When you want to convince people to say “yes,” don’t just give them one or two reasons to do so. Give them three.
People love to hear things in threes. Psychologists have no idea why, but two seems like too few and four seems like too many. So three is perfect.
What this means to you is this: When you tell somebody that there are three reasons why they should take you up on your offer — or follow your suggestion — they’ll listen to you more. Why? Because people love lists. Look at the magazines as you are checking out at the grocery store. Nearly every cover will tout “three ways to do this,” “five ways to do that” and “seven ways to do something else.”
When you tell someone, “You know, there really are three reasons why we should go this way,” that person’s mind automatically shifts into “here’s a list” mode. And he or she will pay attention.
You know what else the Rule of Three does for you? It dramatically and almost instantaneously improves your credibility. When you tell someone that there are three reasons why they should take you up on your offer, that person realizes “Huh, now here is somebody who has considered this issue. He has three reasons.”
So there you have it. How do you get someone to say “yes” to you? Give them three reasons.
“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, as I realized I had crossed into The Twilight Zone. (Wait, he wouldn’t know that reference, either!)
One generation always seems 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.
I thought of this recently when Millennials decided to fight back on social media with a two-word response: “OK, Boomer.” I love the concision and ambiguity of the argument.
We are all shaped by our human tendencies and the environment in which we developed. If you want to hear yes more often across generational lines, instead of casting aspersions, try to understand where the other person is coming from. Here are some decision-making triggers which may drive members of each generation to act:
- Matures (1909-1945; think Betty White) : It’s the right thing to do.
- Boomers (1946-1964; think Jerry Seinfeld): It feels good.
- Xers (1965-1981; think Jennifer Aniston): You’ll get ahead if you do it.
- Millennials (1982-2003; think Justin Bieber): It’s just smart to do.
- Gen Z (2003-Current; think Avani Gregg. Don’t know her? She’s a TikTok Star. Don’t know TikTok? You’ve got work to do!): Will it help me be an influencer?
Nostalgia Is Key
If you want to really stir emotion in your target, nostalgia is key. Just look at any of the social media platforms out there. BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti acknowledges that a big driver of anything viral is nostalgia. And often the most powerful nostalgia triggers are those events from our developmental years when we are between 12 and 18 years old.
The people who work at one Harley-Davidson dealership I’ve visited casually ask customers during their purchase experience for the name of their favorite song in high school. When the customer takes delivery of their motorcycle, guess what song is booming through the sound system? It creates strong, positive feelings about the experience and improves customer satisfaction scores.
Here is a handy reference table to help you acquire generational expertise fast and enable you to create powerful generationally relevant references.
When Did You Graduate?
You can learn the age of your target by asking where and when he or she went to high school. (I always seem able to work that into just about any conversation.) Tuck that info away for a future generationally appropriate reference. Here are some examples:
- Class of 1970s: “Man, that idea is going to be like 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: “Keep the new product under wraps; we don’t to be part of a WikiLeaks story.”
- Class of 2010s: “This could be bigger than the ice bucket challenge!”
But at the end of the day, it’s the individual that matters. It’s not a generational cohort that is agreeing to take on a project, stay late to meet a deadline or provide that crucial piece of data. It’s a person.
Eschew generational stereotypes, find out about the person and you’ll be well positioned to hear yes. And never assume the other person’s frame of reference or limitations.
Bridging the Generational Gap
Several years ago while visiting good friends, their twin boys — who were about 10 years old at the time — asked me if I like music. “Absolutely,” I replied.
“Do you know a song called ‘Slow Ride,’ by a band called Foghat?”
“I know ‘Slow Ride’ by Foghat,” I replied suspiciously (it was my favorite song … in 1975!). “But the real question here is, how do you two know ‘Slow Ride’?”
They gave me a two-word answer: Guitar Hero.
You can learn a lot from other generations.
Quick, what’s the most important lesson you learned in college? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
No, it wasn’t the differences between a parenthetical or appositive phrase in English. And it wasn’t the law of small numbers, nor the accounting differences between a balance sheet and an income statement.
The most important lesson you learned, whether you realize it or not, is how to navigate a human system.
