Boost Your Self-Confidence to Improve Your Persuasive Powers

In the past several posts, I’ve covered the dangers of negative self-talk, the value of self-esteem and the damage caused by cognitive distortions.

Now, it’s time to focus on one last point: The importance of self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their capabilities to perform a particular task, or in their abilities to acquire the necessary skills to perform that task.

Or, as I like to define the term, having the grit, spit and determination to get things done.

Can you make a compelling presentation? Can you calculate internal rate of return and discuss its relevance? Can you demonstrate the perseverance to study for a master’s degree while working full time?

The central figure in the realm of self-efficacy is a psychologist by the name of Albert Bandura, who has contributed to the world of psychology for more than six decades and had this to say about self-efficacy in his seminal paper on the subject, published in 1977:

 We find that people’s beliefs about their efficacy affect the sorts of choices they make in very significant ways. In particular, it affects their levels of motivation and perseverance in the face of obstacles. Most success requires persistent effort, so low self-efficacy becomes a self-limiting process. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, strung together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.

How can you boost self-efficacy? Here are three ways:

1. Mastery

Do you remember the last time you had to work hard to master a skill? I mean, work really hard? Perhaps it was learning the ins and outs of a complicated computer graphics program or video editing. Maybe you were trying to understand how to create and use spreadsheet formulas or program a database? If you’ve had to really work at something by spending an inordinate amount of time and focused cognitive energy, you’ve undergone a mastery experience. And when you’ve experienced success at doing so by acquiring the necessary skills, you’ve strengthened your self-efficacy.

2. Social Modeling

This is also known as “If he can do it, so can I!” You see someone in your organization (or somebody else’s) that possesses a skill you would like to possess. The fact that you perceive similarities between yourself and that person gives you the belief that you can acquire this ability, too.

3. Social Persuasion

Bandura referred to the fact that individuals can perform up to (or, in some cases, down to) certain expectations. High expectations contribute to high levels of self-efficacy. Think of someone in your organization who is considered by professional peers to be a top performer. Now think of someone who might be perceived as a bit of a slacker. Notice how those people seem to perform like their labels? That’s social persuasion.

Use these tips to boost your own self-efficacy over the next several weeks or months. You’ll be amazed at your newfound persuasive effectiveness.

Stop Twisting Reality into Negative Knots

“Cognitive distortions” is a fancy way of describing the way we twist reality in our own minds. Below are five examples of cognitive distortions that prove problematic for people seeking to improve their persuasion skills:

1. You take one event or incident and apply it globally to any given situation. For example, you make one mistake in a presentation and now tell yourself that you’re a terrible public speaker.

2. You listen to your pathological critic. That critic might be using absolute terminology such as “always,” “every” and “everybody” and “never,” “none” and “nobody.” It’s easy to fall prey to consistent thoughts containing words like those.

3. Your mind is trained to only see and hear certain things. And those things are typically negative: a critique, a look of displeasure, an injustice.

4. You focus too much on your external critics. Madonna once stated that there was a period in her career when all she could perceive was the negative. She’d perform a killer show, with the crowd on its feet all night, but Madonna’s eyes would always find the handful of people who looked like they weren’t having the time of their lives. And that’s, unfortunately, where her focus would lie.

5. You dwell on complaints. For example, although the majority of respondents to a user survey might appear to have gone out of their way to be complimentary about your company’s products, services and customer relations, the few complaints are the ones you can’t stop thinking about.

Sure, it makes sound business sense to be aware of the negatives and evaluate how you can do better. But concentrating the majority of your energy on them without celebrating your accomplishments can seriously derail the self-esteem train.

So this week, focus on the positive and see if you a notice a shift in your persuasive effectiveness.

How to Feel Good About Yourself

Self-esteem can be defined as one’s opinion of oneself as a person, the pride you have in yourself or your self-respect. The term also has evolved over time.

Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning, in their book Self Esteem (first published in 1987), describe self-esteem as the emotional sine qua non (or a necessity); consultant Alan Weiss, who has done tremendous work in the area of self-esteem, describes the word as a verb — an action that leads to self-confidence; and I consider self-esteem a critical mental condition that allows you to acquire the skills required to persuade. Think of it as your persuasion foundation.

However you describe self-esteem, you’ve got to have heaps of it if you’re going to be successful in the world of persuasion.

“Mental toughness is essential to success,” Vince Lombardi once said. He should know: He led the Green Bay Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls. And just as you can train your physique to win football championships, you also can train your mind to win persuasion championships.

