Zip Your Backpack (And Other Pieces of Persuasion Advice)

Do you remember buying your first home? This time of year, my mind often drifts back to our first autumn of home ownership — oh, so many years ago.

After years of carefree condo living, my wife, Amy, and I found ourselves overwhelmed with the chores a house requires. I do not live to putter, paint, fix things or — heaven forfend — cut our grass in crazy patterns. In my mind, taking out the recycling bin should qualify me for a show on HGTV.

Driving home one glorious afternoon that first fall in our new home — dreading the prospect of raking those ever-deepening, never-ending, football-interrupting, infernal leaves — I found my salvation. A neighbor was using a Ghostbusters-like leaf vacuum to make short work of his leaves.

Genius!

One Home Depot visit later, I was all fired up (literally and figuratively). I had my backpack strapped on, and I was ready to attack our leaves. “Man, this thing works great.” I said to myself as my new contraption sucked up the piles of leaves in front of me. “Maybe I am a chore guy, after all!”

As I consumed pile after pile of leaves, I began to wonder: “Man,” I said to myself, “this backpack has incredible capacity.” Just then, I looked over my shoulder and saw a plume of mulched leaves shooting out behind me like the fountains at the Bellagio.

Here’s the lesson I learned that day: Zip your backpack.

So many people just go through the motions — letting crucial information, opportunities and clues to their persuasion success pass through their consciousness like leaves through my leaf vacuum. Here are some tips for tuning in to others and helping you become more persuasive:

1. Ask short, two-word questions. 

End on an up inflection, and then punctuate with a pregnant pause. 

  • “Good meeting?” 
  • “Tough quarter?” 
  • “Big day?”
  • “Exciting project?”
  • “New client?” 

And then listen, making note of the response. Even a casual “Fun weekend?” will result in information about the other person’s current state, or personal and professional agendas.

2. Note if someone is wearing a Fitbit or some other biofeedback device.

That means he or she is likely into health and is familiar with metrics. (“Work out?”)

3. Pay attention to what people drive, wear and put on the walls of their office. 

If they’re driving a Jeep with a roof rack, they might be an outdoors person. Wearing Birkenstocks? Your prospect is no doubt interested in personal care and comfort. Is the office adorned with family photos, pictures taken with celebrities or plated with degrees and certifications? Those items were selected for a purpose. Remember: Small details can signal big tells.

4. Listen to what they argue for stridently in meetings.

Consumer data? More reasonable project deadlines? Are there recurrent themes in your conversations with them? Perhaps long weeks? Capacity constraints? The dearth of qualified job applicants?

These are the items on their agenda (which is not a negative; everyone has a personal and professional agenda). Your objective should be to help link your agenda with theirs.

5. Remember: It’s not about you.

Getting what you want is about helping others get what they want. To do that, you must be tuned in and reduce your own obliviousness.

Like me and my unzipped backpack, far too many of us let these crucial pieces of data go in — and then immediately out of — our consciousness. When you are able to capture them, and use them with purpose, you’ll ultimately be able to get what you want.

It starts with zipping your backpack and tuning in to the other person.

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?

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash.

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.

Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash.

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.

Photo by Tatiana from Pexels.

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.

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash.

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.

Persuasion vs. Influence: What’s the Difference?

LinkedIn analyzed thousands of job postings and listed “persuasion” as one of the top five in-demand skills for 2019.

But to the uninitiated, that term “persuasion” has negative connotations.

After all, when someone says, “You’re not going to persuade me!” it’s usually spoken in defiance. Or a well-intentioned person might proclaim, “I would never try to persuade someone.”

But here’s the thing: Persuasion is not coercive, conniving or devious. Drop that inaccurate psychological baggage right now. No one can be persuaded to do something they don’t want to do. Somebody may have second thoughts or experience buyer’s remorse, but that’s another subject entirely.

As regular visitors to this website may recall, I define persuasion as ethically winning the heart and mind of your target.

• “Ethically” means simply doing something honestly and without trickery or deceit.

• “Winning” means gaining agreement with your suggestion, idea or position.

• “Heart” refers to gaining emotional buy-in.

• “Mind” refers to logical buy-in.

• “Target” represents the specific person you are attempting to persuade.

A term often used in conjunction with persuasion is “influence.” Influence is the capacity to become a compelling force that produces effects on the opinions, actions and behavior of others.

Occasionally, I use the term “influence” as an effect that “nudges” a target toward thinking positively about my request. But I’d like for you to primarily think of influence as your professional and personal credibility, your organizational and political capital, your corporate “sway.”

Remember: Persuasion is an action; influence is a state or condition. Use both wisely, and you’re bound to achieve new levels of success.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash.

Do You Wear a Halo or Horns?

What if the first impression you leave is far from angelic? If positivity is the halo effect, then the opposite impression must be the “horns effect.” Something about you is off-putting to someone else. And much like the halo effect, the horns effect can color your interactions with others.

Here is a quick way to overcome less-than-saintly impressions.

Be More like Ben Franklin

Known for many things, including astute observations of human behavior and practicing 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 but didn’t want to appear obsequious or servile in his approach.

So what did Ben 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 the two men enjoyed a life-long positive relationship from that day on.

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.”

Creating Your Halo

The clear takeaway here is to do everything you can to create a positive entry point with your persuasion target.

In the earliest stages of a professional relationship, you should dress well, behave in a friendly and approachable style, and be well-read, well-traveled and conversational. You must articulate your value and add important contributions to discussions. Make a favorable impression early, and you’ll dramatically improve the likelihood of hearing “yes” later.

What if you’re meeting for the first time an important target with whom you want to cultivate a positive and persuasive relationship? The savvy professional puts thought into not only how to make a positive impression, but also how to shape conversations. Consider the context of the meeting: Will it be a formalized business setting in a boardroom? Or will it be a more casual one-on-one exchange in an office? Conduct some research and explore similarities, interests and unusual aspects of the other person’s background. Be prepared to speak intelligently about the issue at hand, ask smart questions, and add a thought-provoking perspective. But don’t overdo it and feel the need to become an expert on every potential topic to be discussed.

The halo effect invokes the image of concentric circles on a body of water. As long as you can make one favorable impression with someone early on, you’ll build positivity in other areas of your business relationship.