We do business with people, not organizations. You don’t work with Nationwide; you work Sanjay Banik at Nationwide. You don’t work with Harley-Davidson; you work with Ken St. Thomas at Harley-Davidson. You don’t work with Calgon … ok, you get it.
Often, it’s the reciprocal nature of these relationships that can dramatically increase your ability to get what you want — and help others get what they want, too. If you want to build a solid foundation for persuasion success you must understand the give and take.
Your Give-and-Take Mindset
Do you “give” a lot? Do you provide favors, information and insight to others? Or do you keep to yourself and rarely do things for others? Do you willingly accept favors, information and insight? Or do you insist on going it alone, like a solo climb up Mount Everest?
You May Be a Martyr If…
If you give a lot but accept very little in return, you’re creating a martyr-like professional condition. In the purest form, a martyr either suffers greatly or is willing to die for a cause. Sometimes, professionals give without receiving, but they don’t for long — because it’s simply not a sustainable position. One reason people find themselves playing the role of martyr is because they refuse to accept reciprocated behavior. How many times have you heard yourself saying this to a colleague trying to return a favor: “No, that’s alright; no need to repay me.” Granted, you might say that to be magnanimous. But don’t. In situations in which the other person’s perceived obligation to repay you is so strong, he actually may like you less if you don’t allow him to reciprocate. Drop the martyr act.
You May Be Modest If…
By failing to help others — and likewise failing to accept others’ help — you’re allowing no one to benefit from your presence. That greatly diminishes your contribution to others and your organization. This type of behavior may very well have provoked Oliver Wendell Holmes to write: “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!” If you don’t give or take, you’ll always be stuck in neutral.
You May Be Machiavellian If…
Niccolo Machiavelli’s portrait in world history has been painted with a black brush, largely because of the Italian politician’s views on winning, losing and manipulation. Similarly, you might be casting a shadow over yourself if you operate in a manner that others perceive as selfish. Success thrives when creating allies, not adversaries. Is someone in your organization constantly asking for favors but not even attempting to repay them? Does one employee always seem to take credit for the work of others? Does that person, or maybe another individual, promise the world but never deliver even a small corner of it? You bet. Pause now and take note of the negative feelings you’re experiencing by merely thinking about people like that and their actions. That’s because they offend your sense of justice. Make sure you’re not acting in a Machiavellian manner; otherwise, people will be thinking of you with that same outrage.
You May Be Masterful If…
When you give generously and accept repayment in kind, you both contribute greatly and benefit greatly. Best of all, people will think highly of you. The “Masterful” quadrant is where you want to spend most of your time. One of the main reasons people don’t find themselves in this quadrant nearly enough is that they fear their contributions will not be reciprocated. Don’t get caught thinking that way. Helping someone by reviewing his presentation, or obtaining a piece of information she needs, or serving as a sounding board while a colleague from another department vents all rank as valuable behaviors you can provide for others. When you do these — or implement any other positive reciprocity examples — your actions likely will be reciprocated. This is the necessary give-and-take nature of the persuasively masterful.
Do not misinterpret the give-and-take mindset as tit for tat. This is a general guiding notion, not an accounting ledger. You want to help others and accept their reciprocal actions, not track how many minutes you’ve given and then expect the same in return. Do that, and there may be other names people call you.
Understanding the ebb and flow of relationships is the lynchpin of your success.
Black Friday is this week, so if you’re in the retail business, make sure your digital camera is fully charged. You’ll want to take lots of photos that day.
You can literally put your buyer in the picture. In the Harley-Davidson world, I tell retailers to take a digital photograph of their prospective buyers when they are considering which model to purchase. This is a fantastic opportunity for customers to see themselves on the motorcycle of their dreams — without having to invest in gigantic mirrors for the sales floor.
A photo positively differentiates that salesperson and that dealership from the competition, makes the prospect feel like he’s part of a fun family and gives the salesperson a wholly legitimate reason to capture contact information and follow up.
This idea works in practically any face-to-face B2C experience.
