Persuasion: Three Keys to Effective Acknowledgement Statements

When faced with a difficult persuasion situation, acknowledging the other person’s viewpoint is critical. Why? Because doing so psychologically prepares your target to receive new information from you.

The best acknowledgement statements have the following three elements:

1. Ingratiation

Have you ever ordered in a restaurant and heard the waiter respond with, “Excellent choice!” as he nods and smiles at you? Of course, you have. And you know he’s saying the same thing to others. But instead of being offended that he’s giving you the “routine,” there is something in the deep, dark recesses of your mind that says, “It is a good choice, isn’t it?”

Not only do you feel better about your order, but you feel better about your waiter for framing it as such a good order. Humans find compliments irresistible, and so will your targets when you start your acknowledgement statement with comments like these:

• Great question.

• Good point.

• Excellent insight.

Your comment should be authentic, honest and polite. No need to be effusive here; simpler is better.

2. Movement

The next component of a great acknowledgement statement is movement. Like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle gracefully slicing through an “S” curve on a winding mountain road, a great acknowledgement statement subtly moves your target to a more amenable position by thought-process modeling.

For example, if the person you’re speaking with says, “Your idea is way too expensive,” consider responding with this: “Great point. And I know exactly how you feel, because at one time I felt it was expensive, too. But I found out some things that changed my mind, and they might change yours.”

When you tell the other person you know how they feel, you’ve put yourself in their position. The word “felt” is past tense, so now you’ve communicated that you’ve had a change of heart. And then, like the smooth shifting of a six-speed constant-mesh transmission, the word “found” effortlessly moves you to your points of justification.

You can certainly use other phrasing; just make sure you have these “movement” components in your statement.

3. The Power of Three

Finally, tell your listener that you have three reasons why you feel the way you do. People love to hear things in threes: Two seems too few, four seems too many. Plus, when you say to someone you have three reasons, they’ll listen more closely, because people also love lists.

By responding in this way, you’ll instantly and dramatically increase your credibility. Why? Because in a nanosecond, your target is going to think, “Now here’s someone who knows what they’re talking about! They even have three reasons!”

Putting It All Together

Here’s how the conversation referenced above will look as it plays out:

Target: “Your idea is way too expensive!”

You: ”Great point. I know exactly how you feel, because at one time I felt it was expensive, too. But I found out some things that changed my mind, and they might change yours. There are three compelling reasons why this solution makes sense.”

Then list your reasons.

That is the power of a great acknowledgement statement.

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5 Things You Don’t Know About Women … And Should

I recently wrote a post about the science behind the differences between men and women when it comes to decision-making and persuasion, focusing on the male perspective.

Now, I’ll continue that exploration of gender differences and how you can apply them to hear yes more often by focusing on the female perspective.

Consider these:

1. Women make terrific personal evangelists.

Women focus on details, researchers say, and are more likely than men to talk to their colleagues about their experiences with you.

Bottom line: If you want personal evangelists — people willing to sing your praises — identify women with whom you’ve exceeded their expectations.

2. Men decide; women ruminate.

Scientists Colin Camerer and Read Montague imaged the brains of men and women to determine the neural roots of fidelity and betrayal. After making a decision, the male brain turned off. Female brains, however, continued to display activity in parts that regulate worry and error-detection.

Bottom line: When she says, “I’ll have to think about it,” that doesn’t mean “no.” It usually means she actually does need to think about it.

3. Perfectionism is a confidence killer.

“Women feel confident only when they are perfect,” Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote for The Atlantic in 2014. “Study after study confirms that [this] is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified.”

Bottom line: No one needs to be at 100 percent all the time. In fact, few are. Leverage that reality in your persuasion efforts.

4. Gender behavior is based on brain structure and body chemistry.

In 2006, neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine released The Female Brain, a book that generated major debate by claiming that women’s brains “are so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality. They can shape a woman’s values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what’s important.” Brizendine then released The Male Brain a few years later, in which she states that “a man will use his analytical brain structures, not his emotional ones, to find a solution.” She also notes that “the male brain thrives on competition and is obsessed with rank and hierarchy.”

