women don’t ask.

While researching their book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change, economics professor and negotiation specialist Linda Babcock and co-author Sara Laschever found that only about 7 percent of female MBAs attempted to negotiate their salaries when hired, compared to 57 percent of men. Those who did negotiate increased their salary by more than 7 percent.

Bottom line: You’ll never get the promotion, the assignment, the budget or the career you want if you don’t ask. The worst thing your target can say is no.

Women make great personal evangelists.

Women focus on details, researchers say, and are more likely than men to talk to their colleagues about their experiences with you.

Bottom line: If you want personal evangelists — people willing to sing your praises — identify women with whom you’ve exceeded their expectations.

Men decide; women ruminate.

Scientists Colin Camerer and Read Montague imaged the brains of men and women to determine the neural roots of fidelity and betrayal. After making a decision, the male brain turned off. Female brains, however, continued to display activity in parts that regulate worry and error-detection.

Bottom line: When she says, “I’ll have to think about it,” that doesn’t mean “no.” It usually means she actually does need to think about it.

Here are more gender differences to keep in mind:

  • Women are better at negotiating for a group.
  • Men are better at negotiating for themselves.
  • Women tend to avoid conflict situations.
  • Men tend to avoid emotional scenes.
  • Women respond more to stories than facts.
  • Women have better peripheral vision and will notice that family photo on your desk.

Some women — and men — might be highly offended right now and argue against any generalizations like the ones listed above. Others may be nodding in agreement. Regardless, keeping these ideas in mind will help you stay out of the muck as you seek to achieve your persuasion priority.

Persuasion Success: How to Appeal to Different Age Groups

“What’s Omaha Beach?”

The twentysomething looked at me expectantly. I frequently tell people that not every persuasion priority should be as difficult as taking Omaha Beach. I’ve said it thousands of times. But this was a first. I realized I had crossed into The Twilight Zone. (Wait, this guy wouldn’t know that reference, either!)

Yes, it seems that a mention of World War II’s D-Day no longer resonates with my audiences. I’ve adjusted my presentations accordingly, which is what you’ll need to do in your persuasion efforts. Whether you are in the cohort known as “Mature” or the one called “Millennial,” it doesn’t matter what your frame of reference is. You need to know your target’s frame of reference.

Although the names and date ranges fluctuate among experts, here are some common generation parameters:

  • Matures were born between 1909 and 1945.
  • Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.
  • Xers were born between 1965 and 1981.
  • Millennials were born between 1982 and 1996 (and later, according to some observers).

Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing summarizes  some of the key differences among age groups exceptionally well.

• Matures often are described as both the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation, as they are defined by the idea of answering a call to duty. They celebrated victory after hard-fought battles (like the one waged on Omaha Beach) and needed to be team players. Education to Matures was a privilege. Living example: Betty White

• For Boomers, individuality reigned supreme. Youth was valued and self-absorption rampant. They were rewarded because they deserved it, and leisure was the primary reason for living.  Education was an entitlement, “now” is more important than “later” and money is meant to be spent. Living examples: Bill Gates, Demi Moore, and Jerry Seinfeld.

• For Xers, success usually means two jobs. And if you really want to get ahead in the world, you must be an entrepreneur. After all, “the man” exists to bring you down. Mention a “program” to Xers, and they’ll wonder if you’re referring to Microsoft Word or Outlook Express. Living examples: Jennifer Aniston and David Beckham.

• Millennials grew up in what some call the “era of the child.” Where in previous generations children were seen and not heard, this generation of kids was put on a pedestal. They typically work well with friends and on teams because they grew up with play dates and other organized social outings. They believe everyone should be rewarded for their efforts and do something not because the boss said so but because it makes sense. Millennials often are called “digital natives” because they are members of the first generation to not know what it’s like to live without the Internet. Living examples: Mark Zuckerberg, LeBron James and Kate Upton.