Working at Guitar Center and you’ve got a hot prospect eyeing up a new Les Paul Custom? Shoot a photo of him with that piece of musical art in his hands with that small digital camera in your pocket.
Selling furniture? Take a photo of a customer kicking back in his recliner of choice.
Employed by an art gallery? Snap an image of the prospective buyer standing next to the piece under consideration.
Make sure you use your own (or the store’s) camera; this won’t work with the customer’s smartphone camera. The idea is for you to have possession of the photo, obtain the contact information and then follow up.
I’ve also seen the picture method used with some degree of success in B2B situations. One company, for example, was considering buying a well-known author’s business books and training materials for its employees. While the corporate buyer was having dinner with the author’s representatives, the celebrity author surprised the buyer by joining them at the table. Naturally, the author’s rep snapped photos of the buyer and the author together, and the corporate buyer wound up giving the writer his company’s business. Was that solely because of the pictures? Of course not. But they sure didn’t hurt.
Think about how you might incorporate a famous employee, cool logo or unconventional office building into photo opportunities for your customers. I can’t tell you how many Harley-Davidson enthusiasts pose next to the Motor Company’s iconic bar-and-shield logo each year at the corporate offices in Milwaukee – regardless of how much snow is on the ground.
These kinds of photographs aid the psychological phenomenon I call “ownership transference.” Whenever someone sits on a motorcycle (or slips on a jacket or sits in a chair or slings a Les Paul over his or her shoulder), that person really is taking mental ownership. And having a digital photo to look at and share with family and friends enables people to relive and reinforce those positive feelings of ownership.
If you’re in sales, putting your prospect into the picture — both figuratively and literally — is a crucial step in the persuasion process.
On a late-night flight to Phoenix, Amy and I found ourselves seated in the first-class cabin with none other than comedians Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. (Yep, I tell everyone I got high with Cheech and Chong; 37,000 feet, to be precise.)
I relished watching passengers board the plane and recognize the famous duo who starred in the 1978 stoner-film classic, Up In Smoke.
The most interesting reaction came from an octogenarian woman who, upon spying Cheech, stopped the entire boarding process in its tracks. Squinting suspiciously and waving a crooked finger at Cheech, she screeched in a wicked witch-like voice, “I know you” — dragging out the last syllable with a menacing result. We all fell quiet as she repeated her seemingly accusatory statement: “I know you.”
Cheech smiled grimly, apparently having been in this social situation before.
Then, as if struck by lightning, the woman completely changed her demeanor to something akin to a gentle yet confused grandmother and asked, “Who are you?”
The cabin exploded with laughter, along with the woman, and Cheech — to his credit — added to the hilarity by responding: “Bob Barker!”
With an “Oh, you!” wave of her hand, the woman continued down the aisle and boarding resumed.
If you want to experience yes success, you must know with whom you are working. In their classic book, Personal Styles & Effective Performance, David Merrill and Roger Reid explain that all people have a particular social style created by their behavior. 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.
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 a person’s personality: Does she express her feelings, or are they contained?
Merrill and Reid developed four social styles based on assertiveness and responsiveness: Driving Behavior, Expressive Behavior, Amiable Behavior and Analytical Behavior.
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. For example:
- Don’t small-talk a Driver. Share facts (not feelings) and use concision to get the decision.
- Make the Expressive the star. Resonate fun and high energy, and allow for digressions and stories.
- Form bonds with Amiables. Take a personal interest in them, and ask for their opinion.
- Bring out your research arsenal for Analytics. Use unqualified expert opinions, and leave no questions unanswered.
The real challenge comes when your personality style matches that of your target. You’d think this would be a match made in heaven, but it isn’t. Here’s why:
- 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.
- If you’re an Analytic attempting to persuade an Analytic, prepare for an exploration of the subatomic particles of your persuasion priority.
The real key here is to be an observer of human behavior. Much like my Cheech and Chong experience, I would have missed all that if I had my head stuck in my iPad. When you’re in meetings and interacting with others, be a student of human behavior. Have conversations, make eye contact, be interested in others. Then watch how they respond and take note of how they react.
The more you know about your persuasive targets and the more you know about yourself, the better you will be able to adapt — creating mutually beneficial relationships faster than you ever thought possible.
