Persuasion Power: Creating Emotional Links

There are quantitative and qualitative aspects to any persuasive argument, and you can’t afford to omit either dynamic.

In previous posts, I wrote about the importance of building your business case. It all begins with such quantitative actions as doing due diligence, then measuring return on investment and knowing how much you need to sell.

Mastering that synthesis of both quantitative and qualitative reasoning will place you far ahead of the other persuaders at the table and down the block.

In this post, I’ll focus on the importance of qualitative reasoning. As a result of your persuasive efforts, will your  organization establish higher morale, for example? Or will communication be enhanced and problems more easily solved? Will silos disappear or at least be altered? And might the organization’s image or brand also be enhanced?

Get In Touch With Emotions

Qualitative reasoning is much harder to measure and report than quantitative reasoning, but it’s worth the effort. With a bit of cognitive effort, practically any element of qualitative reasoning can be constructed to present meaningful numeric data. Two of the most common types of such data are customer and employee satisfaction indices.

Every organization — public and private, large and small, product or service — seeks the following if it is of sound business mental health:

  • Sustained high morale
  • Efficient and effective teamwork
  • Rapid and accurate problem-solving
  • Positive repute and community “citizenship”
  • Decreased distraction and disruption
  • Accurate and unbiased communication

These “emotional” factors (sometimes referred to as “soft factors”) are usually the most important when it comes to presenting your case and persuading your target. Because, as you already know, logic makes you think and emotion makes you act. All the new plant cost calculations in the world are useless unless current customers are providing the repeat business and referral business to drive the expansion.

Thus, your emotional appeals should deliberately and fastidiously involve soft factors, without exception. (Steve Jobs adamantly mandated that Apple’s engineers and software experts accommodate matters of style and design. I’ve seen million-dollar construction vehicles, capable of traveling at speeds up to 1.5 miles per hour, with rounded and streamlined sides! Why? Aesthetic appeal, of course!)

Determine which emotional factors best appeal to the other person. Don’t attempt to please yourself or choose to fulfill yourself and your needs, quantitatively and qualitatively. Rather, ensure that you address the other person’s emotional needs and push the appropriate visceral hot buttons.

This is not manipulative; it is the essence of sales and persuasion.

The Role Emotions Play in Persuasion Success

More than 400 words exist in the English language to describe “emotion.” In fact, neurologists have even identified distinctions between emotions (the automatic brain response) and feelings (the subjective way we interpret those emotions).

Depending on how thinly you’d like to slice the topic, you could literally list dozens of human emotions — from acceptance, affection and aggression to pity, pleasure and pride to shame, suffering and sympathy. And of course, there are degrees of emotions that measure the intensity level of any particular emotion.

To simplify things, let’s consider that there are three categories of emotions: positive (hope, love, satisfaction), neutral (acceptance, detached, unenthusiastic) and negative (anxiety, frustration, loneliness).

Now it’s time to get strategic and purposeful about how you use emotions in the act of persuading. What emotions could you create? What emotions should you create, so that you can do the right thing for all involved?

Here are my seven emotional objectives to consider when building your case to persuade — or dissuade.

  1. Provoke, by causing a reaction, especially an angry one.
  2. Inspire, by giving people a particular feeling, often positive.
  3. Invoke, by enabling someone to see a particular image in his or her mind.
  4. Awaken, to make someone experience a new feeling or emotion.
  5. Arouse, to create an emotion, especially one that excites.
  6. Touch, to create a sad or sympathetic emotion.
  7. Ignite, to jump-start a particular feeling.

Building one or more of these ideas into your business case will materially improve your chances of yes success.

Persuasion Success: Navigating the Gender Gap

If you like to watch fireworks, just bring up the subject of gender differences at your next friendly neighborhood cookout. Chances are the grill won’t be the only thing on fire.

The moment you take an absolutist stand on gender differences, you find yourself in a proverbial gender La Brea Tar Pit. Every individual — man or woman — has unique education backgrounds, experiences and frames of reference. (Please keep that in mind before you send me irate emails.) 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 in a lengthy article for The Atlantic magazine’s website in 2014. The authors of Womenomics 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.

