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.