One generation always seems to like to mock the others. Matures pick on Boomers. Boomers make fun of Xers, and everyone snipes at Millennials. It’s like living in Wisconsin and making fun of people from Illinois. Easy.

Here are the decision-making triggers that drive each generation to act:

  • Matures: It’s the right thing to do.
  • Boomers: It feels good.
  • Xers: You’ll get ahead if you do it.
  • Millennials: It’s just smart to do.

You can learn the age of your targets by asking where and when they went to high school. (I can work that into just about any conversation.) After you receive the answers, tuck that info away for a future generationally appropriate reference. Here are some examples:

  • Class of 1970s: “Man, that idea is going to be the Sony Walkman of your industry.”
  • Class of 1980s: “This project is going to make you look like Tom Cruise in Top Gun.”
  • Class of 1990s: “This idea could be bigger than Nirvana.”
  • Class of 2000s: “It’s important we keep the new product under wraps until the introduction. We don’t want to be accused of spreading fake news.”

Of course, these examples won’t always resonate, but when they do, you’ll see a spark in your target’s eye. Besides, you don’t have to be a 1994 grad to understand the Nirvana reference.

Generational differences matter. One Harley-Davidson dealer I know casually asks customers during their purchase experience for the name of their favorite song in high school. Then when the customer takes delivery of the motorcycle, guess what song is booming through the store’s sound system? The music creates strong, positive feelings about the experience and improves the dealership’s customer satisfaction scores.

Just remember: Every generation has a different frame of reference. For example, to Millennials, a “45” has always been a gun and never a record, and Elton John was never a rock star.

What Ben Franklin Can Teach Us About Persuasion

Ben Franklin is one of my favorite historical figures.

Known for many things besides being a Founding Father of the United States, Franklin was an astute observer of human behavior and effectively practiced persuasion, Franklin in 1736 was chosen without opposition to be clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The next year, he again was chosen. But this time, a new Assembly member offered a long argument against Franklin and in support of another candidate. Franklin won out, but he found it disconcerting that the Assembly member — a person of influence — rallied so publicly against him. Franklin knew he needed to win him over and didn’t want to appear obsequious or servile in his approach.

So what did Benjamin Franklin do?

He eventually asked his adversary if he would be so kind as to lend him a rare book from his library. Franklin was renowned for his discerning taste in books, and his target proudly agreed to lend him the requested copy. Franklin showed his gratitude with a nice note later on, and evermore the two men enjoyed a life-long positive relationship.

This episode is said to have inspired Franklin to coin this aphorism: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

The lesson here? If something about you is off-putting to someone else, follow Franklin’s lead and make an effort to change that person’s mind.

What Role Does Memory Play in Effective Persuasion?

We all have biases — regardless of whether we admit them.

Perhaps the root of all bias is availability. What this means is that we have a tendency to give the most credence to what we can most easily recall. If we remember an occurrence quickly, without much effort, we find it perfectly suited for whatever the question is before us.

For perfect examples of this, look no further than your relationship with your spouse or significant other. People in relationships often share the burden of household responsibilities. One of the main areas of contention between couples is “fair share” — as in, “Is the other person doing his or her fair share of the chores around here?”

The conflict occurs when one person believes he is doing more than the other. What might be happening, though, is that both individuals are falling prey to the bias of availability. What you remember, and therefore exaggerate, is the last time you did the dishes, or you took out the trash, or you made the bed. So in your mind, you think you always do something, and the other person never does it. See any potential problems?

Availability bias also can cause problems at the office, as your brain actually substitutes one question for another. Let’s say your vice president of engineering asks you to recommend the best-qualified supplier to provide exhaust systems for your company’s new engine. And in our conversation about this topic, you say, “We should go with Wilson’s Exhausts.”

What may actually have taken place in your mind is not a careful analysis based on price, reliability, quality and suitability for this particular engine. Rather, you might just recommend any exhaust system provider you can remember. Your brain may have substituted the question, “Who’s the best?” with “Who can you name?”