Bottom line: When persuading women, offer assistance in some form. This gender preference will do wonders for you and your persuasion priority. If you’re persuading men, try something like this: “I did find 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. Women consider shopping an interpersonal activity, according to Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch. Men treat is 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.

Perfectionism is a confidence killer.

“Women feel confident only when they are perfect,” Kay and Shipman wrote for The Atlantic. “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.

Gender behavior is based on brain structure and body chemistry.

In 2007, 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 in 2010, 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.

Gender behavior changes with age.

As men and women age, testosterone and estrogen levels decrease, respectively. This results in women becoming more assertive and men more accommodating.

Bottom line: Take into consideration the age of your target.

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.

Women make great 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.

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.

Here are more gender differences to keep in mind:

  • Women are better at negotiating for a group.
  • Men are better at negotiating for themselves.
  • Women tend to avoid conflict situations.
  • Men tend to avoid emotional scenes.
  • Women respond more to stories than facts.
  • Women have better peripheral vision and will notice that family photo on your desk.

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 agreement. Regardless, keeping these ideas in mind will help you stay out of the muck as you seek to achieve your persuasion priority.

Stop Twisting Reality into Negative Knots

“Cognitive distortions” is a fancy way of describing the way we twist reality in our own minds. Below are five examples of cognitive distortions that prove problematic for people seeking to improve their persuasion skills:

1. You take one event or incident and apply it globally to any given situation. For example, you make one mistake in a presentation and now tell yourself that you’re a terrible public speaker.

2. You listen to your pathological critic. That critic might be using absolute terminology such as “always,” “every” and “everybody” and “never,” “none” and “nobody.” It’s easy to fall prey to consistent thoughts containing words like those.

3. Your mind is trained to only see and hear certain things. And those things are typically negative: a critique, a look of displeasure, an injustice.

4. You focus too much on your external critics. Madonna once stated that there was a period in her career when all she could perceive was the negative. She’d perform a killer show, with the crowd on its feet all night, but Madonna’s eyes would always find the handful of people who looked like they weren’t having the time of their lives. And that’s, unfortunately, where her focus would lie.

5. You dwell on complaints. For example, although the majority of respondents to a user survey might appear to have gone out of their way to be complimentary about your company’s products, services and customer relations, the few complaints are the ones you can’t stop thinking about.

Sure, it makes sound business sense to be aware of the negatives and evaluate how you can do better. But concentrating the majority of your energy on them without celebrating your accomplishments can seriously derail the self-esteem train.

So this week, focus on the positive and see if you a notice a shift in your persuasive effectiveness.

What Does Negative Self-Talk Sound Like?

Negative self-talk can be disastrous for your persuasion attempts. Why? I’ll let the author of one of my favorite books explain:

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild. But whether cultivated or neglected, it must and will, bring forth. … Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping free of weeds … so may a man tend to the garden of his mind.”

Those words from philosopher James Allen in his 1902 book, As a Man Thinkethstill ring true more than 115 years later.

It’s easy enough to recognize behaviors that suggest self-doubt in persuasion situations; those thoughts lean heavily toward the negative and dwell on the conviction that your target will say “no.” Here are eight common thoughts that might run through your head:

  1. I will have made a fool of myself in front of everyone.
    In reality: Most people are so self-absorbed that they aren’t really paying any attention to you and your career.
  2. Everyone will know I failed.
    In reality: Some people might think, He sure is mixing things up with this proposal! I like it!
  3. It will be confirmation that I’m not competent.
    In reality: It will be confirmation that — at that moment, on that ask, in that instance — something wasn’t quite right with the way things were.
  4. My colleagues will laugh at me.
    In reality: Your colleagues may outwardly show signs of schadenfreude, but their internal dialogue is likely saying, I wish I would take more chances like her.
  5. I shouldn’t try to “rise above my station.”
    In reality: Why not “rise about your station”? The entire foundation of American society is built on a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story.
  6. My nemesis will get the satisfaction knowing that I failed.
    In reality: Years from now, do you want to look back at your career and say, I really could have done big things, but I was worried about that unethical weasel in marketing?
  7. This will prove my boss was right when he said I shouldn’t try.
    In reality: Your boss is insecure and probably couldn’t function without you.
  8. Who am I to make this request?
    In reality: You are a magnificently created and sentient human being designed to reach your potential. The Greeks called it arête: living to one’s fullest potential.

