Are You an Asset or a Liability?

It would not be a stretch to say that everything I needed to know I learned from the Harley-Davidson business. I was always a Harley guy. I grew up in an area where Harley-Davidsons were very popular, knew people who rode, and even in college many of my projects, papers and productions had something to do with Harley-Davidson.

After college, when I was looking for a job, I answered a blind ad that read: Public Relations/Service Writer: $30,000 a year.

Well, I knew what public relations was; I had just received a degree in it, after all! But I had no idea what a service writer was. Still, it was 1987, and I knew I wanted $30,000 a year.

I got the job, and I still remember it like it was yesterday …

On my second day at Hannum’s Harley-Davidson in Pennsylvania, I met Rita Hannum — who stood about five feet nothing and often came to the dealership directly from her tennis workout. She stood intentionally close with a burning, intense demeanor that only a dealership owner possesses and said, “Mark, here at Hannum’s, you’re only one of two things: You’re either an asset or a liability. Which of those two will you be?”

Needless to say, that conversation left quite an impression on me, since I’m still talking about it all these years later. To be an asset (and, hence, to experience success yourself), you must acquire the necessary skills, become an expert at their use and seek out opportunities to use them in ways that maximize your return.

In any business, you’re either an asset or a liability. Which of those two will you be?

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Practice Describing Things in Three Different Ways

Language skills are crucial for persuasion success. And the language you use depends on the situation in which you find yourself.

Here is my suggestion: Practice describing common business situations on three different levels: straightforward, descriptive and sophisticated.

For example, your past clients were: “happy” (straightforward), “delighted” (descriptive) or “elated” (sophisticated). The business conditions were “tough,” “formidable” or “onerous.” Your results were “great,” “extraordinary” or “astonishing.”

Adjust Accordingly

As you can see, language isn’t an exact science — and you may choose different descriptors than me — but the key is to build your vocabulary so that you can match your target in whatever situation you find yourself.

Whether your targets are customer service people, marketing professionals or finance experts — and whether they are front-line buyers, mid-level managers or C-suite executives — you’ll have more options in your repertoire. When applied correctly, they can dramatically improve your effectiveness and enable you to communicate on any level.

Practice this idea, and you’ll hear “yes” more often.

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How to Harness the Power of Words

Rosser Reeves

You may not be familiar with name “Rosser Reeves.” But some of the advertising slogans he cooked up decades ago still resonate today. Have you heard this one? “M&Ms: They melt in your mouth, not in your hands.” Or how about this one? “How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S.”

Those are some of the iconic phrases developed by the 1950s ad man. Why are so many of us still so familiar with these slogans — even though some of us weren’t around when Reeves created them?

Simple.

Because they work. They get people to say “yes.”

Rosser Reeves, who died in 1984, knew a lot about getting people to say “yes.” Which means he also knew a ton about persuasion.

The Blind Man

This is one of my favorite Rosser Reeves stories: He was walking down the streets of Manhattan one glorious spring day with a friend, and he noticed a panhandler in the doorway of a building. That individual was holding a sign that read, “I am blind.” Immediately, Rosser started riffling through his jacket and his pants pockets.

His friend turned to him and said, “Rosser, are you looking for some spare change? Are you going to help this person out?”

And Rosser said, “No, I’m looking for a pen.”

Puzzled, his friend asked, “You’re looking for a pen? Why?”

Rosser responded, “I am going to give this person more than just spare change.”

Rosser went over to the panhandler, introduced himself and then wrote three more words on his sign — right in front of “I am blind.”

What were those three words? “It’s springtime and.” Which then made the sign read: “It’s springtime and I am blind.”

Immediately, people on the street began paying more attention to the man and contributing donations. Why? Because his new-and-improved sign created empathy in passersby, and it spurred them to action.

This story demonstrates the power of language, but it also illustrates a key persuasion point: What you do before you do it does it.

In other words, what happens before the ask can affect how targets respond. Know what will prompt people to act, and just do it.

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash.