Bottom Line: Differences in estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin affect moods, behaviors and decisions. Everything is situational, especially this guidance. Identify the mercurial targets from the more static and approach accordingly.

5. Women don’t ask.

While researching their book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change, economics professor and negotiation specialist Linda Babcock and co-author Sara Laschever found that only about 7 percent of female MBAs attempted to negotiate their salaries when hired, compared to 57 percent of men. Those who did negotiate increased their salary by more than 7 percent.

Bottom line: You’ll never get the promotion, the assignment, the budget or the career you want if you don’t ask. The worst thing your target can say is no.

Some women — and men — might be highly offended right now and argue against any generalizations like the ones listed above. Others may be nodding in knowing agreement. Keeping these ideas in mind will help you stay out of the muck as you seek to achieve persuasion success.

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Why the Principle of Contrast is Critical to Persuasion Success

Have you ever done that old high school science experiment where you put one hand in a bucket of cold water and one hand in a bucket of hot water, and then immediately dip both hands simultaneously into a bucket of room-temperature water? Well, the cold hand feels warm, and the hot hand feels cool. This is the principle of contrast.

When it comes to persuasion, the principle of contrast is very important. People often think what happens in the moment of the ask is the most crucial component of persuasion success. But — on the contrary (see what I did there?) — most critical to your persuasion success is what happens prior to your ask. Why?

The principle of contrast.

Let me me explain. The last time you bought a car, the salesperson might have steered you toward the $40,000 SUV before he or she started singing the praises of the $2,000 optional sat nav system. Am I right? If so, that salesperson was invoking the principle of contrast.

When you’re talking about a $40,000 purchase, your psychological perspective is such that an additional $2,000 for an add-on seems absolutely reasonable.

The same principle is at play with less-expensive purchases, too. Perhaps you’ve been at a men’s clothing store, where the salesperson will speak with you about the suit before bringing up the tie. Why? Well, because spending $150 for a tie would seem ridiculous — unless it’s paired with a $2,000 knock-’em-dead suit. Then, again, it seems absolutely reasonable.

The principle of contrast is an important one. If you want to dramatically improve the amount of times that you hear “yes,” then think about what your target is exposed to prior to your ask.

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3 Things You Don’t Know About Men … And Should

If you like to watch fireworks, just bring up the subject of gender differences at your friendly end-of-summer neighborhood cookout. That said, there is real science behind the differences between men and women when it comes to decision-making and persuasion.

Consider these findings:

• Men often overstate their abilities; women understate them

“In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality,” wrote Katty Kay and Claire Shipman for The Atlantic  in 2014. The authors of Womenomics: Work Less, Achieve More, Live Better and authorities on gender differences in business found that women working at Hewlett-Packard applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the job qualifications. On the other hand, men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.

Bottom line: Persuasion is about taking risk. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply.

• A four-letter word for men: Help

In her book, Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers, gender expert Bridget Brennan claims women love asking for and receiving help. For men, “help” is a four-letter word. This gender preference paired with the rule of reciprocity will do wonders for you and your persuasion priority.

Bottom line: When persuading women, offer assistance in some form. If you’re persuading men, try saying something like this: “I found a report that talks about what you were researching. I’ll leave it here.”

• Men buy, women shop

Shopping behavior mirrors gender differences throughout many aspects of life. Often, women consider shopping an interpersonal activity, according to Wharton professor emeritus of marketing Stephen J. Hoch. Many men, on the other hand, treat it as something that must be done.

Bottom line: Pair this idea with personality behaviors to give you strong indications of how fast or slow you should move with your request.

Granted these are generalizations. But they are generalizations for a reason. Which means they’re generally accurate.

Keep these ideas in mind as you seek agreement.

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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?


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.

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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:

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

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.


Because you are.

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