Next time, we’ll analyze self-doubt. Until then, think positive thoughts.


Five Emergency Actions to Take When Persuasion Goes Sideways

Fasten your seatbelt: Regardless of your attempts to reduce assent turbulence, sometimes you’ll get the feeling that your persuasion situation is inexorably heading the wrong way. Pilots rate flight turbulence from Level 1 (light, slight erratic changes that keep you from enjoying your glass of wine) to Level 4 (extreme, violent motions that’ll convince you to never fly again).

Your own turbulence on the way toward persuasion success will have degrees of intensity, as well.

Does someone simply not understand a facet of your request? That’s a Level 1 turbulence situation than can easily be overcome. Or has the CEO received misinformation and, in mafia-speak, put a contract out on your idea — which is definitely Level 4 turbulence?

Here’s what to do when you hit a rough patch of persuasion-related turbulence:

1. Be calm.

It doesn’t help if you, the pilot, are freaked out. Remind yourself that — because this is your priority — you may be amplifying facets of the situation in your mind. Take a deep breath. More than likely, your physical safety isn’t in jeopardy, and the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance.

2. Switch on the seatbelt sign.

Let other passengers know there could be a few bumps. If you’re working on a new product training initiative, you might have any number of people aware of your effort and invested in its success. Let them know there figuratively could be some shifting of items in the overhead compartments. Help keep your team calm, too.

3. Use your radar.

You need to locate and understand turbulence. Is it thermal, mechanical, shear or aerodynamic? This is where your networks come into play. You need to have contacts in Sales, Finance, Legal and other departments — trusted colleagues who understand the importance of sharing information.

4. Subtly test your controls.

Ask for opinions, not comments, and certainly not commitments: “Given what you currently know, what are you thinking right now?” Ask about potential storms, and keep an eye out for someone who can help play the role of problem solver, intermediary or facilitator.

5. Level the aircraft.

Always be able to, at any time during the persuasion process, clearly explain what you are trying to initiate, how much it will realistically cost, and what the return will be and how you will quantify it: “We’ve covered a lot of territory here. Just so we’re clear: Today, we’re talking about a purchase order for $225,000 to help our call center talent increase customer satisfaction by a full point in next quarter’s satisfaction index report.”

Next time: Five more persuasion actions you might need to take to overcome turbulence.

Defuse Deceit With These Three Easy Strategies

Give others the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise: That’s the business world’s version of “innocent until proven guilty.”

And that’s why you should make sure your suspicions about others are not just the result of you being envious. Don’t be paranoid, either. People who don’t always agree with your pitch early on aren’t necessarily opposed to it; they just may not yet appreciate what you’re bringing to the table.

Occasionally, some people do only think of themselves and may attempt to thwart your persuasion efforts for self-aggrandizing reasons. They take credit for what’s not theirs, manipulate others and seem concerned only with personal advancement. They might act passive-aggressively by seemingly taking your side but then constantly undermine you through faint praise and nuanced critiques.

When that type of deceit happens, control your emotions. Deceitful people can offend your sense of judgment to such a degree that you’re motivated to go head-to-head with them on an issue in a public setting. Don’t. That’s what they want you to do. A public — or at least an office — feud, whether you win or lose, will delay and often derail your persuasion plans. Most of them meander on interminably, with no resolution and with others rapidly losing interest or at least feeling uncomfortable in group settings.

Additionally, your opponent is likely skilled in the art of deception and will turn public conversations around as if to question your intentions.

Here are three strategies to counteract a deceitful target:

1. Contain the deceit.

Keep other options in your pocket to accomplish tasks without your opponent’s input. Isolating opposition or foot-dragging to minor issues, while gaining momentum on the major elements of your persuasion effort, will allow you to make necessary headway — much like the army that maneuvers around a single island of resistance on the way toward its ultimate goal.

2. Shine a spotlight.

In meetings with others, ask your opponent to discuss his or her concerns. While it’s easy to be deceitful, presenting the facts and figures to defend the deception is much more difficult. This is why group meetings play an important role in honest persuasion exploration.