Availability also most impacts us when we are trying to gauge the relative size of a category or the frequency of an occurrence. How large is the market for red laser wall levels? (Huge! I used one this weekend!) How often are Wall Street traders arrested for illegal activity? (All the time, I just read an article about another one yesterday.)

The insufficiency of the reasoning in these examples is obvious, but it is the rare individual who would submit to the more difficult task of learning the actual statistics that would answer either of the above questions more accurately. Many people simply don’t want to work that hard. We take the path of least intellectual effort. We’re human.

How Should You Positively Leverage Availability Bias? 

How can you leverage this concept of availability bias to ethically win the heart and mind of your target? It’s imperative to keep the value of your “ask” in front of your target. Time dims people’s positive memories, so you must find ways to maintain your expertise, your value and your shared experiences. A reminder email, revisiting a key point casually through conversation, or a communiqué augmenting or amplifying your position with a new piece of information all work beautifully.

Frequency certainly impacts one’s ability for recall, but other factors leading to availability bias include dramatic events (winning an important award or surviving a tragedy), intense personal experiences (receiving accolades or suffering public embarrassment), vivid descriptions (created by using language or graphics) and a related notion called the “recency effect” (in which people remember the last thing they heard on a topic).

When you can summon dramatic public events, do so. If your company is generating positive press regarding a purchase or other strategic move, that is the time to reach out to new prospects. If someone undergoes an intense and negative experience related to your “ask” (“The trade show was terrible! I had to set up the booth until midnight and then I had to work the show for nine hours the next day! I was exhausted when speaking with prospects.”), that is the time to push for agreement on your objective (“See? This is exactly why I’m recommending we ask the board for budget dollars for either more headcount or expanded outsourcing!”)

Use vivid descriptions instead of just numbers: “The new retail space we’re recommending could house AT&T Stadium,” instead of “The space we’re recommending is one million square feet.”

And, of course, before someone makes a key decision, keep the recency effect in mind. Literally, the last thing you want the decision-maker to hear is your input. People remember — and give added weight — to the final comment they’ve heard on the topic. You want to be the last person whispering in their ear.

Here’s the Truth About How We Really Think

Nobel Prize-winning economist and author Daniel Kahneman suggests that human beings possess two “systems” for thinking: one that processes information very quickly, and one that does so more slowly and requires significantly more effort.

Here’s the thing: Most of us don’t really like to think all that hard. As humans, we rely on what comes to mind with the least amount of cognitive strain. We also don’t always act rationally — rarely going to the trouble of, say, doing the math or weighing the pros and cons of a particular decision.

But don’t be too hard on yourself: We act that way to survive in a post-modern world where the amount of information we are exposed to has grown exponentially, but the basic architecture of our brains hasn’t changed since the likes of Australopithecus africanus roamed the earth. We employ mental shortcuts to survive. Sometimes they help, sometimes they don’t.

Discovering Heuristics and Biases

Heuristics are supportive cognitive shortcuts that help us make good decisions in times of complexity. Biases, on the other hand, impede decision-making.  Sometimes, biases also are referred to as cognitive illusions, because much like an optical illusion, they twist our thinking about reality.

So how do we distinguish between the two? It’s often difficult to parse heuristics and biases, because the same factors that impact our thinking also impact our thinking about our thinking. For example, sometimes we fall prey to something called “base-rate neglect.” This is when we ignore statistics in favor of anecdotal incidents.

Heuristics and biases are built into our psychological makeup and are so pervasive that we rarely even notice them working inside our heads. Plus, they feel so natural, so how could they be wrong? If you make what turns out to be a good decision, you’ve just used a heuristic. If the decision results in a negative outcome, you’ve succumbed to mental bias. As one psychology student put so aptly, “Heuristics are helpful biases. Biases are hurtful heuristics.”

