Monday, August 31, 2015

Doubt and Belief

“When you say it, they doubt it.
When they say it, they believe it.”
Tom Hopkins, author and sales trainer

I recall that quote from How to Master the Art of Selling and Tom’s Sales Boot Camp. Telling someone what you think is right for them is never as effective as helping them see it and verbalize it for themselves. Dale Carnegie understood this truth as well when he encouraged readers to, “Let the other person think the idea is theirs.”

The psychology behind this truth has to do with the principle of consistency. This principle of influence highlights the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure, as well as external social pressure, to be consistent in what they say and do. When our words and deeds align we feel better about ourselves than we do when they don’t align.

For example, have you ever given your word to someone that you’d be somewhere or do something for him or her but had to back out? Sure you have. We all have because sometimes unforeseen things come up. The real question is this – how did you feel when you had to tell them you couldn’t do what you promised? When I ask audiences that question the words they use to describe how they felt are heavy, emotional and negative. Words like guilty, horrible, terrible, and bad are frequently used.

Nobody wants to feel guilty, horrible, terrible, or bad so many times we find ourselves following through on our word…even when we didn’t want to do what was promised!

When someone voices an opinion, thought or idea they own it much more than if they’re told the same opinion, thought or idea. After all, once you’ve said it publicly or put it in writing you don’t want to go back on your word. That’s why people will look much harder for reasons that support or defend their position.

When it comes to persuading people you will be far more successful if you get them to say it – out loud or in their head – than if you just tell them. Steve Jobs was a master at this. When he introduced the iPod for the first time he slipped it out of his pocket and say, “A thousand songs in your pocket.” People got that and it was far more effective than saying, “This baby holds five gigabytes of information.” But Jobs went on to seal the deal when he said, “Isn’t that amazing?”

Important – Note that Jobs didn’t tell them (“This is amazing!”) it was amazing he asked them by using a question (“Isn’t that amazing?”). People feel compelled to answer questions, even if only in their head. When we tell them things they passively receive the information. There’s a BIG difference; one that master persuaders get. After Jobs asked that question and people answer affirmatively in their heads as they nodded they were convincing themselves they wanted one!

The way to get someone to believe is to have them say it out loud or to themselves. Most of the time this occurs through good questioning techniques.

In my line of work I deal with insurance agents. They’re experts compared to the buying public when it comes to insurance. They can share that expertise but sometimes it will come across as someone trying to sell a consumer more insurance than they need. But, if they ask the right questions they can get the consumer to see their need.

Here’s an example. In 2011 the town of Joplin, Missouri, was devastated by a tornado. Unfortunately for about two-thirds of the people affected, their homes were underinsured. Imagine having just lost your home and all your possessions then hearing the news that the insurance settlement will not allow you to rebuild it as it was because you didn’t carry enough insurance!

The challenge for an insurance agent is this – if they recommend more insurance John Q. Public probably thinks he needs, the agent is just trying to sell them more insurance to earn more commission dollars. The smart agent will ask questions so the homeowner sees their need.

Agent – Tom, I want to ask you a question. Is it your expectation that the insurance company will rebuild your home exactly as it is today if it were completely destroyed?
Tom – Of course, that’s why we carry insurance.
Agent – That’s what I expected, Tom. You’re like every other person we insure but I just wanted to make 100% sure that was your intention.

Now, if the agent realizes the home is currently underinsured he can approach the situation as follows.

Agent – Tom, last time we met I asked if it was your expectation that your insurance would fully rebuild your home after a disaster and you said yes. I have some bad news. With your current policy that won’t happen. I’ve estimated the cost with three different insurance companies and all of them come in around $250,000. Right now your policy covers your home for $200,000. So the big question is this – If your home is destroyed can you come up with the $50,000 needed to finish the rebuilding process?
Tom – No and that’s not what I’m going to do.
Agent – You’re like every other person I’ve ever dealt with so I ran up quotes with those three companies at $250,000.

