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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Because you are.
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.
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