Regardless of how you might categorize these mental patterns, understanding and labeling them will help you consider these cognitive processes more easily and create strategic persuasion campaigns based on them. They also will help your targets make better decisions.

Next time, we’ll focus on the heuristics and biases most prevalent in persuasion.

How to Give an Honest Self-Assessment

In two previous posts, I shared 12 keys to self-persuasion success.

Now, I’d like to add one more: Create an honest self-assessment.

Begin by developing a document for your eyes only. No one else will ever see it, so make a list of your strengths (how well you deal with people, perhaps, or your ability to solve problems) and your weaknesses (your dislike for conflict or disdain for details). Then, add either a piece of positive evidence or a potential solution after each one. Some examples might look like this:

  • “I keep my promises and am excellent at maintaining long-term relationships, as evidenced by my 10-year relationship with our firm’s top client.”
  • “I am independent and can get myself out of most jams. Many people have contributed to my success, for which I am thankful. At the same time, I need to recognize and admire the nature of my accomplishments.”
  • “When meeting new clients, I get nervous and need to recognize this is a natural and normal reaction. (They’re probably nervous, too!) I will go into these situations with some prepared conversation items and questions, and I will concentrate on being interested in what clients are saying.”
  • “Although I am typically calm and relaxed in social situations, I sometimes make a social blunder, say the wrong thing or use a word incorrectly. But so does everyone else. Going forward, I’ll just make a joke and say, ‘Am I having a senior moment already?’ ”

Remember that nobody is either all right or all wrong. (Even Gandhi probably had a bad habit or two.) But with an honest assessment and a frequent review of what you do well, what you don’t and what actions you can take, you’ll be on your way to destroying that pathological critic.

The psychology of self-persuasion is all about consistency. You never want to get too high when you hear “yes” or too low when you get a “no.”

Mark Rodgers’ Ultimate Guide to Self-Persuasion Success — Part 2

In a recent post, I introduced what I like to call the “Ultimate Guide to Self-Persuasion Success.”

At the core of this approach is learning to become more resilient. Just as the body needs air, nutrition and regular exercise, your mind needs a fitness regimen, too. You must regularly stretch, feed, work, coach and rest your mind.

What follows are seven more keys to self-persuasion success. Consider this your all-access, lifetime membership to Mark’s Self-Persuasion World Gym.

1. Dopamine up.

Exercise can fuel dopamine production in your brain, making you feel good, look good and present your ideas with confidence. Plus, if your target doesn’t say “yes,” that response won’t bother you so much!

2. Be present.

Research suggests that the majority of people’s thoughts are almost entirely consumed with past regrets (“What I should have said was …”) or focused on anxiety about the future (“What if this next guy doesn’t buy?”). Such thinking makes us sacrifice the present moment, which is the most precious gift we have. So throw yourself into what you’re doing right now, and if your thoughts start to wander, tell yourself to “get back to work.”

3. Undergo digital detox.

Turn off all your gadgets for, say, 60 minutes a day — and enjoy the quiet. Think about it: No TV. No Spotify. No Twitter or Facebook. Making this a daily regimen will calm your brain and allow you to focus on the present.

4. Be convinced of your own value.

Ask yourself these questions and try to respond positively:

  • Do people compliment your work?
  • Do others ask for your advice?
  • Have you contributed an idea at work?
  • Have you sought additional education?
  • Can you produce testimonials and references?
  • Can you list best practices that make you successful?
  • Have you participated in or contributed to a professional organization?
  • Do clients or customers ask for you by name?

You might not have positive responses to all of these, but you probably have more than you thought. These are the accomplishments that should pass through your mind whenever your pathological critic works his way back into your self-talk.

5. Use positive affirmations.

In sports, team captains often rally their teammates by yelling at them: “We got this! We got this!” While it may not be grammatically correct, from a psychological perspective, it’s dead on. When you catch yourself slipping into negative self-talk, replace it with something positive. I realize this sounds goofy, but it works. Find a repeatable phrase and run it through your mind. I like one made famous by the late French psychotherapist Émile Coué:

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

Find one that works for you and keep using it. You got this.