Does the agent want to sell more insurance? Yes, but it’s to fully protect the customer. By asking the right questions Tom saw his need and by his own words could embrace the change. If an agent goes about it wrong he or she is seen as someone just looking to make more commission and that could be disastrous for someone who ends up underinsured.

Here’s your take away – Stop telling and start asking.

Asking questions engages the mind, keeps people focused on the conversation and can be used to help them see what you’re asking or proposing is in their best self-interest. As our Chief Sales Officer Clyde Fitch likes to say, “Self-interest may not be the only horse in the race but it’s the one to bet on.”

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cecil the Lion – Why the Outpouring of Sympathy?

Across the globe there has been outrage expressed over the illegal killing of Cecil the Lion. It’s been front and center in the news and all over social media. It’s led to the outing of the Minnesota dentist, his business address and even death threats. So why is there such outrage over an animal’s death when innocent people are killed every day and some in much more horrific fashion?

We don’t value lions inherently because they’re beautiful creatures. Indeed, not too long ago those who hunted them as big game were revered. President Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter, was one such man. We’re concerned about Cecil more because the principle of scarcity alerts us to the reality that we value things more when they’re rare or diminishing. At this point in time, with lions being an endangered species, we fear losing these creatures for good.

Did you know in Chicago, 238 people have been shot and killed from January through July of this year? Think about that for a moment – 238 people (fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters) dead. Why isn’t there more outrage over that? As the brutal Russian dictator Joseph Stalin once said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” The sad reality is we become numb to large numbers.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, cites studies that highlight this reality. It would seem rational that people would give more to help a cause when they realize how big the problem is but that’s not the case. People do not donate as much to a cause when the magnitude is highlighted versus individualizing it. By that I mean, telling people hundreds or thousands of people need help will not be as effective in soliciting donations as highlighting one individual who needs help. We can connect with an individual but highlighting the magnitude of a problem can seem so overwhelming that one person’s effort can’t possibly make much of a difference.

Something else to consider is that humans have a capacity to normalize things like death. Victor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search for Meaning shows this. A survivor of four different concentration camps, Frankl talks about how he and others became less and less affected by the death and destruction around them. Had they felt the weight of each death it would have been too overwhelming so their response in many ways was a survival mechanism.

And some people wonder why we would ever care more about an animal than a human. That goes back thousands of years. Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees for healing a man on the Sabbath. He scolded them saying they would pull an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath but helping a man was far more important.

Lastly, we value some animals more than others because with some animals we have more of a connection. Lions are the “king of the jungle” and have become more than an animal through shows like The Lion King and The Chronicles of Narnia. The same could be said of other animals such as pigs (Miss Piggy from The Muppets or Babe from the movie with the same name) and dogs (man’s best friend).

So what’s the point in this post? Simply to enlighten you a little on the psychology behind the response to Cecil’s death and the questions that are being asked about the deaths of other animals, individuals and groups of people. Our responses to these tragedies don’t always make sense from a logical perspective but it’s how we’re wired.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Donald Trump’s mASS appeal

Donald Trump has struck a nerve with the Republican Party, the media, and many Americans. You might say he has mASS appeal. He’s brash, offensive and unapologetic. The Republican Party knows he holds the key to their possible victory or defeat in the 2016 election should he choose to run as a third party candidate. The media cannot try any harder to discredit him and his poll numbers only rise. Many Americans find him offensive but because he resonates with so many, he has to be take seriously as seen by his #1 standing going into and after the first primary debate.

I must confess, when Trump announced his candidacy and made the remarks he did about illegal Mexican immigrants being rapists and murders, I was shocked. I posted on Facebook that Fox News and anyone else who took him seriously after those comments would lose all credibility. I was wrong.

Love him or hate him there’s no denying he’s having an impact on the Republican primary and might do the same in the general election if he remains a strong presence but doesn’t win over the establishment as the nominee.