How to Understand the Ways People Think

In 1991, Guns N’ Roses simultaneously released a pair of albums, titled Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. They aren’t talked about much about these days, but their titles can serve as a reminder that understanding how people think is crucial to your own successful persuasion efforts.

I’m talking about cognitive illusions — perceptions based on prior assumptions or knowledge. Here are three common cognitive illusions and how they often play out in business environments.

1. “The promotion was a success! We sold 500,000 units.”

Yes, but because of the marketing expenses and discounts issued, your company actually lost money! This is an example of the cognitive illusion of selective recall: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

People in sales see the world one way. People in accounting see things in another, much different, way. And people in the legal department take yet another view. If you want to make sure your persuasive attempts gain traction, avoid falling prey to this very common mental blind spot.

Every situation, every offer, every result has strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons. If you want to hear “yes,” know and acknowledge them. This proves you are smart enough to recognize both sides of the story, as well as honest enough to bring them to the forefront.

2. “We should create a first-time buyer’s program! Here are three success stories.”

Never mind that, historically, 87 percent of participants in those programs default on their loans. This is an example of a cognitive illusion known as base rate neglect, which ignores background statistics in favor of compelling anecdotal information.

Make no mistake, anecdotal information is powerful stuff. But sprinkle in solid statistical evidence, and it creates a one-two persuasive punch that is a naysayer knockout.

3. “I’ll only green-light the project if we are certain of its success.”

Nothing is guaranteed. This is the cognitive illusion of certainty desire — unrealistically needing to have absolute confidence in a given action. Well, that’s not how business (or life!) works. Warren Buffet says that business is all about doing your research, and then rolling the dice. Your persuasion attempts are like that, too.

It would be impossible to give your persuasion target a success guarantee. But if you want to improve your chances of hearing “yes,” simply acknowledge your target’s desire to mitigate risk and say something along the lines of, “I can’t guarantee success, but I can guarantee we’ve done the necessary background work, and our team will do everything in our power to put this one on the scoreboard.”

There are literally hundreds of cognitive illusions, but I see these three play out quite frequently in organizations.

Persuasion is about ethically wining the hearts and minds of your targets, not putting one over on somebody. You must be convinced that your ask is good for your company, good for you, and good for your industry (or, at a minimum, not harmful).

It’s imperative to use the momentum of mental patterns to know when to use what information and to point out any potential harm to the organization. When you do, you’ll hear “yes” — faster and more frequently than you ever thought possible.

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The Three Pillars of Credibility

Tough to build and easy to lose, credibility ranks as one of the primary characteristics of a successful and persuasive professional.

A basic determination of credibility can be found in the way you answer this question: Can people believe what you say?

Credibility is influenced by three things:

• Technical competency
• Track record
• Interpersonal skills

Each one is critical in maintaining your credibility factor.

Technical competency

Technical competency resides in your ability to understand and perform in a particular area. For example, a person may have exceptional technical proficiency regarding inventory management — understanding inventory turns, being open to diverse buying methods, knowing costs associated with carrying inventory, and able to take strategic and tactical approaches to improving a company’s inventory position. A salesperson might demonstrate technical competency by understanding the sales progression or having above-average product knowledge.

Track Record

How you’ve performed in the past is crucial to your credibility, because your track record is an excellent predictor of your future performance. If, for example, you say you’ll have a project done by the 18th and you’ve never missed a deadline, chances are when you are in a meeting and state the project will be done on the 18th people will believe you.

Interpersonal Skills

Although it could be argued that a person can have credibility without having interpersonal skills, you won’t survive organizational life very long if you can’t relate to and successfully interact with the other “kids in the sandbox.” Being able to communicate with co-workers and clients is often the Achilles heel of otherwise high-performing employees. You must speak, act and look the part.

The infamous “Soup Nazi” character on Seinfeld demonstrated terrific technical competency and a track record in making soup, but he wasn’t necessarily a person you’d like to work with all day. As matter of fact, that’s why other characters on the show eventually conspired against him.

For you to have the entire credibility package you must possess all three competencies: technical abilities, a great track record and effective interpersonal skills.