As my wife, Amy, and I stood at the gate waiting to board a recent flight to Dallas, a 30-something traveler pulled up alongside of us and set down a guitar case as if placing the Ark of the Covenant at my feet.
I recognized it immediately: an original circa-1950s Fender tweed guitar case.
Very rare. And drop. Dead. Gorgeous.
For me, traveling usually is a military exercise. I get in, up and on. I’m not chatting with anybody. I’m not there for the social scene. I’m getting to my destination with the least amount of human interaction as possible. But being a guitar player myself, seeing this case was irresistible.
“I have to ask,” I good-naturedly inquired. “What’s in the case?”
He grinned slyly. “A 1957 Stratocaster.”
I knew whatever was in that case was going to be cool, but not that cool.
“Wow, now that is an incredible instrument,” I said. He quickly nodded his agreement.
“You look a little young to have bought it new,” I continued. “May I ask, how long have you owned it?”
“About 45 minutes,” he gushed. “I flew in this morning. It’s pristine and never been played. A father bought it new for his son in 1957. His son was tragically killed in a car accident before he could give it to him. It’s been in a closet ever since.”
I introduced myself properly and we set about talking guitars.
As we walked down the jetway together — me following Amy, him guarding his newly acquired treasure — we continued our exchange. “I hope this isn’t rude,” I continued. “But I’m dying to know: What’s a guitar like that worth?”
“In this condition, it might be worth as much as $40,000.”
My wife Amy puts up with all kinds of crazy purchases by me. But I imagine that even my agreeable wife might pause at my suggesting the acquisition of a $40K guitar.
As we stood in line to step on the plane, I continued my investigation.
“May I ask another question, are you married?”
“Yes,” he replied cautiously to this conversational shift.
“How in tarnation did you get your wife to say yes to you buying a $40,000 guitar?”
He grinned. “I see you’ve got a Harley-Davidson briefcase.”
“Yes,” I replied, lifting it slightly in recognition, as I came to the realization that I wasn’t the only one making observations.
“My wife knows I have a lifelong dream of owning two things: a vintage guitar and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Last week I told her I was leaning toward the Harley.”
“What did she say?”
He beamed. “Get the guitar.”
Although my Harley-Davidson friends won’t be happy this prospect went the other way, this situation is incredibly instructive. Whether he was conscious of it or not, what my Stratocaster-toting acquaintance used was an approach known in the persuasion realm as rejection-then-retreat.
If you have multiple options to present to a buyer — one more expensive than the other (either in money, time or as in the above example, risk) — always offer your most expensive option first. This way, if your prospect says no, you can default in that moment to your next option, which dramatically increases the likelihood he or she will say yes to your next.
Why? Noted sociologist Robert Cialdini sometimes calls this concessional reciprocity. He says that when you decline someone’s offer and that person comes back with a smaller, less extreme offer, you want to say yes to reciprocate for the concession made to you by accepting your original no.
This certainly is not the shopworn negotiation tactic of artificially inflating your first offer. Nor is it some sort of bait-and-switch tactic. Your offers and your intentions must be true and legitimate for this to be effective. Here’s how to keep things real:
Step 1: Present your most expensive or extensive offer first and gauge your buyer’s interest (“What do you think?”). If the buyer takes you up on it, great! That’s sprinkles on the cupcake for you.
Step 2: If the buyer doesn’t bite yet, present your next option and gauge again. Now, you’ve dramatically increased the likelihood that he or she will say yes to this second option. This offer must be extended immediately; you can’t come back with it at another time, or it will seem like a new and separate offer.
The rule of thumb is this: Retreat within your offer, you win. Retreat away, you lose.
Had my guitar-buying friend made his decision about buying the motorcycle a few months ago, and later presented the idea of the guitar, those would have been considered two separate offers. But because they were being considered together (both being an equally desirable option), the less risky option — the guitar — was the one that won out with his wife.
There is almost always more than one solution to a problem. Be prepared with multiple offers to increase your odds of hearing “yes.”
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.
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.
In recent posts, I wrote about three ways to acknowledge another person’s viewpoint and three ways to respond to that viewpoint.