3. Pay attention to meeting agendas.

The deceitful will place their agenda items at the end of meetings, because they know that’s when the rubber stamp comes out and people are eager to move on. So make sure that those items are higher on the agenda; you will then control the conversation.


Why Test Drives Matter — Regardless of Your Industry

Regardless of whether your offering is a product or a service — and whether you sell B2C or B2B — you should encourage your prospective buyer to take your solution for a test drive.

Now, if you’re selling a tangible item like a motorcycle, a car, a computer or a guitar, that’s a pretty basic proposition: Let your prospect give the product a try, and then answer any questions or amplify any interests.

This gets a little trickier with an intangible, but it can still be done using language to achieve a similar “experience.” For example, describe to your prospect using vivid language how his or her situation will improve with your product or service.

Test drives should be an integral piece of your sales process. A test drive accomplishes three things:

1. It helps your buyer begin to “see” himself owning your offering.

2. It maximizes and amplifies such emotional states as surprise, happiness, excitement and pride.

3. It conveys the perceived value of your solution.

No matter your industry, start thinking in terms of test drives, the impact they can have and the outcome they can achieve.

How Better Chemistry Leads to More Persuasion

Chemistry. It’s a difficult term to define when referring to personal relationships. Often characterized as people having mutual attraction, rapport or an emotional bond, chemistry is a distinctly human trait — and it can significantly impact interpersonal interactions with your buyers.

You can ask about a hobby or a family member when conversing with your buyer. But how should you emotionally react to his or her response? Should you be sympathetic or empathetic? Should you be engrossed or merely interested? Should you be happy or ecstatic? Do you ask a follow-up question or move on?

Same thing with email correspondence. Does your customer reply to your emails at 2:25 a.m. because he suffers from chronic insomnia? Or does he reply consistently around 6 a.m., suggesting he’s an early riser who gets work done before helping the kids get ready for school?

How and why is this important to you?

Well, the insomniac could be prone to knee-jerk reactions as a result of sleep deprivation. So keep that in mind when persuading this individual. Buyers with small children may be less willing to take risks when considering your offers and subsequent solutions. They, instead, may seek stability and safe options.

Obviously, there’s a lot more at play in persuasion than taking note of these personality traits. But paying attention to the little details can help you be successful when negotiating the bigger ones.

Do You Speak Your Industry’s Language?

In the Harley-Davidson world, we talk a lot about the Harley-Davidson culture. Whenever I’m working with dealers or anyone involved in the H-D business, I mention the importance of perpetuating that culture, and I always receive prideful acknowledgement and agreement.

Then I ask, “What is that culture?”

Blank stares.

Eventually people start shouting out, “Freedom!” “Adventure!” “Being bold!”

Then, silence.

“Yeah, I don’t know what it is either,” I always say. “But we better figure it out.”

Of course, Harley-Davidson has figured out what the culture is and does a great job of perpetuating it. A “culture” can be considered the expression of a particular community. What people do, the way they dress and the way they speak all play a role. When I use the patois (definitely not a motorcyclist’s term) of the biker culture and teach it to others not yet engaged in that culture, it enables them to instantly feel a part of it.

Subversive Prestige

Some linguists refer to this approach as “subversive prestige,” the notion typically used to describe the fairly common phenomenon of middle-class suburban kids who adopt the language of urban street gangs. It makes them feel “cool” or “tough” or “hip” — as if it elevates them somehow.

How can you incorporate this idea of subversive prestige into your persuasion process?

Well, every industry I’ve encountered has its own jargon. And when you use that vocabulary, correctly, you communicate that you are in the know, and that you have knowledge of how that company or how that industry works.

Insurance people speak of captives, floaters, and churn. Computer professionals talk of authentication, solutions, route directories. You get the idea.

Insider’s Prestige

Rather than call this subversive prestige, I refer to it as insider’s prestige — a demonstration that you know a bit of how things work on the inside. This is one way that you can use language to accelerate your persuasion success, and hear “yes” more often.

Logic makes you think. Emotions make you act. This type of insider’s prestige language is emotional.