Beware Your ‘Pathological Critic’

Mental self-flagellation destroys self-esteem, as you chastise yourself for screwing up a report or questioning why you didn’t present the statistics before you shared your opinions in the board meeting. Unfortunately, people with lower levels of self-esteem hear this sort of mental self-flagellation with increasing (and concerning) frequency. Psychologist Eugene Sagan labeled the phenomenon and coined the term for this as “pathological critic.”

Whether your own pathological critic took up residence in your head during your early years or later in your professional life doesn’t matter. Either way, you’ve now got your own mental drill sergeant to deal with on a daily basis. How will you respond?

Banish Polarized Thinking

Another detriment to consistent and positive self-esteem is a mind-set that allows you to view every situation as black or white, with absolutely no in-between. People are either with you or against you. Every action you take, every person you meet, is organized into such a dichotomy. With every piece of positive feedback from others, you’re on top of the world. At the slightest criticism, though, you’re in the doldrums. You’re self-worth is either towering or cowering. I refer to this phenomenon the crazy circles of inconsistent self-worth.

Stop it! Consistent self-worth is important to your long term persuasion success. So don’t get too “up” when you experience success, and don’t get too “down” when you experience setback.

Remember: The psychology of self-esteem — and thus self-persuasion — is all about consistency.

Mark Rodgers’ Big Bang Theory of the Psychology of Self-Persuasion

The fact that everybody has different opinions is what makes the act of persuasion so much fun — and so rewarding. Think of the psychology of self-persuasion as a “big bang theory.” That bang begins with self-esteem, and I believe self-esteem leads to self-efficacy, self-efficacy breeds self-confidence, and self-confidence leads to persuasion success.

If you think of yourself as talented and capable, you’ll work to learn new skills. When you acquire that skillset, you’re more confident in speaking with influential others in project meetings. And when you’re more confident in those meetings, you’ll be more inclined to make an effort to gain support for your persuasion priorities.

See how this works?

Here’s another example: If you think of yourself as a valuable person with lots of ideas to contribute, you’ll work to put yourself in new situations, such as making a presentation at a key shareholders’ meeting. When you have that opportunity, you’ll provide a meaningful and compelling talk. And when you accomplish that, you’ll feel more confident in your abilities — and others will see you as more capable, too.

Avoid Black Holes

The reverse of these events, however, can be catastrophic. If your self-esteem is either partially or wholly dependent on your persuasion success (winning that promotion or prevailing in an argument) be prepared for the psychological equivalent of a black hole. The gravity of your situation will not even allow light to shine through. Imagine the devastating effect that could have on your career.

Here are two examples of how everything can go downhill if you rely on positive feedback to boost self-esteem:

  1. You don’t understand what people are talking about when it comes to finances. You asked a question once, to which several people laughed at your lack of financial acumen. Subsequently, you withdraw whenever financial matters are discussed. You don’t participate, and you feel as if you don’t really belong at a meeting with people of this caliber.
  2. You’re petrified to give a research presentation to the executive team, because you’ve done so before and people criticized your efforts. So you do everything possible to duck the assignment. But when you do, you’re conflicted because you feel like this is an opportunity you must take advantage of in order to further your position in the organization. You have to, but you can’t.

This is a soul-crushing, potentially career-destroying, psychological state. The biggest problem here is that you’ve handed over your mental wellness to feedback and criticism of others.

So the question is: Do you have to do good to be good? Excluding the theological perspective, which exceeds the scope of this website, no — you don’t. You have worth and value despite what happened at yesterday’s staff meeting.

To be honest, though, if you aren’t so good at something, how do you build the self-esteem to make the effort to become good at it? How can you have more big bangs and fewer black holes?

I’ll answer those questions next time.

How Self-Doubt Can Wreak Havoc on Your Persuasion Efforts

Psychologists say the seeds for self-doubt are planted early in life, during that critical personality development period of childhood and adolescence. As a result, self-doubt can take many forms:

  • A single, stinging rebuke from a well-meaning family member: “I can’t believe you did that at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”
  • A constant harping on your inadequacy in some aspect of life: “You’re so disorganized!”
  • A parental reprimand in front of your teenage peers: “Why did you forget to call us when you got to Brice’s house?”

That said, don’t think all of your self-doubting happened when you were a kid. Plenty of other incidents can happen during your older years to imbue you with enough self-doubt to convince yourself you’re no good at persuading.  Maybe company leaders didn’t take your advice, or you were passed over for a big assignment, or you didn’t get that promotion.

All of these manifestations of self-doubt can become problematic for your persuasion efforts. Why?

Because persuasion is about taking risks. Because it requires you to put yourself “out there” by taking a stance and asking for agreement. Because persuasion is mostly about taking action, not sitting back hoping the action will occur on behalf of someone else (or not at all). And because self-doubt can paralyze you.