So why is “The Donald” commanding so much attention? I have a theory. In recent years there have been many television shows which have captivated American audiences such as Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, and Mad Men to name just a few. If you’ve seen these shows then you know you find yourself rooting for the bad guy.

In Breaking Bad, the lead character is Walter White, an unassuming high school chemistry teacher who begins to churn out crystal meth after he gets lung cancer. He does so to provide for his family and despite his downward spiral you root for him.

Jax Teller is the lead in Sons of Anarchy. He wants to follow his late father’s ideas to get his motorcycle gang out of drugs and guns. As he manipulates and kills, you still find yourself pulling for him because his ultimate desire is good.

Dexter is the lead in the show by the same name. He’s a serial killer who has learned to confine his psychopathic nature to only killing bad people, the kind that most people feel deep in their heart deserve the death penalty for their heinous crimes. You not only pull for Dexter you actually come to like him.

Much less psychopathic and not a killer, Don Draper is the lead in Mad Men. The ad man is a womanizer and heavy drinker with a past he tries to hide because it could land him in jail. You see a good side of Don shine every now and then and consequently you pull for him despite his character flaws.

In each show we don’t root for the bad guys because we agree with their antics but something about each stands out – we know who they are. We know they’re bad but each really does want something better for himself, his family and friends. By contrast, so many “good” people they come in contact with aren’t actually good and viewers find themselves repelled by their false veneers. In real life think about Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and many others who appeared to be good people until the truth was found out. It's a classic case of the contrast phenomenon.

When it comes to politicians very few people truly believe any of them have our (Americans) best interest at heart. We’ve seen enough scandal (infidelity, drugs, bribes, etc.) that we see them all as having the false veneer covering a desire for power. We wonder when the next politician will fall because it’s only a matter of time.

With Donald what you see is what you get. When asked how he can disavow politicians who take large contributions after he’s made those political contributions, he’s candid when he says (my paraphrase) – “I know how the system works and paying money got me favors I would need down the road. But, I have so much money I can’t be bought.” That resonates with people because it’s truthful.

When the media attacks him and he corrects them for taking something out of context people love that because the media so often appears to look for ways to build up people then tear them down.

When Trump said McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured you’d have thought that would be the end. But it wasn’t and his numbers surged despite the media going after it from every angle.

In the end Donald Trump simply continues to be Donald Trump. Some people will love him and some will hate him but at least you know what you’re getting and I believe that’s his mASS appeal.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, August 10, 2015

I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist

I realize that headline might have offended some readers but I hope you’ll stay with me to the end and give thought to what I share. The subject of race is front and center in the United States now and it will not be going away any time soon. From Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston, as a nation we’ve been confronted by the reality that despite all the strides that have been made over the last 150 years since the Civil War, racism remains alive and well.

As I’ve given thought to this I’ve come to realize I’m racist. I don’t mean to be offensive but you’re racist, too. If it makes you feel better, everyone is racist. That’s right, because to some degree we’re all racist. For just a moment think about the least racist person you can imagine. For me that person would be Jesus because He loved perfectly and paid the ultimate sacrifice in death. Now quickly think of the most racist person you can. Hitler comes to mind for me. Now consider this; we all fall somewhere on the spectrum between not racist and completely racist.

Not Racist                                                                          Completely Racist
   Jesus                                                                                          Hitler

Some people are overtly racist and knowingly suppress other people they believe are beneath them for no other reason than they believe their race is superior. Many people don’t actively try to harm other’s opportunities because of race but still might display attitudes that could be labeled as racist. Even some people who actively work against racial inequality, such as MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, occasionally display racially insensitive sentiments. For Harris-Perry this happened when she made comments about Mitt Romney’s adopted African-American grandson.

My best friend and best man in my wedding is Russell Barrow, an African-American. Russell have known each other for nearly 40 years and I speak to him almost every day on my drive home from work. Race is sometimes the topic of the day. I clearly remember Russell talking about his pride the day after Obama was elected president. He never believed he’d see an African-American elected to the highest office in the land. He was surprised I remembered instances where he felt discriminated against when we were hanging out together. We’ve talked about recent incidents that raised the issue of racism (Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, etc.) because I want to understand his perspective.