6. Always create high-quality options.

Never allow yourself to have just one option for your persuasion project. Always have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Offering high-quality options for everything you do will transform your mental state.

7. Keep a success journal.

Every night before you go bed, write down three things you did well that day. Some people are wired to magnify setbacks in their mind and minimize success. This isn’t healthy — mentally or physically. By forcing yourself to reflect on your day and capture three positive aspects, you can reverse this dynamic. Such an exercise takes incredible discipline, but if you can do this consistently, it can have the same mood-improving impact as anti-depressant drugs

Next time, I’ll share how to create an honest self-assessment.

Mark Rodgers’ Ultimate Guide to Self-Persuasion Success — Part 1

Living with low self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-confidence steals your energy and ability to cope with anxiety, problems, challenges and risks. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that attaining high self-esteem, solid self-efficacy and weapons-grade self-confidence does exactly the opposite. It enables you to solve problems rather than worry about them, find ways to win people over, and work directly and purposefully to address interpersonal issues.

Many of the following ideas could fall under a category of psychology referred to as cognitive therapy. That is, participating in activities, exercises and conversations that improve your “self-talk” or ongoing internal dialogue, and therefore impacting everything from your emotional state to your persuasive performance. For some, this is the purview of incense-burning, beard-wearing types who wouldn’t be caught dead without their yoga mats. If you can break through that bias, though, you’ll discover that it’s powerful stuff.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University studied 240 depressed patients who were randomly placed in groups. Some received anti-depressant medication, others participated in cognitive therapy, and still others received a placebo. After 16 weeks, both the anti-depressant group and the cognitive therapy group had improved at about the same rate. The real difference was that the cognitive therapy group was found less likely to relapse during the two years following therapy. Why? They had acquired the skills and behaviors to think more positively.

This example illustrates the key to becoming more resilient. Just like the body needs air, nutrition and regular exercise, your mind needs a fitness regimen, too. You must regularly stretch, feed, work, coach and rest your mind, so consider what follows as your all-access, lifetime membership to Mark’s Self-Persuasion World Gym.

1. Be cognitively aware of your internal dialogue.

When you make a mistake and find yourself thinking, “I always mess up!” or “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid,” hit “stop.” Don’t keep running the video clip on a loop in your head. Stop and reframe your negative thoughts.

2. Reframe negative thoughts.

Don’t scold. Fix. You don’t always mess up. It’s not that you’ll never get anything right. You did land the job in the first place. And you’ve done many things well and achieved success. You simply have some aspect of a project or relationship that is giving you a hard time. Break it down and troubleshoot. Maybe it’s not the entire board presentation that’s giving you fits; it’s only the intro or anticipating resistance. Identify and fix. If you don’t currently possess the skills to make a fix, acquire them. If you don’t have the information you need, find the data.

3. Use success ranges.

Don’t turn every situation into an all-or-nothing case. In other words, don’t enter every client meeting thinking you need to come out with new business or else it wasn’t a successful meeting.

4. Understand the physical side of self-persuasion.

Get enough sleep and rest, because “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Williams Shakespeare said that first, but U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton and football coach Vince Lombardi also picked up on it. Regardless, it still rings true today. Without enough rest, you won’t be able to form your arguments, look your best and articulate your positions to the best of your abilities. Ask me how I know: I’ve worked myself into a state of almost mental incoherence, and subsequently lost business.

5. Too much caffeine hurts your persuasion attempts.

Caffeine makes you seem nervous and uncertain, even if you don’t have a visible case of the jitters. So much for oozing self-confidence. You might, however, want to hope that your target has downed a few cups of coffee or cans of Mountain Dew. Australian researchers several years ago determined that people who drank two cups of strong coffee were much more easily swayed to change their minds than test subjects who were given a placebo instead.

Look for more self-persuasion tips next time.