One way to minimize self-doubt is by understanding the inter-relatedness and importance of self-efficacy, self-confidence and self-esteem. Whenever I start talking self-esteem, I have to prepare myself for a few eye rolls.

The late comedian George Carlin didn’t care much for the so-called “self-esteem movement” that manifested itself in the 1970s. In fact, in his final HBO special, 2008’s Emmy-nominated It’s Bad For Ya, he railed against the idea that “everyone’s a winner” and claimed kids “have been so crippled” by “all of this stupid nonsense.”

You can find the foul-mouthed clip on YouTube, but here’s a transcript containing some of his warm self-esteem sentiments:

I’m happy to say [the self-esteem movement] has been a complete failure, because studies have repeatedly shown that having high self-esteem does not improve grades, does not improve career achievement, it does not even lower the use of alcohol, and most certainly does not reduce the incidence of violence of any sort. Because, as it turns out, extremely aggressive, violent people think very highly of themselves. Imagine that: Sociopaths have high self-esteem! 

Next time, I’ll get serious again and explain my “Big Bang Theory for the Psychology of Self-Persuasion.”

What Does Negative Self-Talk Sound Like?

Negative self-talk can be disastrous for your persuasion attempts. Why? I’ll let the author of one of my favorite books explain:

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild. But whether cultivated or neglected, it must and will, bring forth. … Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping free of weeds … so may a man tend to the garden of his mind.”

Those words from philosopher James Allen in his 1902 book, As a Man Thinkethstill ring true more than 115 years later.

It’s easy enough to recognize behaviors that suggest self-doubt in persuasion situations; those thoughts lean heavily toward the negative and dwell on the conviction that your target will say “no.” Here are eight common thoughts that might run through your head:

  1. I will have made a fool of myself in front of everyone.
    In reality: Most people are so self-absorbed that they aren’t really paying any attention to you and your career.
  2. Everyone will know I failed.
    In reality: Some people might think, He sure is mixing things up with this proposal! I like it!
  3. It will be confirmation that I’m not competent.
    In reality: It will be confirmation that — at that moment, on that ask, in that instance — something wasn’t quite right with the way things were.
  4. My colleagues will laugh at me.
    In reality: Your colleagues may outwardly show signs of schadenfreude, but their internal dialogue is likely saying, I wish I would take more chances like her.
  5. I shouldn’t try to “rise above my station.”
    In reality: Why not “rise about your station”? The entire foundation of American society is built on a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story.
  6. My nemesis will get the satisfaction knowing that I failed.
    In reality: Years from now, do you want to look back at your career and say, I really could have done big things, but I was worried about that unethical weasel in marketing?
  7. This will prove my boss was right when he said I shouldn’t try.
    In reality: Your boss is insecure and probably couldn’t function without you.
  8. Who am I to make this request?
    In reality: You are a magnificently created and sentient human being designed to reach your potential. The Greeks called it arête: living to one’s fullest potential.

Next time, we’ll analyze self-doubt. Until then, think positive thoughts.


How Do You Know When People Trust You?

Some people say you can’t see trust. I disagree.

How can you tell whether you’re making progress in your persuasion attempts with a particular person — especially in such critical areas as trust and credibility? Try consistently observing a particular person’s actions (or inactions).

Here are seven pieces of evidence of things unseen:

1. Your target volunteers information that is not requested.

He might say this: “You’ll also need this, which is a study done a year ago. Not many people are familiar with it, but it’s exactly what you’ll need.”

 If your target didn’t trust you, you’d never see that report.

2. Your target shares humor.

He might say this: “Just to show you how my day is going: I had a lunch meeting and went to the wrong restaurant. And I was the guy who made the reservation!”

A comment like that shows the target is willing to let down his guard with you.

3. Your target accepts pushback and contrary views.

She might say this: “I see your point. I hadn’t thought of the impact on our European operations. I’ll have to reconsider that.

This means your target is willing to consider different perspectives. On the other hand, when someone says, “I’ll keep that in mind,” he’s blowing you off.

4. Your targets requests your advice.

She might say this: “What’s your take on the new sales promotion?”

If the target didn’t trust you or find you credible, she wouldn’t ask for your opinion.

5. Your target shares confidential details.

He might say this: “The news hasn’t been released yet, but the head of R&D has been selected.

This target knows you can be trusted. Don’t prove him wrong.

6. Your target meets deadlines and respects financial limitations.

When someone comes in on time and under budget, that means he respects you. Remember, once is an event, twice might be coincidence but three times is a trend.

7. Your target engages in friendly follow up and continuous contact.

Trusted colleagues stay in touch. It’s as simple as that.