Those are the first two steps in what I call the “ART” of persuasive communication. “A” stands for acknowledging, “R” stands for responding and “T” stands for transitioning. In this post, I will focus on moving the conversation to the next logical step with effective transition statements.
The goal here is to obtain agreement — or commitment — on whatever issue you’re talking about, while at the same time not appearing overly aggressive. For some people, commitments are threatening, and some questions used in an attempt to obtain commitment can be interpreted as intimidating: So do want to do it? Should we go ahead with this? Would you like to sign off now?
The easiest way to overcome all of that is by asking an opinion question first, gauging your target’s demeanor and then deciding how to proceed. The fastest way to ask for an opinion is to casually say: “What do you think?”
Everyone has an opinion and most are eager to share theirs. When you ask “What do you think?” the person you’re speaking with will more than likely respond — either in the negative or in the affirmative.
This might be one response: “I never thought of the things you mentioned; I see now how this idea makes sense.” When that happens, move the conversation toward securing a commitment.
Say something like this:
• “Great! If you like, I’ll have the purchase order on your desk before the close of business today.”
• “Terrific! Would you like me to tell the marketing group to get the agency started on the campaign?”
• “Fantastic, I’ll have the travel team make the arrangements, and we’ll go visit the client next week. What day would you like to go?”
Note that each of these responses ends with a request for a commitment.
Of course, your “What do you think?” question could go the other way, too.
Your target might respond with this: “I don’t know. I’m still not convinced.” When that happens, you don’t want to ask for commitment, because you’re almost assured of hearing “no.”
In this case, you may want to keep the idea alive a bit longer. Say something like this: “I understand completely. Here’s what I’m going to recommend. Don’t say ‘yes’ and don’t say ‘no’ right away; let’s just make sure we both understand clearly what it is we’re talking about and be willing to discuss it further. Fair enough?”
When you present your case in that manner, I like your chances.
This Acknowledge, Respond and Transition model can work wonders and should be a part of every persuasive skill set.
In a recent post, I wrote about three ways to acknowledge another person’s viewpoint. Another critical step in persuasive communication is acknowledging your target’s opposition and responding in an honest, substantive and compelling manner.
Meaningful responses are at the heart of your persuasion effectiveness. Your responses should illuminate, inform and educate. So how can you create more compelling responses? Here are three ideas:
1. Use Examples
Examples present a similar case that establishes a precedent. In other words, it shows how others benefitted from — or would have benefitted from — taking the path you are suggesting. You might say to colleagues: “Kodak pioneered digital camera technology and built the first consumer-friendly digital camera, but still missed the huge market transition to digital photography. I don’t think we want look back years from now and realize that we, too, missed a huge and — in retrospect — obvious opportunity.”
The best examples pull from well known stories (like the one above), your own industry and your own company.
2. Loss Language
Another reason the Kodak example is so compelling is because it leverages “loss language.” One of the fundamental tenets of persuasion is that we are more strongly driven to action by what we stand to lose than what we stand to gain. And in the above example, loss language — “I don’t think we want look back years from now and realize that we, too, missed a huge opportunity” — is used to draw parallels between an existing situation and a blown chance.
3. Use intriguing metaphors, similes and analogies
Metaphors are a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison: “This series of meetings will be the marketing group’s Olympic Games” or “This project will be his Everest.”
A simile is a type of metaphor and is the comparison of two unlike things: “Using that marketing strategy in this situation is like trying to store tomato soup in a sealable plastic bag; you can do it, but it’s going to be messy and difficult to manage.”
Analogies are more logical and draw comparisons between things that have both similarities and differences: “Hitting second gear on a Harley-Davidson FXDR 114 motorcycle is like launching an F-18 Super Hornet off the USS Nimitz.
Metaphors and similes rely more on imagery and may elicit more emotion. Analogies are a bit more logical. Don’t get hung up trying to categorize your language; simply try to say things in a distinct and memorable manner that will help capture your target’s attention and help them better understand what you are saying.
Remember, a little goes a long way. Cinnamon is great, but too much spoils the dish.
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