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Your Favorite Website: IAmRight.com

One of my favorite sports pundits often say, “We all visit the same website: IAmRight.com.” 

By that, he means we seek facts, stats and opinions that prove our hypothesis or our preconceptions. The person we hired is doing a fantastic job, the program we launched is performing exactly as intended or the product our team created is adding what we thought it would to our market share.

You might recognize this phenomenon as confirmation bias. It’s real. And it’s a problem.

Confirmation bias can lead to poor decision-making because it provides people with all the reasons to support their own claims and aims, with nothing to refute. If you’re attempting to ethically win the heart and mind of your target, you must do your due diligence and look at all relevant data sets to make sure that what you’re proposing is the right thing to do. Once you’re convinced that your proposal is the right thing for your target, for you and for the situation at hand, acknowledge the bias.

How to Leverage Confirmation Bias

Let’s say you’re proposing that your company partner with a specific new supplier. Leveraging confirmation bias in persuasion can sound like this: “I found one I think would be a great fit. So I looked for reasons why we should partner with this company. I looked at locale, capacity and all the things that company does well. And that’s exactly what I found — reasons why we should partner.”

But don’t stop there: “I’d be fooling myself if we didn’t do our due diligence, and I want to be sure I’m not falling prey to this thing called confirmation bias — by only seeing what I want to see. I suggest we have a few others, people who aren’t as close to this decision as I am, take a hard look at this potential partner and help determine if it would be a good fit.”

Taking this deliberate approach can dramatically improve the chances of your recommendation being accepted. It also shows you’ve thought deeply about this decision, you’ve done the necessary background work and you’re offering up your analysis for peer review.

Organizationally, you’ll be seen as intelligent, honest and a person of integrity.

Why?

Because you are.

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Show Off Your Expertise and Hear ‘Yes’ More Often

Do you know that where you make your request is just as important as how you make that request?

For proof, I refer you to a study by Robert Cialdini — one of my favorite psychologists and the man who developed the six principles of persuasion. Cialdini evaluated the effectiveness of medical professionals by comparing patient compliance with a set of recommendations issued by both physicians and physical therapists. He discovered that patients were complying 100 percent of the time with directives from physicians but only about 35 percent of the time with ones originating from the physical therapists.

Intrigued, Cialdini considered the environment in which these directives were given. Physicians often dressed in a white lab coat and shared their insight from an environment in which state licensing credentials, medical school diplomas and other indications of their expertise were highly visible.

When Cialdini examined the environment in which physical therapists often dispensed their recommendations, he took note of the preponderance of crazy motivational posters — like those ones with kittens that encourage you to “hang in there.” Now, these professionals had impressive credentials, too. But they weren’t displaying them to their patients.

Once Cialdini recommended replacing the cat posters with wall hangings similar to those of the physicians involved in his study, patient compliance among the physical therapists increased significantly.

What does this have to do with your persuasion efforts? It’s simple: Display your own expertise in your office.

If you have credentials, show them. If you’ve got certificates, post them. If you’ve got diplomas, get them out for the world to see.

I bet you’ll start hearing “yes” more often.

The Persuasive Art of Requesting Testimonials

Often, the most important tools in your toolbox are customers’ and clients’ opinions of you. In a word: testimonials.

In the science of persuasion, this is often referred to as social proof. We follow the lead of similar others. How do most people choose with whom they do business? They ask their friends or professional peers for suggestions.

But don’t wait for others to share the good work your company does. Rather, focus on cultivating your own impressive library of testimonials. Here’s what you need to know.

There are moments of power in social exchanges. And, like Robert Cialdini taught me, if you know how to operate in those moments, you are at a significant advantage. When a client or customer says “thank you” to you, how do you typically respond? You probably say something like: “Happy to help!” If that’s the case, you’ve just fumbled a huge persuasive moment.

In that moment of gratitude, you should … CAPTURE A TESTIMONIAL!