Look for these subtly-disguised hints, and you’ll know when you’re making persuasion progress and when you need to step up your game.

New Year’s Resolution: Convince Yourself to Make 2018 Your Best Year Ever

Whether attempting to sell more motorcycles, pursuing a new managerial position or convincing your boss to give you a raise, we all talk to ourselves before we take action. Many psychologists have labeled this ongoing mental dialogue as “self‐talk.”

These internal comments impact thoughts, emotions, actions, and ultimately careers and life itself. The following quote, attributed to everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Ralph Waldo Emerson to the president of a leading supermarket chain, illustrates this cause and effect:

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

The point is made even more elegantly in one of my favorite books of all time, As a Man Thinkethby philosopher James Allen, published just after the turn of the 20th century and reprinted many times. It may very well be the first “self‐help” book.

“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself,” Allen wrote. “He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”

What are you building? And how will your “self-talk” make 2018 your most successful year ever?

How to Subtly Persuade People at Parties

Let’s say you’re at a cocktail event with prospective customers or clients — it is the holiday season, after all! Social etiquette dictates that you introduce yourself. When doing so, find an appropriate time during the conversation to reveal an “amazing fact” about your company or your product: “Well, we have a bit of news. Our company just received the Stevie Award for customer service; it’s like the Oscar of the sales business.”

To which most people will say things like, “Congratulations!” or “Very cool.” Or “Tell me more.” If someone says that, tell them more. Of course, prospective clients or customers will probably respond with more affirmative comments, and you might say: “We’re quite proud of this achievement. Customers tell us it is just one more reason why they choose to do business with us. But enough about us, what’s going on with your company?”

At this point, what have you accomplished? You’ve shared specific good news about your company, you’ve used language that differentiates yourself from the competition, and you’ve used your process skills to deftly turn the conversation toward a prospect — encouraging that individual to talk about himself and his business. Congratulations!

Is there risk involved with this approach? Sure. So, my suggestion is to be confident, not cocky; be assertive, stopping just shy of aggressive. (When people tell me they’re uncomfortable talking about what’s going on with them or their company, I can’t help but think that they must not be very proud of what they are doing.)

Your effective use of language and a self-assured demeanor will reveal you to be the natural choice should these people ever need your services.

Just remember to be cognizant of your target audience, a given prospect’s personality and the culture in which you are operating. Also be aware of regional and cultural differences. What’s friendly conversation in Philly could be perceived as overly aggressive in Fargo. What’s considered a typical sales presentation in New Jersey might offend in Nebraska.

Here’s to a terrific new year! Cheers…

My Holiday Selling Advice: Keep It Clean

As the holiday shopping season reaches its peak in the coming two weeks, retail professionals will be busier than ever. Whether you sell motorcycles, jewelry or consumer electronics, your job is to persuade holiday shoppers to buy what you’re selling.

My advice during this critically important but potentially lucrative and exciting time? Don’t be one of those brands, companies or individuals that skate the fine line between ethical and manipulative persuasion.

Whenever I talk about persuasion — on my website, at speaking engagements and even when out with friends (hey, it’s what I do!) — I define “persuasion” as “ethically winning the heart and mind of your customer.”

“Ethically” means simply doing something honestly and without trickery or deceit. “Winning” means making the sale. “Heart” refers to gaining emotional buy-in, “mind” refers to logical buy-in and “customer” is the specific person you are attempting to persuade.

Turning to manipulative methods is tempting — especially when there are sales quota to meet, and consumers have many other purchasing options.

To keep sales professionals from engaging in questionable tactics when they hear “no,” I suggest following my “ART of Persuasion” model. Even though you may be familiar with this, it’s worth a reminder during the holiday shopping season.

1. ACKNOWLEDGE the objection.

Doing so psychologically prepares the buyer to hear what you have to say: “I understand and can see what you’re saying, but may I share with you some information that might change your mind?”

2. RESPOND in a substantive and compelling manner.

Do so by using three key pieces of information: “If you’re looking for a lower price, you’ll find it somewhere else. But if you’re looking for great buying experience, you’re in the right place.” And then give three reasons why the customer should buy from you and your store — not from someone else and not online.

3. TRANSITION to the next step.

Remember to remain respectful of the buyer’s objections:

“What else would you like to know?”

“Another thing to consider is …”

“Do you have other questions I can answer?”

“What do you think?”

If the response is still negative, you have more work to do. Communication and objection handling are true art forms, and you’ll be like Picasso when you master the ART of this form of rebuttal.

Like any useful model, the ART of persuasive communication can be applied to just about any situation.

You won’t hear “yes” every time, but you’ll be shocked at how often you do.