I sat on my company’s diversity committee and have actively helped people of all ethnic backgrounds whenever I could. With African-American friends I’ve talked about issues of race over lunch and as we've traveled. So how can I be racist?

I say I’m racist because I know this - I’m no Jesus! I’m very aware of my response to events and my thoughts. I understand many of my thoughts are triggered at the subconscious level, which means before I can make a conscious choice the thought, belief or attitude that could be considered racist is already there. I can try to deny it or rationalize it but if I’m honest with myself I know it’s there. Why is this? Because many of our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are a result of factors outside of our control. Consider the following reasons (by no means exhaustive) that contribute to your beliefs and attitudes:

Similarity – It’s natural for us to feel a closer bond to those we view as similar to ourselves. Evolutionarily this was a survival necessity. Those who looked like us were probably friendly and those who were different were to be potentially feared. Even though we live in vastly different times than our ancient ancestors, a time where different looking people need not be feared, we can’t help the brain wiring we already have. All we can do is recognize the beliefs and attitudes that surface but then engage our thinking to make conscious choices to behave differently.

Home Environment – Another factor is the environment we grew up in. Some of you reading this may have grown up in a mildly or an overtly racist home. For you that was normal. If you believed your parents loved you and you saw them as good people you had no reason to question their views on race or any other topics. As you grew and began to interact with different people you were exposed to new viewpoints regarding people who were different from you. Nonetheless, the beliefs that were instilled in you during your formative years die hard.

Media – Apart from your home, the environment you grew up in influences how you think. If you had little or no exposure to people who were different from you then many of your beliefs were formed by what you were exposed to via the media, friends and society at large. Here would be one simple example – how criminals are referred to quite often in the media today. Muslim criminals are terrorists, black criminals are thugs, but many white criminals who commit heinous crimes are mentally ill. What happens is we begin to stereotype those of Middle Eastern descent and blacks so all are looked upon with caution and fear. However, many people look at the white criminal as an outlier, not representative of the race as a whole. When you grow up consistently exposed to these viewpoints you harbor attitudes and beliefs without really understanding how they were formed.

If it’s true that everyone is racist to some degree (just like everyone lies or cheats to some degree), I think we can also agree that not all people are inherently bad. I mentioned earlier I don’t believe most people go out of their way to harm others even though those same people may hold beliefs some would deem racist. In fact, most people are probably unaware that many attitudes they hold would be considered racist.

So what are we to do if we want things to change?

Be open to changing longstanding beliefs and attitudes. It’s natural to want to defend your position because it’s your position and for some people admitting a belief or attitude might be racist is tantamount to admitting they’re a bad person. That’s not necessarily the case.

Don’t shut down the conversation. I’ve learned a tremendous amount in my conversations with Russell and other African-Americans I work with. I would encourage you to ask questions because some people will never bring up the subject. When I’ve initiated conversations I’ve been amazed at how much people have to say. 

Engage the principle of liking. During the Principles of Persuasion Workshop I ask participants, “Does the impact of similarity or liking suggest a retreat from diversity in the workplace?” Some people think looking at similarity can hurt diversity but that would only be the case if you only looked at someone’s exterior and concluded you’re different because of how you look. The good news is studies show race and ethnicity are overwhelmed when people realize they share the same beliefs, values and attitudes with one another. After all, it’s easy to engage with someone we see as similar to ourselves because we like people who cheer for the same team, went to the same school, have the same pet, as we do, etc.

I know I was taking a risk writing about this subject but that’s okay. The problems we face won’t go away if we continue to avoid talking about them and if we’re not open to trying to understand another’s viewpoint. We may not agree on everything discussed but in the process we’re very likely to mover a little closer to each other and that will be a good first step.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.