When someone thanks you for something specific — be it a service, a product, a solution or for exceeding expectations — say this: “Terrific! I’m so glad I could help. Hey, would you be willing to help us help others? Would you type out what you just told me in a brief email so we can spread the good news of what we’re doing here?”

Now you have dramatically increased the likelihood of obtaining a testimonial.

Three More Ways to Capture Testimonials

Other options exist besides asking the customer or client to email you a testimonial. Consider posing these questions:

  • Could we take a moment now for me to write your comments down?
  • Would you like me to write something up later and send it to you for your approval?
  • Would you be able to text your comments to me by the end of business today?

If you practice this approach every time a client or customer says “thank you” to you — and I mean every time, for any reason, no matter how small you consider the accomplishment — you will have an almost never-ending supply of powerful testimonials.

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How to Escape the ‘Either/Or’ Dilemma

“Either/or.”

That’s a turn of phrase passed down from generation to generation of people trying — unsuccessfully — to persuade others. And it brings to mind such negative stereotypes as white shoes and plaid pants. But if you look at the phrase intelligently — and apply the psychology of persuasion — it can be transformed into a powerful tool.

Consider this: “Well, Corey, I’ve got time to see you either this afternoon at 2:00 or tomorrow morning at 10:00. Which of those times works for you?”

The thinking here is that you have cleverly crafted your language in such a way that your would-be client will have to pick one of those times, and voilà — you have advanced in the persuasion progression. The problem? That isn’t really what happens.

In fact, a statement like the one above actually makes some potential clients want to resist. Their first instinct is to say, “No.”

Why? Some psychologists call this reactance. They resent the fact that you are forcing their hand, and they want to resist.

Sure, they still may pick one of your options. But they will resent you for it.

So how can you change this approach?

Easy: “Corey, I’ve got time to see you either this afternoon at 2:00 or tomorrow morning at 10:00. Do either of those times work for you?”

I changed one key word. I replaced “which” with “do either,” and it completely altered the complexion of the ask. It’s assertive, not aggressive. It’s subtle and sophisticated, and it in no way creates pushback.

What if neither of those times are convenient for the customer? Simply find another time on which you both can agree.

Your use of language is one of the keys to persuasion success. The words you use and the phrases you choose have a huge bearing on what a client thinks, says and does.

Get smarter, and become more persuasive.

Why ‘Yes Success’ Is So Hard for Some People

Many professionals take (at best) a mindless approach to persuasion. What I mean is that, either consciously or subconsciously, they simply assume that just because they’ve heard people say “yes” to them — and they’ve given the same response to others — they understand the complexities of attaining agreement.

That supposition couldn’t be further from the truth. The act of persuasion remains a significant obstacle for a lot of people, and they might not even realize it.

Like failing to look in your blind spot to eye a fast-approaching semi-trailer truck behind you on a narrow two-lane highway, ignoring this obstacle can lead to disastrous results.

On the other had, some people absolutely abhor persuasion. They want nothing to do with it, think it smacks of “sales,” and conjures images of white shoes, plaid jackets and glad-handing used-car salesmen.

But successful people — professionals at the top of their game — understand that it is not only okay for them to use persuasion; it is incumbent upon them to do so. 

Having someone say “yes” to your ideas, offers and suggestions ranks among the greatest achievements in the business world. It represents validation, respect and acceptance among your peers and others. In author Daniel Pink’s survey of U.S. workers, “What Do You Do at Work?,” for his book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, he discovered that full-time, non-sales workers spent 24 out of every 60 minutes involved in persuasion efforts. To say effective persuasion is merely important is to engage in extreme understatement.

Achieving ‘Yes Success’

Persuasion requires intellectual lifting. Understanding your target, knowing how to increase the value of your offering (or, conversely, decrease the resistance of your target), choosing the right words, and determining the timing of your persuasive efforts all are prerequisites of effective persuasion

The fact that you are reading this right now means you’re willing to take steps to break out of the persuasion paradox.

Here’s something to ponder this week: If you could flip a switch and receive guaranteed “yes success,” who do you want to say yes to what?

Photo by Drahomír Posteby-Mach on Unsplash.